Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The girl who seemed so sad (OCD story part 4)

(If you are just joining, this is a continuation of a story I'm working on about a young girl in a very tumultuous phase of her life. It will make more sense if you read the first posts here and here and here, and then return to this post for part four.)

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Next came the confessions and my parents received an earful. In the same way I felt an undeniable urge to say “I’m sorry” for my misdemeanors, I was sure to tell them every potential wayward behavior of mine, accidental (which was most often the case), or intentional. I couldn’t carry the weight of my wrong-doings alone. I needed someone to share the load and reassure me that I/we/it was going to be OK, that I wasn’t a horrible person. I told my parents when I accidentally bumped into someone. I told them when my swinging arms accidentally clipped the wall in the hall, and how, though I’d run my hand over the surfaced where I’d made contact repeatedly to check and ensure there were absolutely no marks, I was concerned that I may have chipped the paint. I confessed to them when I apologized to a sibling and “might have not actually meant it.” I had something to confess to them at all times. My mind was plagued with concerns and burdens and I had to get them out. Sharing them with someone provided a degree of relief, but the consolation was only momentary before I was tormented with fresh guilt over other wrongdoings. 

This too was a manifestation of scrupulosity. The International OCD Foundation describes Scrupulosity (also known as Moral OCD) as a form of OCD that involves religious or moral obsessions. Common obsessions include severe anxiety over whether one has sinned, extreme focus on maintaining purity and behaving morally, excessive worry about going to hell or death. But I’m getting ahead of myself so I’ll leave this here to whet your appetite for future content. 

My mom’s memory was jogged as she read through these stories I’ve been sharing about my OCD experience. She remembers that she and my dad did have concern about my well-being prior to age 13, beginning as many as 2 years earlier. They recall that it was during a solo trip to Hawaii in celebration of their anniversary that their very first red flag was raised. It was November of 1995 and I was 11 years old and my grandparents had come to stay with us for the week. My parents have always been very dedicated to pouring into their marriage and one of the ways they did this was by traveling together regularly throughout my childhood. They tried to take trips alone every year, so this was a fairly routine occurrence for us. Even still, we never liked it when they left so my mom always went out of her way to leave us special envelopes to open each day of the week that they were gone. They were filled with notes or stickers or a special prize to help diminish our feelings of homesickness for them. They would also usually call once or twice during their time away to say “hi” and to check in. I always really missed my parents when they were gone, but on this particular trip, apparently my level of emotion and other behaviors reached a new extreme. 

We always loved it when my Dad’s parents came to stay with us. They raised six kids of their own and were some of the most even-keeled, generous and capable people I know. For most of my childhood that I can remember, they did not own a home. Instead, they possessed a small Toyota pick-up truck which they used to haul their house-on-wheels, a rounded white camper trailer with a thick, blue stripe down the side. They spent their retirement traveling all around the country, stopping for lengthy periods to serve at different Catholic Missions around the United States and down into Mexico. Many of our big family vacations growing up were built around trips to visit them wherever they were based at the moment, Florida, Tucson, and a small fishing village called Guaymas, Mexico. When they weren’t serving huge vats of rice and beans to those in need, my grandparents were rotating their way around the state of Washington to spend time with each of their kids, and help them with various house projects, babysitting needs, or to welcome a new grandchild into the world. 

They weren’t ones to raise controversy. From what I’ve been told, they were the type to state their concern only when the decision was major and life-altering. And then once they had made their opinion known at the onset, they moved on and accepted and supported whatever decision you chose. I know of two major decisions my parents made that were hard for them: the first was when my parents got married and my Dad left the Catholic church. The second was when they opted to homeschool us kids. Organized homeschooling was only in its infancy when my parents made the decision to educate us in that way, and my grandparents were uncertain about how successful our learning would be. My parents like to tell me how I helped evaporate their skepticism instantly when, as a mere 4-year-old, I grabbed the latest copy of Reader’s Digest Magazine off the coffee table in front of them and began reading it aloud. They had less doubts after that.

All this to say, my grandparents didn’t speak up unless they felt it absolutely necessary. I wish they were still alive so I could ask them for more specifics about what went down during this trip that caused them to ring the alarm bells. I know I cried a lot. I remember taking a break from my tears when I was kept busy or distracted, but the waterworks would quickly resume the moment I was alone with my thoughts again. I used "missing my parents" as an explanation for my distress.

My grandparents knew how valuable my parents’ time away was and so were always careful not to put any hiccups in it. But on this particular visit, my behavior concerned my grandma enough that, when my parents called for a casual check-in, she told them that she was extremely worried about me, that I wasn't okay. These are never the words anyone wants to hear, particularly a couple trying to savor and enjoy a kid-free anniversary trip. 

Upon their return, my mom remembers that I was perplexed with anxiety, voicing frequent questions about our faith and what happens after we die. She figured that, because my grandparents were Catholic and we were not, some conversations must have taken place in her absence to elicit this seemingly newfound worry within me. The differences between our faiths were likely confusing to me and my parents chalked my anxiety up to a natural struggle to exist in the dissonance. 

My mom asked me a few weeks ago if I remember any sort of conversation with my grandparents that upset me and set me off down this path of worry. At times, I’ve wondered the same. I honestly don’t recall any spiritual conversations with my grandparents. And even if there were some, I know they aren’t what “caused” the extreme wrestling with faith-related topics that was just around the corner. Sure, perhaps a conversation could have triggered the development of the disorder that was already lying dormant in my genetics. But it was already there, bound to manifest itself somehow sooner or later. With OCD, things just aren’t as simple and easily explainable as we want them to be. 

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posted by kelsie