My mother has obsessive compulsive disorder along with anxiety, something she didn't fully understand until she was forty years old. From an early age, she always felt she was different. By the time she was six, my mother was already an obsessive list maker, could not function unless she performed certain tasks, and would tell her friends that if they were not going to help her clean up after playing, they could not touch her toys. For years I observed my mother’s struggles with everyday life, her inability to cope, and how she tried to live up to the unrealistic expectations she had for herself.
Because of the immense pressure my mother placed on herself, she also had high expectations for my brother and me. Cleanliness was next to Godliness for my mother, and her brand of cleanliness has always been higher than everyone else’s. Little messes were gigantic in her eyes. And somewhere along the way her style of cleanliness became mine, and now I always have to pick up my entire bedroom before I go to sleep. Because if I don't I know the dust bunnies may form an army and revolt.
For us, therapy was a family affair, and my mother and I started getting help at the same time. The changes in my mother have been staggering. It has made her a happier, more relaxed woman, who even has a few piles of clutter in her home. Clutter! You have no idea how mind-blowing that is. I admire my mother for so many reasons. She found the strength to get out of an abusive marriage, had the patience to deal with a drug addicted son, and admitted that she couldn’t handle her disease on her own.
While I did inherit my anxiety from my mother, I don't have OCD. But on occasion when I'm experiencing a period of high stress, I do develop obsessions. In 6th grade, when I moved to Alabama and left my friends behind, I began counting syllables. I would mentally tally the syllables of every single sentence I said or thought. If the count didn't add up to an interval of five, I had to rework the entire sentence before I could relax. Later when I moved to college, I started obsessively tweezing my face after the discovery of ONE black hair. Whenever I was at home I had to be tweezing, and I was always thinking about going home so I could tweeze.
To this day, every so often something minuscule will grab my attention to the point that I can't get it out of my head. Tonight after Adam went to bed, I noticed that he had accidentally dropped ketchup in the sink, and it had become dried, crusty, and disgusting. I immediately felt like retching, but it was too gross for me to bring myself to clean it up. I was dreading the night ahead of me, knowing it would worry me all night long. So I sat in the living room for over an hour, being systematically tortured by the ketchup (I'm not even kidding).
I finally decided I was being ridiculous, so I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes, told it I was the one in charge here, and scrubbed it away. Sixty milligrams of Lexapro and two years of therapy will give you the strength to conquer the ketchup. And that is my definition of better.