by PJ’s Mom
My 8-year-old Daughter was courageous, active and full of joy. Then, one day, it all changed. She went from fearless to afraid, and happy to worried all the time. It didn’t make sense. My daughter started washing her hands all the time. Then she stopped touching things. As the days progressed, she stopped moving freely around the house. She was closing off her world and creating a cocoon. As a parent, you want to help your child, and make everything better. In doing so, I tried to understand what was bothering her so I could help. My daughter was afraid of “dirt” and “germs.” I thought I caused it. I need to be careful about germs because I have an autoimmune disease and a compromised immune system.
It turns out, my daughter wasn’t afraid of being sick, she was just afraid of feeling dirty. To try and help, I started cleaning the house incessantly. She would head out to school and I would spend all day cleaning, thinking “this time when she gets home from school, she will walk right in the house, see it is clean, and everything will be back to normal.” Of course, that wasn’t the case. This thing that was bothering her was more powerful than cleaning supplies, and more powerful than Mom and Dad’s love. I kept trying, though. I would look around the clean house and think, “How can this be dirty?” Our house was spotless, our bodies were clean, I even bleach wiped her homework so she would work on it. But none of it was good enough. Every time I thought, “this is it, she will see things aren’t dirty,” there would be a mysterious spot on the floor, or the doorframe, or the shower curtain (I could go on) that was tainted. I started seeing where she would have an issue. Of course the floor, the door frame, and the shower curtain were all clean, but I started understanding the “rationale” behind what she considered “dirty.”
The reality was, my 8-year-old Daughter has OCD. I tried to make it rational, but there is no rationale to OCD. What had worked to help her calm down one day, didn’t work the next. Our daughter asked us hundreds of questions a day- “Did you clean that? Did you wipe that down? Did anyone touch that?” It was endless. And with each day, I saw my happy, fearless daughter was disappearing. Her older brother looked at us and asked, “Where did my sister go?” I was feeling hopeless. It is terrifying watching your child become so anxious, angry and aggressive about something we couldn’t see or understand. As everything was rapidly spiraling out of control, my fears grew. I was afraid my strong, joyful daughter was gone forever. I was afraid of the stigma of having a child with mental health concerns and how that might reflect on me as a mother. I was afraid of OCD. Instead of cleaning all day, I started searching the internet for answers. Of course, there are no answers on the internet, but I learned something. I realized I needed to face my fears about raising a child with a mental disorder for my daughter to get help we all so desperately needed.
We started going to therapy. We are fortunate; we are a family that supports each other, and a family that believes in seeking help when things aren’t right. We went to weekly therapy, we listened to the podcasts, we did the workbooks, and my Daughter started taking medicine. We did everything we could as a family to educate ourselves about OCD. As time progressed, I finally started feeling a sense of hope. We had to learn how to help our daughter face her fears. I realized that every time I cleaned something, methodically took off my shoes and socks, or answered her questions about whether something was clean, I thought I was helping my daughter. Instead, I was really helping OCD gain more power. It was hard as a mom. I had to go against my mom instinct because that kind of help- the cleaning, the doing what she asked, the answering questions- only helped OCD and I became a part of it. Because I was pulled into the OCD, in the beginning of treatment, I had to take a step back. My husband and son stepped in and gave her the support. They helped her do her exposures, even making up crazy dance moves to “beat up” her OCD.
After a few months of therapy, I was talking with my daughter. She looked at me and said “When I overcome my OCD…” Tears started to well up in my eyes. To be honest, I did not hear the rest of her sentence. I was just so proud of my daughter, and so happy that my daughter believed in herself. My daughter is brave, strong, active, and full of joy again. I am in awe of her daily strength, and her ability to communicate when things don’t feel right. There are still times when OCD is trying to take over, but my daughter performs the tools she learned in therapy and tackles the anxiety head on. When she needs it, we are there to help her find the strength she needs to take control. My daughter is not afraid to face her fears and realizes that she is stronger than OCD.