by PJ’s Dad
I remember walking into the house, hoping as I had everyday that today would be different than the previous month; that things would go back to the way they were. I imagined my daughter would come to the door and give me a hug, ask me how my day was and we would have a chat. But nothing had changed. My wife spent all day, tirelessly cleaning the house, preparing for our daughter to come in and see that the house was clean. When I came in, my wife was sitting in the kitchen explaining to my daughter that everything was fine – the house was clean, her school papers were clean, her brother was clean. I came in and thought I was being careful. I took off my shoes, taking care that my socks didn’t touch the doormat. I took off all of my outer layers, ensuring I only touched the insides. I made sure I sanitized my hands after putting down my briefcase. Then, I walked into the kitchen and it all went wrong. My wife told me to stop walking; she yelled and pleaded, but I just didn’t understand – or didn’t want to understand – and I stepped in the one spot on the floor that was not to be touched. A ‘dirty’ spot that only my wife and daughter could see, a spot that OCD had created, like so many all over our house. I had undone the last bit of calm left in the house.
This was January, and in December my 8-year-old daughter – a carefree bundle of energy and movement and curiosity – woke up one day with OCD. It came out of nowhere for us and we had no idea what we were dealing with. As with most parents, we tried to ‘help’ by cleaning the house, answering our daughter’s need for constant reassurance and doing what she needed to get through the day. At night, we cried and tried to come up with some reason why our daughter was lost. She screamed at us, refused to hug us and slowly confined our every movement. In one vivid and painful night, she looked us in our eyes, through tears on both sides and said, “I don’t want to live.” I could not even comprehend what had happened to get us to this place.
Thankfully, I am married to a brilliant woman and a fierce mother who stops at nothing to protect her family. Thankfully, we have a son who is a loving older brother and his sister’s greatest champion. And thankfully, despite so many no’s and “We can see you in three months,” my wife found help and we began therapy. We finally felt like we were not alone; someone understood what was happening to our daughter and our family. And somewhere deep inside, my daughter knew she had to face her darkest fears. We also had to face our own fears as parents. We had to see that we had unknowingly enabled OCD to grow more powerful. We all had to learn what we were living with and how to battle it. Therapy taught us the tools to begin a healing process.
Today, we live with OCD, but it does not control our lives. Everyday, we rely on the knowledge and tools that the professionals have taught us. Some days, they are merely a safety net and some days they are a lifeline. My daughter is back and stronger than she was before. She knows she can live with OCD and she knows she has a team (family and professionals) who will help her when she thinks she cannot. Just this morning, we were in the car headed to school and she looked at me and said, “Dad, my hands feel like they’re covered in plastic.” (That’s how her OCD comes to her.) I was able to say, “OK. What do we do when this happens?” She was able to tell herself she would get through the feeling and redirect her thoughts. By the time we got to school five minutes later, she was smiling and running out of the car to her chorus practice. OCD has not left our lives, but we know how to #FaceOurFears.