Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To Live, or Not to Live. That Is OCD.

So my darling friend Darlena, as planned, made her rebuttal to my Hygiene Hypothesis post. The post below this one is the entry I settled on as my quasi-rebuttal-to-a-rebuttal, but in reality, this right here is the first post that her rebuttal inspired.

In her blog post, she makes excellent points. Mostly because it seems she basically agreed with me. Heh. I found myself thinking, "Well, she's not wrong about that...or that...or even that...Hey! I said that too!"

And then I bristled a little bit. I took a moment's offense at the statement "I simply cannot avoid all the germs she can. I have a life."

I took offense because, obviously, it seemed to be telling me I have no life or that I need to get one.  And I know Dar would never hurt my feelings on purpose, but at first, I must confess, I was stung.

But then I thought a little more. And you know what? I TOTALLY DON'T HAVE A LIFE. Or, more accurately, my poor babies don't. (Well, OK, one of my babies, Naomi, is too young, at five months old, to have a life or to know about cold germs and bum-bum germs--although whenever she sneezes, we jokingly say, "Noey, Christsakes, cover your sneeze!!")

But yes, that's the whole point, of this disorder, of this blog: I don't have a life. You're right, Dar.

The whole problem with my OCD is that, indeed, my life and my husband's life and my children's life are drastically impacted. I am consumed with panic and fears about germs, and that means that either (1) I just don't GO anywhere; or (2) I freak out internally whenever we DO go somewhere, which is no fun. No fun at all, I assure you. I don't have a life, because getting out there to live it scares me.

I am a stay-at-home mom. Aside from things like taking time out for the kids' naps or allowing time for my all-important surfing of the web, my job is to raise and grow and inspire and stimulate my children by taking them places in this world. Instead, we stay home. When I say I'm a stay-at-home mom, I got-damn mean it.

So do I have a life? No, not really. Occasionally, when I wake up on the right side of OCD, I do take my kids out--to the park, on an errand to Babies R Us, to the neighbor's house, even, like whoa, into the backyard. I know, right??

Sidenote: What's sad about that is that it's not a joke--it takes extreme effort and motivation to just plain take my kids into our own yard. It's less about germs than it is about motivation--I think that's a whole separate issue. Often, I tell Maya, "You can go play outside in our [fully-fenced] yard by yourself. Mama can't go outside right now. But you can, and I will watch you through the window." Needless to say, this isn't a very ideal suggestion for her, since she wants to play, and play with ME. But one of the endless issues that I deal with is either a type of depression, agoraphobia...

...or I'm just plain and simply a fat fuck what won't get off the couch,

or else I'm just a lazy ass,

but all I know is I suck for a plethora of reasons. A cornucopia, if you will.

Anyway. So those were my two first reactions to Dar's "rebuttal" to my Hygiene Hypothesis post: Agreement, yet at the same time, a little pain.

But she is right. She has a life, and can't spend all that time worrying, like I do. Or, more accurately, she just doesn't spend all that time worrying, because she doesn't have a mental disorder. See, she's lacking one crucial thing:

She's not


I joke. I joke so I don't cry. Tears of a clown, and all that shit.

No. Not that clown.

No. Not that clown either. Jeez, you guys.

(Can I interrupt this regularly scheduled program to tell you all that I HAVE MET TIM CURRY IN PERSON? OK then. Back to bum-bum germs.)


So, while Dar may basically agree with me on a lot of points, the thing is, it doesn't occur to her in the same way it does to me. She might go to a friend's house and not notice if the friend washed her hands before starting dinner. She might let her kids play at the McPlaguePlace and keep popping over for more bites of fries before heading back into the tunnels, without using hand sanitizer three times in a row first. She might go for a walk and let her kids pet the neighbor dog, then go home and just keep playing without needing to wash first. She might, sin of all sins, wear shoes in the house. ;)

Because while she knows good hygiene, and agrees that handwashing is very important, things don't occur to her like they do to me. I can't even say things ever even do "occur" to me, since the thoughts never left in the first place.

A couple of her quotes stood out to me:

"Yes, washing your hands is good. Yes, it's clean and I advocate it strongly for everyone. But to the point of compulsion? If I see a compulsive tendency popping up in my kid, taking care of that (provided they don't have a mental block that predisposes them to compulsions in general) trumps hand washing."

The only "good" thing I can say about my OCD is that I don't compulsively wash (or make my kids wash) in the way people imagine most OCDers do. I don't wash 12 times in a row. Once is fine. I don't jump up off the couch with the sudden and random compulsion to wash. I wash at what I think are very appropriate times. So I'm not one of those people who washes compulsively, except...I don't know what else you'd call it. I guess you could say that I DO have a compulsion to wash. Just not until my hands bleed, or in the middle of the night, etc. So thank goodness for that, anyway.

Then Dar said:
"They really haven't lived in a bubble, and that's okay. I'd rather them be sick sometimes if it allows them to live a little."
That's also where she and I differ. I'd prefer ANY option over my kids getting sick. This is the obsession, the constant worry, the all-consuming fear I can't get over. And  another of her quotes really got to me deeply:

"Mental health is as important as physical health."

She hit the nail on the head with that last sentence. That's where I struggle to find balance. Because I believe strongly that there are bajillions of horrible germs on the toys at the Children's Museum, I can't let my daughter play there without having an extreme panic attack. And I'm not giving my daughter a chance to play, explore, learn. So I don't know what to do--how to balance it all? Go to the Museum anyway, at the expense of MY mental health, just to make my kids happy? Or keep them home, where I feel safe and clean, at the expense of the richness of their lives?

Obviously, the answer is, I need to find a way to NOT feel terrified and horrified by taking my kids to the Museum. Win-win. Kids play, I feel fine. But it's the "I feel fine" part I'm working on, and trying to find a fix for.

Because months later, many visits to the doctor later, and all MANNER of medicinal nonsense later, I'm still where I started. Living in a bubble and keeping my kids chained in there too.


  1. I really enjoy your blog, because you're so honest. I have thought to myself about how hard it must be for you to deal with this and still have a life, because you actually do- I mean, you go to playgrounds and to Acid Test friends' houses for dinner and stuff- and I am really impressed that you manage that with the OCD. You are not totally a stay-at-home-only mom, and that's worth writing home about because it is so much more difficult for you than it is for me, or Darlena, you know? You're awesome.

  2. I agree with everything jadeejf said. :)

    Also, I guess my main question is why would it be such a disaster if the girls got a cold? That's the part I (as someone without OCD) just have a difficult time understanding. I know you've talked about it in other posts, but I still don't get it.

  3. jadeejf, thanks babe. <3

    I just feel like...I mean, I know my kid is super smart. But what could she have been if I hadn't been so phobic these past years? What could she have become? Could I have inspired her more? Enriched her more? She's smart, hilarious, and awesome, and she'll make her way in life, but I feel like I gave her the poorest start possible. :(

  4. chesea....

    My explanation won't make sense to you. But I'll try.

    First, it *became* an issue when I got the worst cold of my life, and coughed so hard my water broke early, and all that jazz. Remember that story? So somehow that was really the moment, the reason, that colds and flu became such a huge, huge issue to me.

    If I try to rationalize it, it's because, well, first, colds and flu are dangerous to pregnant women and infants. As a recently pregnant woman, I was fucking terrified of getting a cold or the flu, because my water could break, or I could literally die of the flu. Now that I'm not pregnant, I still fear it, (1) because it's ingrained as a phobia, and (2) because I really do feel that colds could be dangerous to my baby. I really do worry that she could actually DIE of a cold, that she could choke on her phlegm. You probably wouldn't worry about that, but *I* do.

    And also, ever since I broke my nose (in 2004), and my nose has been totally fucked up ever since, colds hit my harder than they hit other people. I get so congested that my nose literally swells shut. SLAMMED SHUT. And to spend 9 days with a nose so stuffy that my ears pop horribly every time I sucks.

    Also, like I mentioned elsewhere...when baby's miserable, everyone's miserable. If Noey got a cold, she'd be a grumpypot and would make our lives hellacious too. And we'd probably be sick at the same time.

    So it's all these things--past reasons, real reasons, somewhat imagined/exaggerated reasons, etc. I'm afraid of getting and spreading colds to my kids, and I'm afraid of them getting and spreading them to me. I'm afraid of pain, misery, and dead babies.

  5. I remembered the story about your water breaking - that sounded frightening! And yes, I know illness can be very dangerous for pregnant women and infants. But Maya isn't an infant. I guess my question is at what age is it "ok" for them to get a cold? I assume you're answer will be NEVER, but I'm just curious. :)

  6. No,, Maya's not an infant, and neither in fact am I, but if WE get sick, we can pass that sickness along to Noey, who's still too tiny to get sick, IMO.

    Unless I find a wonderdrug, I will never be OK with hearing, "Do you want to come over for lunch? Baby Nevaeh is sick with a little cold, but she's up for a playdate." Or, worse, "Thanks for coming over today! Bella and Jacob came down with a horrible flu right after you left, so I'm glad you missed that part! Love ya!"

    So, barring this wonderdrug, I will *always* be afraid of getting sick or my kids getting sick or me getting sick and causing my kids to be sick. It's the INEXPLICABLE part of OCD, and it's partly because of what happened in the past. It has scarred me, and left a little bit of crazytown in my brain that will not. go. away.

    I don't expect anyone else to understand.

  7. I love ya babe. I don't need to understand. :)

  8. I love what you have written, because I am 48 and my kids are 17 and 18 and have survived beautifully in spite of my own obsessions and fears. Life is good, even when you are such a stay at home mom that you can't quite get out to your own mailbox to see what is in there, or when your husband comes home and your big celebration is that you actually did a load of laundry and washed the dishes. I was afraid of everything at some times in my life, but I had big dreams for my kids, and it kind of worked out, mostly.

    Dixie Goode

  9. by the way, my blog is

  10. "your big celebration is that you actually did a load of laundry and washed the dishes."

    Oh wow, how I relate to those words...

    Glad to have you stopping by my blog, and I'm glad your kids managed to survive your "ways." Kids do tend to do that, now don't they. ;)

    PS: The pictures in your blog are amazing...

  11. "I don't jump up off the couch with the sudden and random compulsion to wash. I wash at what I think are very appropriate times."

    The problem with OCD is that even compulsive washers often think they are washing at appropriate times.

  12. Alison: I would agree with that, for some people. But I think most people would agree that I was at appropriate times, *even if they themselves don't always do so.* Basically, my list of when I wash is as follows:

    -Immediately upon coming home (after being at the store, pumping gas, whatever), to wash off germs I've "collected"

    -Before unloading the clean dishwasher

    -After loading in the dirty dishes

    -After transferring the wet laundry to the dryer ( )

    -After using the bathroom

    -After flushing the toilet for any reason (flushing down Kleenex, or a spider, or whatever) (because the flusher is the dirtiest part of a bathroom)

    -After changing diapers or wiping tiny bum-bums

    -After blowing my nose into a tissue

    -Before preparing my daughter's formula (even the can of formula says: Step 1: Wash your hands.)

    -After working in the dirt in the yard

    -After petting stinky dogs

    -After shaking hands with someone (that is, I wash as soon as I get the opportunity--it's not like I dash away to go scrub)

    -Before I cook

    -Before I eat

    -After handling menus at the restaurant, but this also goes along with "Before I eat"

    -After handling raw meat

    -After using chemicals (scrubbing the bathtub, wiping something down with a Lysol wipe, etc.)

    This is probably not a complete list, but I think you'd agree that these are pretty appropriate times to wash your hands.

    Like I said, I don't feel the compulsion to wash 6,000 times a day, or to wash when I've JUST washed, or to wash 17 times in a row, or to wash when I was just sitting there doing nothing, or to wipe my hands exactly 12 times on the towel, etc.

    So yeah, people like to rationalize their actions, but I mean, are any of the above times INAPPROPRIATE times to wash?

  13. I'm here from BlogHer - loved your post, love your blog. Your writing style is awesome and funny. :)

    I absolutely agree with you about some of this stuff. Restaurants can be nasty places (I have to avert my eyes when someone is cleaning a table lest I see them lazily spray that ... stuff (bleach, whatever) on the table and KNOWING that the overspray just landed all over the lids of the salt & pepper shakers. Yeah - not using those. Ever. TYVM.)

    I'm wondering, though, if the vigilance about germs and hand washing is actually bearing any fruit. Is Maya sick less often than other kids her age? Are you? By 5 months old, with an older sister, Naomi likely would have experienced her first cold/flu/mystery virus of doom. Has she been sick?

    I'm not trying to be judgey or rude, I'm just wondering if the energy you are putting into the avoidance of germs in the name of not getting sick is actually keeping you from getting sick.

  14. So glad you found me and like me! ;)

    To answer your questions, heck yes, Maya is sick far, far less often than kids her age. She is just never sick. She's had two little colds in her whole life, up until now (her first day of preschool she caught one, which I blogged about). Then little Naomi caught it too, and that was her very first sickness as well.

    And because I was intensely vigilant about germs when I was pregnant, I didn't get sick one time throughout my pregnancy, even though pregnant women have lowered immune systems (and even though I went through flu season and was aroundn a ton of sick people). So yeah, our vigilance pays off. :)

    Anyway, welcome to my blog! :) I'd love to follow you back. I see a darling little girl, and some delicious cake in your blog, so I'm already hooked.

  15. Wow, I admit I mainly read your blog because you are damn funny and entertaining. But this entry really stopped me. To respond to what someone says, when that something they said stings or hurts . . . to respond to that constructively, but even more importantly, really take it constructively, and find meaning in it. That is something many people simply are incapable of doing. So I salute you, your honesty, and your integrity. I am a strong believer that the key to real change is to first truly WANT to change. The rest should just be details. That sounds a bit pat, because you are dealing with problems for which you are seeking medical help, etc., but don't give up. For your own sake, and the kids.

  16. Aww, thanks Ed. Both for appreciating my humor and for liking the serious stuff too. It was a difficult realization to come to, that my "lifestyle" drastically affects my kids too. Still struggling to find balance...xoxo.

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