My anxiety really spiraled in 2004, when I lost two of my best friends within six months of each other to car accidents. For a 19-year-old, it was a lot to handle. I quickly felt like the world was crashing around me, and I was desperately trying to balance the situation.
My OCD saw that I was vulnerable and took advantage of me. It made me feel that if I was careful enough, if I double- and triple-checked things enough, that everything would be fine.
That is not how the world works though, my friends.
I have three diagnosed forms of OCD: compulsive checking, pure obsessions, and health-related OCD. I always remind my husband that he could be living with an animal-hoarder who has 36 cats — 13 dead — and living in a house full of urine, feces, and grocery receipts from 15 years ago.
This seems to lighten the load and pressure of being married to someone who is known to wash her hands 100 times a day, can’t use public restrooms without a complete meltdown, would rather appear antisocial than shake your hand, and has Clorox wipes in the majority of rooms in our house.
Is it that bad to want things clean? Like really clean?
Everyone said things would change once I had children. Looking back now, I think they were right, but the journey to this place of stability has been long and heavily filled with potholes.
My children are now 2 and 4 years old. When I was pregnant with my first child, Riley, I watched a Dateline episode about a woman who died from getting an epidural. That was all I needed to hear to make the decision that I would have a natural birth. Everyone and their mother told me to stay open-minded and relax. Relax? How could I relax when there was a chance of being paralyzed, or worse, dying?
Unfortunately, OCD allows for very little space when a thought like this enters the mind. Even if something is not actually dangerous, it feels dangerous. The revolving door of OCD thoughts is never-ending. You can’t get out even if every part of you is trying to break through the glass.
The truth is, I would much rather deal with physical pain than the mental pain that OCD brings with it. Hence, me suffering through two very painful, natural births. Totally worth it!
Contamination is one of my biggest fears. During labor, I asked my doctor to change her gloves multiple times because she touched something in the room that I deemed unclean. Yep, I am annoying.
I refused to get out of the hospital bed, as that was the only place that seemed safe to me. I brought my own Clorox wipes in my overnight bag to ensure that I could wipe down everything in my maternity room.
This definitely made all of the nurses a little curious. I think they thought my hormones had taken over my rational thought process, so to be safe, they told me multiple times that I could not use the Clorox wipes, you know, the ones soaked with bleach, on the baby, something I still laugh about now, as I chase my toddler around with baby wipes when he refuses to get his diaper changed.
The toddler years have taught me many things, but one of the most important is that you can’t focus on germs when dealing with children. They are germ buckets, plain and simple. You can’t stop a toddler from putting everything in their mouth, no matter how good you are at defense.
You are going to miss something once in a while. All you can do is pray that your missed attempts don’t include poop of any kind, which they might at some point in your parenting career. You have to trust that a little dirt is not actually going to hurt them. Poop probably won’t even hurt them. Heck, it might even help them out down the line as they build up their immunity. But let’s not think about that.
Even now, Riley, who is 4 and knows not to put things in her mouth, came in from the playground the other day with a tiny balloon between her lips. The balloon was white and had a small band around it. I, of course, leaped to the conclusion that this balloon had been used to carry drugs. See how that worst-case scenario just slips in? Don’t worry; it wasn’t a heroin balloon, just a water balloon from a summertime activity one of the teachers did earlier in the day.
The worrisome thoughts are never-ending, but it is how you decide to manage them that matters. I know as my children grow, so will my fears, but I am ready to fight against my anxiety and live a life filled with joy and happiness — not fear and isolation.
Full disclosure: Life is hard even when you don’t suffer from anxiety. I am heavily medicated, I see a therapist once a week, and I self-medicate with a nice big glass of pinot grigio on days that just seem like too much.
Don’t suffer alone. None of us get out of this life alive. Tomorrow isn’t promised, so enjoy today. There will always be things to worry about, like what to make for dinner. Don’t add to the madness by spending time worrying about the things you can’t control.
For more from Jenna Stewart, visit Motherhood with a Twist of OCD and her Facebook page.