The past two months have been an ever-progressing fog of emotion and frustration.
- Waking up to panicky feelings . . .
- My heart pulsing rapidly and bursting out of my ears . . .
- Unwarranted feelings of alertness and danger . . .
Morning. After. Morning.
The panic can last for hours. At times, obviously bleeding into my day with a classful of children and their constant need and low threshold for emotional angst.
This week in particular, I find I’m more in the flow of this disease than the ebb. After a biopsy in the summer, Noah faced an in-office procedure to remove a mole and all the connected tissue. I went in thinking it was simple.
After the first day, I knew it was not.
Watching Noah be cut into and poked at, seeing the pain and sadness and fear of surgery and scars, made me insecure about his future.
A hole about the size of a quarter in my little boy’s face and the ensuing thirteen stitches that brought the seams together – his big eyes looking in the mirror.
“Mom, it’s so big.”
“I know, sweetie. You are so brave. I am so proud of you.” Swallowing tears so he couldn’t see my trepidation, a mom’s sadness, and uncertainty.
But inside, my response was this insatiable need to control anything in order to take my mind away from obsessing over the possible implications of a permanent scar, my son’s sensitive spirit, worry about mean kids at school, losing money from an unplanned third day of surgery…
I needed to control something until I was ready to face the hard shit.
My subconscious coping skills auto-piloted me into oblivion and busyness. Luckily, life provided me with the tools necessary:
- Josiah’s birthday prep and presents and his Friday night breakdown
- Rushing from doctor’s office to pharmacy to house
- Changing Noah’s bandages and rotating pain meds
- Running from Noah’s bedroom to the closet or to the kitchen for yet another snack or drink or blanket
These things kept me sane until the morning I sent the boys packing to their dad’s and faced a week without them and the security of caring for them.
In those instances where my emotions are unbearable, my house is the representation of my mental state. The veracity with which I scrub away the specks and stains of life on the counters and cabinets . . . the vigilance with which I categorize and re-shelve my small library of texts . . . the organizing of the closets, the shelves, the drawers as I attempt to organize all of the thoughts that won’t fit inside the spaces in my head.
The state of my house is directly proportionate to my level of sanity.
The physical habits of OCD aren’t just an annoying, ever-present psychosis.
They are coping mechanisms long ago developed to deal with the unknown, the out-of-control feelings I can’t tamp down, the anxiety that spills over and into my day-to-day.
This kind of OCD isn’t optional.
It’s a necessity for people like me. It is in these menial tasks where I am able to focus on the minutiae of life and control the controllable because I can’t control the rest.
Over-thinking versus Excessive Cleaning
I see my OCD in two different forms – the thoughts and the actions. The over-thinking and intrusive thoughts are completely different from the actions. The thinking lies to me – it says life is unpredictable and regrettably so . . . it says,
“Plan for this . . . and that . . . oh . . .”
It points a finger.
“Don’t forget about that. BUT what if this happens . . .”
Finally, it throws up its hands in complete surrender:
“Just give up. Life isn’t worth living. You’ll never be able to control anything!”
The thoughts start with the lie that they are preparing me for every possible outcome. It begins as the survival mechanism on steroids. My OCD brain is hardwired into an overdrive of hyper-vigilance fed by huge doses of mostly irrational fear.
The actions are different. They are an outward reflection of my inner state, but weirdly, they work to keep me sane. As I clean up the outside, the inside begins to make sense. I begin to make connections to my frenzy and the chaos in my mind.
Clarity returns . . .
I am present and aware . . . (when accompanied by large doses of recovery and meditation, that is!)
So . . . I have found one way to make my OCD work for me. As I focus on the present . . . the small moments directly in front of me, I am able to finally hear and acknowledge the emotions within me. Through my dusting and scrubbing and categorizing and cleaning, I find myself focused on that particular task alone. My thoughts cease, so awareness can take hold and provide space for my feelings to unfold.
This is one way my OCD has helped me to finally understand . . .
The Power of Presence
By physically diving into activities on a regular basis, I have learned an awareness that bleeds into my day-to-day as well.
Case in point — the other day, Noah made the most profound statement:
Sitting in a long line of cars, waiting impatiently for Josiah’s teachers to release the horde of middle schoolers from their concrete cage. I was focused on my phone and briefly glanced in the rear-view mirror at the sound of Noah’s voice.
“Hey, mom. You know why I like writing?”
My interest piqued, I focused more intently on his face. Childlike excitement emanating from his eyes. He had my full attention. He loves attention.
“The thing about writing is it surprises you. You never know what’s going to come next.”
I couldn’t respond for a couple of minutes.
In that moment, a moment of present-awareness with one of my most precious people, I realized the profundity of this statement.
Life is like writing. I never know what is going to come next.
My OCD would say:
“Be afraid, beware, plan, over-plan, and have the fire extinguisher ready.”
But my conscious mind, my true self, spoken through the mouth of a ten-year-old, says:
“Enjoy the wonder . . . be amazed . . . be aware at the breathtaking surprises that embrace you in every new moment of every new day.”
I looked at Noah, and I said:
“You know what? You’re absolutely right. When did you get so smart?”
And I watched as a beautiful smile spread across his face. . . these are the moments that surprise us . . . and in moments like this, I’m thankful for the lessons in presence that my OCD has taught me…
Written by Katrina Norman. Katrina has been writing for almost two decades. She’s written a variety of content ranging from blogs, to web content, to editorials, non-fiction and fiction. To contact Katrina, email her at email@example.com or find her on LinkedIn.