My attempts to balance marriage, motherhood, & obsessive compulsive disorder

I Saw Spots Before My Eyes

Baby Rash :(

Image by somenametoforget via Flickr

This time, though, I wasn’t panicking that I had some mysterious medical illness.

That’s because, when I noticed that my daughter had broken out in a rash, I panicked that she had some mysterious illness. So, after I put her to bed, I consulted the internet for accurate, reliable medical information.

It should have reassured me to discover that “rashes are rarely urgent and almost never require an urgent page to your doctor.” I also tried to rationalize that, since it had been pretty hot that day, it was probably just a heat rash. I mean, she didn’t have a fever or anything.

But I really needed to be sure; that was the only thing that would truly help. So I googled heat rash. After reading the definition on multiple sites, I concluded that her rash didn’t fit the description. Then I searched for pictures/images that I could compare it to. Again, it didn’t look like a match.

What kind of rash was this??? Now my anxiety was really kicking into high gear. Since it was almost 7:00 pm, her pediatrician‘s office was closed. I knew I could call the on-call service, but I had a competing anxiety about calling when it wasn’t an emergency.

Was this an emergency??? I pulled up the pediatrician’s website. The rash didn’t seem to satisfy any of the criteria for what the doctor felt was an emergency. Neither did having an increasingly panicked, irrational mother who suffers from a mental disorder.  

I just had to keep “researching.” Going back to my original source, Dr. Sears‘ site, I discovered that there is a type of rash that does require immediate medical evaluation called petechiae or purpura.

Again, I completed the same cycle, though this time more frantically. I read countless versions of the definition, looked at an endless number of disturbing pictures, and attempted to make a rational comparison to my daughter’s rash.

But by that point, any real comparison or resolution was hopeless. As usually happens after these bouts, though I was no closer to an answer, I was emotionally drained.

That’s when something really strange happened. Since I was already on the internet, I mindlessly checked my e-mail. Then I checked the Groupon and Living Social sites, like I do everyday. Then I read my two favorite magazines online. Amazingly, I was actually able to put aside my daughter’s rash and focus my attention on other things!!! Admittedly, it was all trivial stuff, but the fact that I was doing it meant it wasn’t meaningless. 

I was even able to keep a cool head when she threw up later that night, and when her rash was significantly worse the next morning. I just waited until the pediatrician’s office opened, and calmly called and made her an appointment. Then I went to work, and let someone else take her to the appointment!

So did I experience some sort of breakthrough? After years of therapy and medication, was this a sign of progress?

Turns out, my daughter had strep throat, which made being proud of myself feel a little weird. But all I had to do was give her an antibiotic, and she would be fine.

But how much was I supposed to give her again? Did I give her too much? Did I somehow forget that I already gave it to her and give her an extra dose? Did I…


This time, I don’t think it was my son that I was accommodating.

My son was happily playing with his train, when I noticed something was wrong. 

No, I wasn’t that he wasn’t putting the blocks where they belonged. It was that a block was missing, right in the front of the train under the yellow block!

Although he didn’t notice, I searched his room for the block. While he played, blissfully ignorant of impending disaster, I looked in his toy box. I looked under his dresser, under his bed, and in his closet. I mean, his room is not that big! It had to be there.

In a moment of clarity, I asked myself why I was doing this. Was it to prevent him from having a meltdown, even though the fact that the block was missing was having no effect on him? Or was it to calm my own anxiety? (I never did find that block).

Regardless, as three-year olds do, he quickly got bored with the train and moved on to another toy. Now, he decided to play with two trucks that also had block pieces. Thankfully, none of the pieces were missing.

But after he took the trucks apart, he didn’t know how to put them back together. This, too, was not a problem. He wasn’t freaking out, and the toy manufacturer had wisely put instructions on the bottom of the trucks.   

So I snatched the truck away from him, and calmly said, “Let me show you.” He said, “No, I can do it.” I said, “Let me show you!”  He said, “No, I can do it.” I said, “Let me show you!!” Then, WOULD YOU JUST LET ME SHOW YOU!!!” 

Again, who was I trying to help? Was it him or me? There’s no question that I was letting my anxiety get the better of me.

Realizing that I wasn’t going to leave him alone, he decided to just play something else. This time, he chose not to put the train or trucks together at all. Instead, as I watched in complete, jaw-dropping shock, he took all the blocks off the train and the trucks and put them into a basket. Then, he pretended that it was food, and began “feeding it” to one of his stuffed animals.

I should have been proud. What an imagination! How creative! Isn’t it wonderful that he can entertain himself! But I just felt overwhelmed. And I emotionally exhausted.

So I did what any mother would do. “Oh, I think I hear Daddy calling. What’s that, Daddy? You need Mommy’s help with something? Son, play by yourself for a while. Mommy’s gotta go.”

Freedom of the Open Road?


Image by ElvertBarnes via Flickr

Even though it’s been five years, I clearly remember the question that sealed my fate. The question that changed my diagnosis from generalized anxiety disorder to OCD.

The question was this: You are driving and pass someone riding a bike on the side of the road. After you pass, do you look in your rearview mirror to double-check that you didn’t hit him or her? Obviously, I answered yes.

At the time, I thought that the question, and the resulting diagnosis, were ridiculous, and that the psychiatrist was a quack. Now, I wonder why my prior psychiatrist didn’t ask me this. According to the IOCDF, checking that you didn’t harm others is a common compulsion.

Despite the subsequent years of therapy and medication, I’m still plagued by this compulsion. Recently, I was driving home by myself at night. I was driving in the left lane, and there was a motorcycle in front of me. I became panicked that, if I got too close, the motorcycle driver might suddenly hit his brakes, and I would hit him.

While that fear isn’t completely irrational, my level of anxiety certainly was. So, although I was in the “fast” lane, I drastically reduced my speed and increased the distance between my car and the motorcycle. I developed tunnel vision, and focused intently on that single brake light ahead of me.

As I watched, the motorcycle began repeatedly changing lanes, darting between cars into gaps which I thought were entirely too small. But, with the motorcycle no longer in front of me, you’d think that at least some of my anxiety would’ve subsided. Actually, quite the opposite happened.

With the motorcycle no longer in front of me, the distance between me and the car ahead of me was pretty big. But I refused to speed up and close the gap. What if the motorcycle happened to be in the right lane, and was next to me? Then, not only would I have to worry about hitting him, but I’d worry that the wind draft from my passing car would be too strong and he would fall. Then, the car behind him wouldn’t be able to stop in time, and he and the motorcycle would get run over. Then, the ambulance, fire truck, and police car would have come. Then, there would be a traffic jam, and no one could get home to their waiting families. And it would all be my fault!

Finally, the motorcycle must have gotten so far ahead of me that I didn’t see its brake light anymore. Or maybe it got off the highway at one of the exits up ahead. Either way, story over, right? Again, no. 

Because maybe that’s not what happened to the motorcycle at all. Maybe, in all the driver’s weaving, the motorcycle ended up in my lane again and in front of me. Maybe, I really did hit him. Maybe, the reason that I didn’t see the brake light anymore was because the motorcycle was being dragged under my car. Maybe…

police and thieves

Image by pixieclipx via Flickr

I hear the police sirens. When I look in the rearview mirror, I see the flashing lights. I know they’re coming for me. I guess that’s what I get for getting gas and driving off without paying.

That’s what I think is going to happen every time I pull away from the gas station. But, for the record, I’ve never not paid for gas.

Let me start by saying that I hate having to get gas. While I was pregnant, I convinced my husband that it was harmful to the baby. I argued that there were too many germs on the gas nozzle and that the smell was toxic. But now I have no excuse. (More about my severe pregnancy germaphobia later).

I follow the same process every time, so there’s really no basis for this paranoia. I pull up to the gas pump and turn off the engine. I take my credit card out of my wallet and open the car door. I press the release to open the gas tank, and I get out of the car.

Then I press the button on the gas pump for “credit card,” and insert my card. While the transaction is being authorized, I unscrew the gas cap. I choose an octane level, put the nozzle into the gas tank, and begin fueling.

When I hear the click, telling me that the tank’s full, I place the nozzle back in the pump, screw on the gas cap, and shut the door to the gas tank. That’s what you do too, right? 

Here’s where the weird OCD paranoia comes into play. I think it stems from the fact that there’s no visible exchange of money. Somehow, I start to doubt that I’ve actually paid. And even though I always get a receipt, clearly showing my credit card information and stating how much the gas cost, I still leave with a distinct feeling of anxiety.

What do I do with all these receipts? They are in the car’s cup holders, with the aforementioned half empty (or half full if you’re an optimist) plastic water bottles. Or they’re in what I’ve dubbed the “vast wasteland” of my purse. Just like the water bottles, I can’t throw the receipts away. Who knows when the police might decide to come after me? Is there a statute of limitations on gas theft?

So that’s my plan. When the police stop me, just before they arrest me, confiscate my license, and impound my car, I’m going to whip out that precious receipt.

“Oh, what’s that, Officer? You didn’t pull me over for stealing gas? I was speeding? Whew! That’s a relief!”

Do you know what will happen if you step on a crack? Break a mirror? Walk under a ladder?

Probably nothing. After all, those are just silly superstitions. But I have my own personal superstition that isn’t so silly to me, as these recent examples show.

First, when I drove my husband to the doctor, he brought a bottle of water with him. He drank some of it on the way and left the bottle in the car. About a month later, that bottle is still there. Similarly, when my son stayed with his grandparents for the weekend, I couldn’t throw away the bottle he’d been drinking from until he came home safely.

In both cases, although it’s admittedly irrational, I believed that something inexplicably terrible would happen to them if I threw away those bottles. Something that made me anxious to even think about.  

I’ve been plagued by this superstition/phobia for a long time. When I was in my early twentys, I kept “mementos” of the places I’d been and the things I’d bought with my then boyfriend. These included things like receipts of all kinds, candy wrappers, and other assorted trash. My thinking was that, if I threw that stuff away, I was throwing him and our relationship away. (As an aside, I probably would have been better off throwing it away and taking my chances).

Is this how hoarding starts? I don’t know, and as you already know, I’m going to avoid thinking about it anymore. But just in case, I’m just going to go outside and look for a four-leaf clover.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Should I call the police?  My insurance company?

Those were my first thoughts when I couldn’t find my car. I had just left the doctor’s office, and had gone back to the green level of the parking garage where I’d parked. But my car wasn’t there! It had been stolen!

Or at least I thought it had. As I’ve mentioned before, paranoia is one of the hallmarks of my OCD. So, whenever I can’t find my car in a parking lot, I immediately conclude that its been stolen.

The worst, but not only, incident happened about seven or eight years ago. It was before I got married, and even before I was diagnosed with OCD.

It happened in the parking lot of Target. When I came out of the store and couldn’t find my car, I completely panicked and started sobbing hysterically. I called my mother, wailing into the phone that my car was stolen. (In hindsight, I’m not sure how I thought she was going to help me, since she lived about twelve hours away).

My mother tried to reassure me that the car wasn’t stolen.  She said that I should try to calm down and just look for it. But that just made me angrier and more convinced of the theft. Also, how could I possibly have forgotten where I parked? I had only been in the store for about five minutes.

Needless to say, my mother was right. As I screamed at her and wandered aimlessly around the parking lot, I found my car.  But since it was in a completely different spot than where I remembered I left it, my next thought was, “Oh my God, somebody moved my car!”

So you’d think I would have learned my lesson after that.  But you’d be wrong.

Though this time was different. After my initial paranoia, my behavior was surprisingly rational. Without calling anyone, I pressed the alarm button on my car’s remote. When I heard the horn blaring, I knew for sure that the car hadn’t been stolen. Then I just followed the sound of the alarm to my waiting car.

So this time, instead of calling my mother, the police, or the insurance company, maybe I should call my therapist. I think she’d be proud!

Remember how I said that I was going to temporarily reserve judgment about my son’s possible OCD symptoms? Impossible, you said. Well, I hate to admit it, but you were right.

It all started when my daughter received a Leap Frog picnic basket with play food for her birthday. Typically, my three year old son wants to play with the baby toys, and my one year old daughter wants to play with the big kid toys.  So, my son co-opted the picnic basket for himself.

He immediately picked his favorites out of the basket: a blue plate, naturally, a slice of watermelon, a cracker with cheese, and a cookie. Resentful that her brother took her toy, my daughter also took a liking to the cookie and carries it all over the house whenever he’s not around.

Last weekend, while my son was staying with his grandparents, my daughter started playing with the picnic basket. When I heard her pitiful wail, I went over to see what was wrong. To my horror, the cookie was missing!

I tore the house apart looking for the cookie, searching in every room and under every chair, table, bookcase, etc. Meanwhile, all I kept thinking was that, if my son came home and the cookie was gone, all h**l would break loose. I seriously considered just buying a whole new basket if I couldn’t find the cookie.

This is not the first time I’ve frantically searched for one of his toys. He has always developed inexplicable attachments to certain items: a blue dump truck puzzle piece, a blue foam circle from a soft shapes book, a blue UNC stuffed bear. But, amazingly, in three plus years, I haven’t lost a single toy or piece of a toy of his. I shudder to think what would have happened otherwise.

Eventually, the pretend cookie turned up under the bench in our entryway. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, thankful that all was right with the world again.

Later that day, I recounted the story to my husband. Before I could finish, he said, “I bet it was under the bench in the hall.” Shocked, I asked how he could possibly have known that. His response, because that’s our daughter’s favorite place to hide things.

Is this “normal”? Was I, using OCD terminology, accommodating him?

Is there room for me under that bench?