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“Throw your shoes and backpack into the washer now! But don’t touch them on your sibling or kitchen table!” (Understand that our washer and dryer were in our kitchen then).
That was a common sentence at our house last year as my daughter came home each day. I’ll admit to you that suddenly I became obsessed with washing my daughter’s backpack every day when she returned from school.
Silly, you say? Yes, it may seem so at first, but to an OCD person, that is exactly what life is like. If something doesn’t go your way, all extreme breaks out! Each OCD person has his/her own way of exploding (as I call it). Some are more visible or straightforward than others. We don’t necessarily do this on purpose, but the thinking part of our brain tells us that it must be this way. Other times, an individual draws away from life into a solemn depressed stage. Our brain tells us that this certain ritual or fear must be done in a certain way otherwise we must comply immediately.
An OCD brain needs physical proof in order to successfully make that individual content with the outcome. Try being a family member of an OCD person and living under THEIR rules and restrictions! As we continued on this OCD journey, it wasn’t easy for any of my household. I say ‘we’ because it affected my husband and younger children just as much as me. Yes, I was the only person dealing with the immediate thoughts and feelings. But did I ever stop and think about my kindergartener who had to throw her shoes and backpack into the washer every day after school or Mommy would panic? Oh no! For a while, I forced her to walk straight to the washer and dump her backpack inside. But being overly too concerned, I made her do this because that was something that seemed normal to me as a mother. I didn’t (and couldn’t) walk past the backpack on its hook in our living room without having an OCD attack! The backpack was right next to the kitchen and it came from school.
You say, why school? It’s just a school, where kids learn and grow. Well honestly, I couldn’t control anything at school, but the minute she walked through our front door, I could. OCD loves control and would do almost anything to have it at all times. For that reason, family members have a difficult time living with OCD people.
Mid school year, her backpack started falling apart and so I used some hole-y shorts to patch up the bottom because I was too cheap to buy her a new one. It looked a bit silly, but nonetheless, it worked until the last day of school! By then, she was tired of it and wanted a new one for 1st grade. Oh, let’s not forget her shoes that joined the backpack in the washer. Lucky for my daughter though, she ended up getting a few new shoes that year. Talk about an expensive shoe budget! Normally I only buy kids’ shoes on clearance at the end of the previous season, but when your child has worn out shoes because you’re obsessed with making sure she is clean, what can you do? The only way to overcome the OCD snare is to train our brain to think differently against that specific item or way.
As a full-time mother, it is extremely difficult and close to the extreme to control your children. As of today, we now have a 3-month old. About a month before he was born, we had an accidental fire in our apartment which actually forced me to put aside my OCD for the safety and well-being of my family. But that is for another day. So as my pregnancy was coming to a close, my husband kept nicely reminding me that I couldn’t keep washing shoes and backpacks with a baby so close. He did it out of love and concern as difficult as I tried to accept. Let’s not forget that adults are NOT easy to retrain especially when their brains are wired that something is correct…even when it IS wrong. Who likes to be told what he or she is doing wrong? Humility isn’t easy when we have gone through years of doing these on our own and feeling like we know everything. Who likes being told that he or she is wrong? It’s better off mentally and financially to NOT keep washing shoes and backpack.
My then-kindergartner didn’t like her hole-y backpack or to wear her worn shoes. So as my life is suddenly crazier and more exhausting, I’ve got to be strong and resist letting them get washed. I’ve swallowed my pride and only washed her shoes a rare few times after school (she also plays outside in the dirt or bikes in the same shoes, so I have to allow for that some days). As for her backpack, I believe I washed it after the first day of school, but it continues to hang on the hook ready for each day!