My mind has always played tricks on me. For as long as I can remember, worry and doubt have been my constant companions. Even as a small child I felt compelled to check and re-check things, to agonize over the safety of my family and friends, to internally struggle against the urges welling up inside my brain. If I had an itch, I had to scratch both sides of my body evenly, from head to toe. Before falling asleep, I had to pray for every person I knew, or else be plagued by an impending sense of doom. After receiving a new pair of light up sneakers, I began to count my steps, fearing they would run out of battery. I became fixated on repetition, pattern, neatness, and matching. I do not recall a time when I was ever free of worry.
Growing into a teen, my worries began to shift, evolving from childish fixations into anxiety and depression. It took many years for me to recognize my own depression, to give the burden I felt slung across my back a name. A turbulent home life, domineered by an abusive step-father and alcoholic mother (struggling through her own untreated depression), I felt lost, unworthy, unseen, and overwhelmingly sad. My attempts to bridge the gap widening between my mother and I were met with apathy.
“Everyone feels sad,” she told me. “Deal with it.”
Thus, I battled against the dark thoughts alone, stuck inside the deafening confines of a mind that wouldn’t relent. On the darkest nights, my thoughts wandered into places I hate to think of…a teenage mind poisoned against itself and the world, thinking it would never get better. I cringe to remember moments of desperation, when I flung myself at a boyfriend moving away for college, abandoning me to live alone in a home I despised. I cried and begged for him to come back to me, to continue our relationship long-distance, anything, anything, please….
Now, I look back and can see a scared young girl, afraid to be alone, mentally fragile, lacking guidance, confidence, and support. I can grudgingly excuse her desperate, crazed behavior, she who spent a night alone in a hotel, sobbing and calling that boy over and over again, believing her life was over. I wish I could have told her things would be OK…But, she eventually found her way.
When I met my husband, he always seemed to understand me. Even as young, reckless teens and independent 20-somethings, he rode the waves of my emotions with grace. He began to understand that my worries and anxiety were ingrained too deeply to dismiss, that my aversion to clutter wasn’t something to brush aside. He embraced me, flaws and all, and it felt wonderful to be so honest.
It wasn’t until after the birth of our two children that my depression worsened again. I became a walking bowstring, wound so tightly I could snap at any moment. The isolation of a mind battling against itself is wholly and utterly consuming. My mind would work itself into a frenzy, going over events or actions countless times until I found some sort of outlet to distract it. I carried guilt and shame and hopelessness, bound to me like manacles on a prisoner. A prisoner in my own head.
The clinical term for my condition is severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It took 30 years for me to have the courage to talk to a professional, and the psychiatrist diagnosed me in 30 minutes.
“An OCD brain has trouble closing the circuits,” he explained. “Medication can help block those signals. Close the loops.”
This made perfect sense. That was the feeling I battled: endless, looping thoughts and urges. I left his office with a renewed sense of hope. And I felt validated. Validated, that I was not crazy. I was not alone.
Medication has been a godsend. Paired with talk therapy and a newfound passion for running, I am the healthiest and happiest I have ever been. I can sweat out anxiety when the pressure begins to build. When my mind begins to grow too loud, the circuits run a little haywire, I find ways to cope. I still have to re-check the stall door 3x before I leave my horse at the barn, and take a photo just in case I begin to worry and I need to look again. I still make my husband leave the house last when we got out of town, so I don’t think about the stove or thermostat for the whole trip. I still need to keep the house clean and neat, but I am able to run out the door with dishes in the sink if we’re in a hurry, and this is a step in the right direction.
When I look at this photo of my children, it reminds me to be strong, to continue the battle against dark, draining thoughts. It represents their free-spirits, their hope, their ability to live in the moment…all of the things I wish to embody myself.
As I navigate motherhood, I am frequently bogged down by thoughts of inadequacy and guilt. Am I doing enough? Did I spend enough time with them? Could I have done better?
The early years were a challenge. Two children, aged 2 and a newborn, untreated OCD, depression, a mother recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, a move to a new city, a new job for my husband…
But here we are today, and I am better. I’m not perfect, but I’m here, for my children and my husband and myself. I want to be there for them, fully present, each day and not waste so much time on worry. I want my children to remember me for the good times and for making them feel good. I have realized time is fleeting, slipping through our fingers moment by moment. The best we can do is enjoy our time, enjoy each other, and try to make each day matter.