What if I make them sick too?
One memory sticks in my head with my daughter. She was six years old, and she was following me out of the house. I had been at work, and I was picking her up from the childminder. I’ll never forget the gut-punching moment when she opened the door with her hand covered by her sleeve.
The levels of guilt I felt were enormous. Until that moment, I had always assumed I had been careful with exposing my children to my mental illness. I know mental illness isn’t a learnt behaviour, but I sure as hell didn’t want to take any chances.
If you haven’t guessed it, I have Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It has plagued my life for as long as I can remember. It started in childhood. I would tell you when, but I’m not really sure. I just knew that it was the worst illness I had ever had in my life and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone — not even an enemy.
Although I may wish it on those who like to say they’re so OCD, for a few hours, but that’s a different story.
My son is twenty-six, and my daughter is now nineteen. I am so grateful they have grown up to be mentally healthy adults. It was always something that worried me. I didn’t want them to inherit any of my mental curses.
They’ve Grown Up Mentally Okay
It Started a Long Time Ago
I can’t tell you exactly when OCD decided we were going to be friends. I can remember specific moments, flashes of things. Back then, I didn’t know it was an illness of any kind. But there are odd memories here and there.
I used to put all my wrappers in my pockets, and I couldn’t throw any of them away. If I threw them away or lost them on the ground or something like that, my mother was going to die. It might sound odd you, but that is what OCD is. It isn’t this need to be neat and clean. It isn’t this need to just count. Yes, these are the symptoms we see, but what you don’t see it what the action is trying to combat.
It’s the thoughts, the illogical intrusive thoughts that won’t go away.
I also used to have to line my shoes up at night, and they had to be perfect. They couldn’t touch each other, and they had to be the same distance from the wall. This would have been okay, but my mother liked to vacuum every single day, and for me, that was hearty breaking. When I came in, and the vacuum head had pushed the shoes all askew. It could take me anything from an hour to two hours to get them all back in line. If I didn’t get them in line, someone was going to come into the house and hurt my family. It would be my punishment.
I had to count.
I had to do everything in threes. When I was a child, I had to flick the switches any number that could be made by multiplying three. The problem was, I couldn’t do anything in fours. Which meant I couldn’t do anything twelve times. If I accidentally got to twelve, I had to start again. It was and still is a complicated system. I still have the number problem now. Maybe the reasons have changed, but it is still there.
These weren’t my only problems either.
Tourette’s believe it or not is part of the OCD family. It is another illness that gets its severity diminished by ignorant jokes. We all think when someone is swearing a lot, they have Tourette’s, but it is more than that. Mine comes in the form of having to feel letters. I can’t say words that have the ch sound in them or is sets me off. I can’t hear noises that click, or that makes me click, and I can’t make it stop. I’ll click until I can’t breathe. I have vocal tics, which mean I must make sounds so often, over and over.
That also started when I was a child. My father once threatened to have me sent to hospital if I didn’t stop clicking in the back of my throat. I do it now when I am stressed, when sounds set me off. Just typing about it here has me starting it. It’ll pass. I live with it. But my biggest fear was passing it onto my children.
They Watch What We Do
We can send children to school, the clubs, to other people’s house, but psychology shows they learn all their things from home. Yeah, they might learn the odd thing, annoying habits and such from their peers, but their deep-seated beliefs and actions come from the home.
By the time my son was twelve and his sister was six, I was in the jaws of OCD. I hardly ate out of fear of contamination. I couldn’t touch anything in my house, light switches, door handles, stair bannisters, the toilet, the taps, the drawers. You name it, I couldn’t touch them, and if I did touch it, it was because I had sanitised them first and then washed my hands three times.
I cannot tell you how many times I have stood in front of the sink, unable to get away because OCD is telling me things. Maybe I didn’t do the dishes right, and I have to do them all again. Perhaps I touched the tap too long, and now my hands are dirty, but not just that, I touched the towel with my dirty hand, and that towel then rested against the cabinet door and inside that cabinet are all our plates. One wrong touch of a tap and I would be cleaning out the cupboard because of the trail of perceived contamination.
I used to hate myself. I used to stand in the kitchen and break down because day by day, OCD was making me a prisoner in my own home. It was starving me and making me live inside this bubble.
How could someone who was afraid to open the fridge be capable of raising children?
I hid my illness from them. I had to. I would have never forgiven myself if they somehow developed my conditions through seeing what I was doing. The day my daughter used her sleeve to grab the door handle. I took her to one side. I told her to grab the handle.
Every ounce of anxiety pounded in my chest, but I had to do this. On purpose, I would make sure she could see me proudly hold door handles, open doors with my hands. Anything that I didn’t want her to fear. It killed me inside to do it. My head wanted to explode.
I would have to drive home with my hand feeling like it was one fire with contamination, but I did it. I did it for her. When we’d get home, I would wash the steering wheel of my car. I would wash my hands so many times they would bleed, but god help me, it was worth it if she didn’t develop the same monster who had come to roost in my head.
My Mother Was Mentally Ill
If I think about my mother, what I remember about her was her illnesses. She suffered from so many of them. Schizophrenia, anxiety, agoraphobia. Our entire world, when we were growing up, was about her conditions.
Trauma and Betrayal
I was reading another article that spoke about people surviving childhoods with parents who have mental illness and how many of them it affected. I think people don’t realise. When a parent has a mental illness, it can make the family environment a terrifying place to be, and as a result, the child often grows up with anxiety issues.
It always made me wonder if I wasn’t born into my family, would I be suffering the effects of mental illness myself now? I know that mental illness isn’t hereditary, although family genetics does increase your risk of developing an illness.
With my mother being schizophrenic, it meant I had an increased risk of developing the same thing, but it wasn’t a predetermined thing. I’m forty-two now. I think it is safe to say I dodged that bullet, but I got caught in the side by something else.
Would I have always developed this? Or was it triggered by life events?
I Have Protected My Children as Much as I Can.
These are the thoughts that enter my head. If my mother hadn’t been mentally ill, would I be now?
Maybe if she had hidden it from us, things would be different.
Is it possible to raise mentally healthy children when you have a mental illness? I think so. It just takes a lot of work with yourself. I learnt from my mother. Children are not your support system. Don’t give them that burden.