OCD Ignorance

Working with preschoolers has gotten noticeably easier since I started at the beginning of June. I remember being convinced that I couldn’t handle it. Now it’s no big deal. Bathroom trips still trigger some anxiety, but nothing like I experienced at first. The last couple of weeks have been a breeze! Then on Tuesday, we had a staff meeting and things got scary again.

To set this up, the preschool is really just a few classrooms out of a building (we’ll call it The Conservatory) that is mostly used for music lessons for people of all ages. The people who run The Conservatory have been complaining about the state of the bathrooms after preschool leaves each day. Kids aren’t very good at keeping soap or water in the sink. The counters are always covered in a thick layer of water and there are piles of soap underneath the soap dispensers. So now the assistant teachers–that’s me–have to wipe down the counters every hour. I didn’t like this assignment, but I was dealing with the news and focusing on remembering to breathe.

Then one of the other assistant teachers decides to add that some of the boys aren’t very good at aiming and that there is occasionally pee all over the toilet seat, so we should probably wipe off the toilet seat regularly, too. I wanted to leap across the table and slap her! It was a valid point, but I reeeeeally hate toilets and urine and everything else involved. I almost had a full-on panic attack a few days ago when a little girl needed help getting toilet paper that was stuck. Wiping urine off the seats? Hellllll no! I once again felt the urge to quit, to run home and curl up in a ball under a blanket and cry. I only have two weeks left there, though, so it would be silly to quit now. I think I’m just going to conveniently forget to check the toilet seats, that or check after every single kid and make whoever pees on the seat wipe it off themselves!

We also discussed one of the little girls who has recently started playing in the toilet after using it (yes, before flushing).  A few days ago she made a mess of her dress and her parents had forgotten to leave a change of clothes for her that day. Luckily, she wasn’t in my class when this happened, so I didn’t have to deal with it, but I had very high levels of anxiety just knowing that it was happening. Now every time I see this girl, I stay as far away from her as possible. I avoid coming into contact with her. I worry that if I touch her, I’ll break my rule of not showering immediately after work. I don’t think I’ll be able to resist.

Anyway, I was cringing during this whole portion of the meeting and my director noticed. She knew I had a hard time with bathroom-related responsibilities when I started and asked if I was acclimated yet or still having trouble. I told her that it was getting easier but still hard sometimes. I didn’t want her to think that I was lazy or something, so I let her know that it has taken me so long because I have OCD. Her response was frustrating. She said that she used to have OCD before she had kids and it’s “just something you have to get over.” Sigh. If only it were that easy. Surely if she had OCD, she would know better than to say something like that. Because it’s not something that one can just get over. Of course she doesn’t know how hard I’m working, that I don’t use OCD as an excuse, that I’m fighting as hard as I possibly can, that it has been a life-long struggle. It’s not for want of trying, that’s for sure.

I know many people don’t understand just how difficult and slippery OCD can be. Some parts of it are tangible and can be dealt with accordingly, but even that takes a long time. Training a brain to work in a way that it has never worked before is not an easy or quick task. I think that’s what people don’t understand: that a person with OCD must train his or her mind to work in a completely different manner, must completely rewire the alarm system in his or her brain.

To those of you non-OCDers who have loved ones with OCD: I know it’s tough. I know we seem crazy. Please be patient with us, though. There is no quick fix and pressure will only make things worse.


20 thoughts on “OCD Ignorance

  1. Your word picture of flying across the table made me laugh so hard. Sorry to laugh at your expense but your word picture was soooo good.

  2. I hate it when people think use words like OCD, depression, addiction, etc so loosely. They always start with oh, I have xxx too. But it goes away after yyy. So just move on. If it’s that easy do you think I won’t move on? Do you really think it’s a pleasure to have OCD/depression/addiction, etc??

    Well, happy Friday Elly, I hope your work situation get better next week.

    1. Yeah, it’s frustrating when I mention to someone that I have OCD and they say “Oh yeah me too, but I don’t mind because I’m really organized and it’s no big deal.” Okay that’s not OCD! That is just being anal. I know it’s the same with depression. Some people seem to think that being bummed out for a few days is the same as being depressed. It really minimizes the struggle of people who really suffer from these disorders. So when people hear that you have OCD or depression, they don’t take it as seriously.

      It doesn’t help that people with mental disorders tend to keep it to themselves (understandably, of course). It’s hard to choose between speaking up and facing criticism or staying quiet and allowing people to retain their misconceptions.

  3. That does sound frustrating! From an OCD perspective, it sounds like you are doing amazingly good work and are very committed to keeping your goals. I admire that as I struggle to find such determination sometimes! Good for you.

    I had a similar “OCD misunderstanding” moment when I went to the IOCDF annual conference in DC. I stayed with a friend, we’ll call her Lauren, and her roommate while I was there, in order to save money. When I admitted to her that I was actually attending an OCD conference, her roommate was basically like…”oh, you mean you’re basically talking about Lauren!” Of course my friend, as far as I know, does not actually have OCD. She just likes to keep things neat and cleans pretty frequently. They continued to make jokes about her “OCD” through dinner. As much as I, too, like to laugh at the absurd things that OCD sometimes makes us do, it was hard hearing them talk so lightly about the disorder after spending so much time learning about OCD at the conference and hearing stories of individuals who are still in really, really bad shape. I wanted to correct them, to share with them how devastating OCD really can be, how it really is a disorder and not just a quirky character trait, but I decided that during dinner and drinks wasn’t the right time…

    I agree that it’s hard to know when to speak up, and when to explain. It would be better if more people knew more about OCD than the everyday stereotype that just pegs neat freaks as OCD. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem like the appropriate situation to correct misconceptions. It’s a hard thing to judge!

    1. That’s why I blog! My blog is a great place to express these things and no one can (should) hold it against me, because hey, it’s my blog! It’s much harder to correct someone in person. I don’t know if I could. I’d start worrying well what if they hate me and what if I don’t explain it well and what if they still don’t agree and what if they don’t believe me and what if I sound stupid and on and on and on (you understand). Oh, OCD!

  4. Amen to that sister!! You couldn’t have descibed OCD any better than that!! I’ve had the disease since chilhood and still struggle with it day in and day out. Rewiring our OCD brains isn’t easy!! Even when you think you’ve fixed your brain OCD rears its ugly head again!! I sympathize with your struggle!!

  5. I don’t have OCD, but my husband of twenty years does. I also know a few people in our neighborhood who do. Not silly little quirks like people think is OCD. Life changing, debilitating OCD struggles that make it difficult to work, have relationships, and just basically function in the world.

    We’ve been on the verge of divorce many times. He went to a support group for a while and he was the only one there who is still married, because it can be so difficult to live with.

    He’s done lots of therapy. We’ve done lots of research. And we’ve both worked hard to understand and know how to work together. It’s tough. I see his struggles and I know his pain. And still it’s tough not to get irritated and frustrated.

    But I have my own mental health issues, so that makes it a little easier for me to be patient. It’s not him. He’s not choosing to drive me crazy. His brain is taking him hostage and it suck for him, too.

    Thank you for speaking up. I agree that too many people stay silent. That’s why I started my second blog, to talk about those things that others won’t. Because I can and maybe it will help someone.

    I hope you can make it through the next two weeks. I’m sorry the lead teacher didn’t get it or support you.

    1. I have heard too many stories of OCD leading to divorce. It terrifies me. It’s actually a huge motivator when it comes to therapy. My boyfriend of four years is very understanding when it comes to OCD, but I can tell sometimes that it really frustrates him. I don’t want to get worse and end up losing him just because I can’t stop washing my hands!

      I’m glad that you have put forth the effort to help and understand what your husband is up against. Some spouses don’t bother and that’s really sad!

      Patience truly is a virtue.

      Oh and just to be clear, the lead teacher I work with is amazing. She is very understanding and I would not have made it this far if not for her. She let me ease into things when I started instead of rushing me. It was the director of the preschool who made that comment. She’s a wonderful boss, but that comment was definitely frustrating!

  6. okay, so how do you know if you do have OCD? My real parents never took me and now my adoptive parents never took me. I believe that they do not want to take me because they do not want to be embarassed (is this spelled right?) or have to deal with it. So how do you know? If you can help that would be amazing.

    1. The best way to know if you have OCD is to make an appointment with a doctor. My family’s general practitioner diagnosed me when I was 12 years old. I’m sure you could go see a psychologist or psychiatrist for a diagnosis as well, but I don’t know exactly how that works since I was diagnosed so long ago.

      Here is a link to how the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) defines OCD. The DSM is what doctors go by when diagnosing a patient. It’s basically the standard.

      1. I’m sorry I forgot to add that ever since I was little I always heard that you had to go be tested for OCD and that’s what I meant by my parents never took me.

        1. It’s not much of a test. There’s no blood test or anything that can be done. I think most of the time, doctors diagnose someone after talking to them for a little bit or having them answer some questions. Again, I’m not totally clear on the process of diagnosis because it has been so long.

          If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?

          If you ever want to chat about OCD or anything, feel free to email me at ocdjourneyblog@gmail.com.

          1. I think it posted my reply so I will do it again. I am 18 which makes me far behind schedule of being diagnosed. You are such a big help, thank you so much. I am glad to see that there is someone actually takes the time to talk to people and care. It is very rare.

            1. You aren’t behind schedule. Don’t worry. Many people with OCD wait years after noticing symptoms to seek a diagnosis. Once diagnosed, we tend to wait even more years before seeking treatment. For instance, my mom started noticing my symptoms when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 12 years old. I didn’t start therapy until this year, at 22 years old.

              You’re old enough now that soon you can take yourself to the doctor, hopefully. It’s hard when family members aren’t supportive. It’s good that you’re reaching out to find support elsewhere. You’re not alone.

              Check out The International OCD Foundation. They’re a great resource! They have a database of therapists. I found mine on their site.

              1. Thank you so much! I just started and I already feel like you and the OCD Community are family. Thanks so much you are such an inspiration.

  7. I am 52 and was diagnosed with OCD when I was 30. Of course I had it long before 30 but it was not something that was talked about. I was put on different meds and spent 7 years in therapy. I was doing fine until my brother was murdered and then all of my symptoms reappeared. I wrote a lot about it in my book. I went back to therapy and it is a struggle to this day but I manage. The saddest thing for me is one of my grand daughters was diagnosed at 7. She is involved in a study now that has something to do with Strep B. My daughter had this infection when she was pregnant and these doctors have found that most children diagnosed so young were born to mother’s with Strep B. Watching what this little girl goes through breaks my heart; I feel responsible. The psychologist she is working with is amazing and she is doing much better. She even says at age 7; I wish people would not tell me to just stop because I try to tell my brain to stop and it won’t.
    I wish you the best and thank you for posting. It is nice to know we are not alone.
    doreenmcgettigan.blogspot.com/ they say everyone has a story..

    1. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for a 7 year old to have to deal with ignorance about OCD. I had OCD when I was that age, but didn’t know it yet and my symptoms were so mild that they were (mostly) unnoticeable. I barely have the patience and self-control to hold my composure when someone says that to me now and I’m an adult. Your granddaughter must be a very strong little girl!

      I wish the best for her, for you and for your whole family!

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