OCD gave me overwhelming guilt. I felt like I was walking around like a zombie, who acted like a mother. On the outside, I was happy-ish. For the short moments I would allow myself to be around strangers, I could (mostly) hold it together. But there were many times I stayed inside because I was more comfortable in my tears than the facade of slapping a smile on my face and playing the “perfect” mom.
My kids were happy. They were taken care of. They were fed and nurtured. I did a better job convincing them of my okayness than anyone else. Every time I held them, I played the loving mother, but inside I was breaking. When I went to a carnival with my baby in his carrier against my chest, I felt like I was going to explode. I wanted to physically crawl out of my skin. Even though my face and actions were completely normal (yet robotic), I hoped that someone would notice my brokenness and offer me reprieve. I hoped that through some sort of miracle, a stranger would notice my distress and offer to step in. I wanted my husband to take me to a hospital and tell me not to worry about who was taking care of the kids. I didn’t want to die, but I wanted to fully disappear from my life as I knew it.
But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t leave them. I couldn’t let them down, well, I couldn’t let them down anymore (from my distorted perspective) than I already had. Every time I looked at my kids, I felt the crushing guilt of tricking them. It felt unforgivable for me to allow them to trust me so wholeheartedly. What kind of monster would hold a child while simultaneously thinking horrible, uncontrollable, violent thoughts. What kind of “mother” take her children to the park, wondering the entire time if she was truly capable of ever hurting them. What kind of parent held their breath during bath-time, scared of any inappropriate touch. How could my body perform all of the typical “motherly” actions without having the accompanying loving thoughts.
Each time I buckled my kids into their carseats, I saw how fully they trusted me. They knew that I would protect them no matter what, and knowing that tortured me. Why did my kids not question me? If kids are supposed to be naturally intuitive, why did these ones not realize how awful I was? Why didn’t they run from me, or question my intentions?
Because they knew the real me more than I did.
I saw myself as someone who was tricking the whole world. I thought that I had somehow become evil and all of the good deeds I was doing were to hide the “true” me. Even though I spent all of my time fighting the thoughts, I felt that somehow they would eventually overcome me. I thought that acting on them, at some point, was inevitable. This is where the guilt came from.
Even though I hadn’t done anything to my kids (and fought the thoughts tirelessly), I wholeheartedly believed that it was just a matter of time before something bad happened. I thought at some point, the other shoe would drop. Eventually, I didn’t think I’d be able to mentally fight anymore, and my entire life revolved around the dread.
Everyone told me to cut myself a break. To practice some “self-care”. They said I needed a good night’s sleep, or more exercise. I heard all of these suggestions, but none of them mattered to me because the guilt I felt inside over what might happen was too debilitating. I used all of my energy going through the motions of motherhood and fighting the continuous thoughts. By the time I finished that each day, there was nothing left.
I didn’t see the point in taking care of someone who had become so unrecognizable, so evil. I felt like the queen of trickery. The saddest woman in the world. The guilt of the thoughts and the dread of the unknown were eating me alive.
I wasn’t able to make any notable progress in my healing until I began to let go of the guilt. It wasn’t until I allowed myself a “pass” for the thoughts that I was able to get some reprieve from them. The biggest roadblock in my head was the why. If I could only figure out why I had that first intrusive thought, then I could let them all go. My quest to figure out OCD only lengthened my struggle with it. I never found out why I had a scary thought one July night, but even if I hadn’t had one then, I could’ve had one later.
The why isn’t important. All intrusive thoughts are caused by anxiety. The brain is anxiously trying to figure different ways to protect others from worst case scenarios. Some thoughts are on purpose, like me writing this piece. I’m focusing my attention on these words to get my points across. Other thoughts are random. They pop into your head, unprovoked, and can never be explained. Intrusive thoughts are the latter-they are thoughts pop into our brains for no reason, and can cause the most anxious of us great distress.
In the midst of anxiety, depression, and OCD, the last thing someone wants to do is “cut themselves a break.” You don’t feel worthy or deserving. You believe that the people encouraging you to forgive you don’t understand how terrible you’ve truly been. How awful your thoughts have been. You don’t think they could possibly realize the extent of your pain or the depth of your suffering. To anyone who fears giving themselves a break, I would say: you deserve this and you’re worth it.
Thoughts are not actions. Thoughts are not truth. The worst thoughts on Earth, on purpose or otherwise, are not fact. OCD makes you question your sanity, morals, and character. I promise, none of those things have shifted. You have not changed from who you were before, you just need some time to remind yourself of that, and let your heart heal from the trauma of believing you had.