My little sister Kristin (4), baby brother Kevin (1), and me (7) — at least, this is my best guess of our ages at this time. (Mom?)
My OCD struck at age seven. I had curse words running through my head as if I were some foul-mouthed sailor, when the truth of the matter was that I was a shy (Yes, really! Hard to believe now!) girl from a conservative home, who would have never DARED to utter those phrases outloud.
I drew on real life as I detailed this scene about my protagonist Neely in my book:
“On summer vacation, I’d lie on my back outside and picture the sky littered with profanity. Then I’d erase it with my mind until it was clear again. This would maybe take ten minutes. Then I’d pick up my book—all I ever did was read—and immediately, all those words would swarm back. Seven years old,” I said again, making a face. “I felt stained.” I glanced again at her notes, wondering if she’d written down the word stained, if she’d underlined it.
“I’m sorry, Neely,” said Ruth, narrowing her eyes at me slightly. They were outlined in dark eyeliner and, although apologetic, they were also at peace, as if nothing in the world could truly surprise her.
“My brother Joseph was two years old at the time, just a baby. I’d watch Joseph playing—usually the sandbox—and be so jealous: his mind was so uncluttered! I mean, he was thinking things like ‘digging is fun’ or ‘I have to go potty’—my head was a garbage dump.
“At the time, my mom and I thought I was going crazy. She said she barely got a minute of peace that summer—I was always looking for her and confessing, ‘Bad thoughts! I’m thinking bad thoughts!’” I felt sorry for myself, a seven-year-old wracked with guilt.
I have this image in my head of running to find my mom under the clothesline, smacking my fist against my forehead, and confessing. My poor mom.
I wish we’d known then. It would be another fifteen years before my OCD would be named, but I’ve wondered what life would have been like had we caught it back in the summer of 1989. Drat you, internet, for coming along too late! Out of curiosity, I googled “my daughter is attacked by bad thoughts”– just to see what would have popped up had Mom had access to the world wide web back then. Four or five of the links were about OCD.
My heart breaks for the obsessive-compulsive children out there, wild minds racing, hearts terrified, robbed of childhood.