In Part 5 of my #ocdweek disclosure blog series, I share what my experience was like admitting to family that I have anxiety. But the shame and fear still held strong. Admitting to having OCD wasn't yet an option for me.
OCD can be especially frightening to disclose because of what is known as magical thinking--the faulty belief that saying or thinking something will make it so. I was, and still am, afraid that when I travel
out of town, my home will burn down and my cats will die.
A few years ago this particular fear was especially strong prior to a summer trip my husband and I had planned to visit his in-laws who live over 6 hours away. I had been
dreading the trip but didn’t know how to tell
him. After all, I had made the trip multiple times before. I didn't understand the ebbing and flowing nature of the illness.
He picked me up from work the evening we were scheduled to depart.
It was happening. I was willingly getting into the vehicle that would start
the series of events that would lead to my cats’ demise.
I sat in the
car facing the window, a ruse to hide my blatant distress. For
all he knew I was enjoying the scenery. Eventually this led to tears but
I faced the window with conviction. Rural farms can make someone
Luckily, he had to focus on driving. But as we reached
the 90 minute mark, I started sobbing. I was convinced that this would
be the time my cats would die. I felt it with every fibre of my being. I
couldn’t go. I’d regret it. I couldn’t be responsible for killing my
cats. Magical thinking’s wand was especially persuasive that day.
We’re not turning around!
Maybe I can call my mom to come get me, I wailed.
Why didn’t you say something sooner? Why’d you have to wait until we’re over an hour out?
But how are you supposed to say something when saying something makes it so?
I sobbed. He yelled. And then silence.
He turned the car around and we drove the hour and a half back.
I felt convinced we were
getting a divorce. I had managed to ruin my marriage in 90 minutes.
texted my friend, the friend I disclosed to at a restaurant.
She was a godsend. Being able to communicate with someone about what was
happening, while it was happening and be honest about why it was
happening was therapeutic.
He was calm when we arrived home. I didn’t want to
pry about what had changed. I would follow his lead. He declared he’d be
making the 7 hour trip tomorrow. No mention of divorce court. That was
But he was going to have to contact his
parents. After all, we had planned to be there late that evening. He had to
explain why I wasn’t coming. They do say the truth always comes out, but I asked him to keep a piece of the puzzle hidden. He agreed not to mention OCD. He could say anxiety, but not OCD. Anxiety felt safer. Anxiety felt more general. Anxiety
was scary enough for them to know about.
called me and offered support. I felt shy but also incredibly grateful and relieved. His mother sent me a supportive
email. I was assured she understood. They were embracing me as me, even
though a puzzle piece was missing.
But I also had to explain to my mom why I was
still at home. After all, she was our cat-sitter. She couldn’t just show
up to feed them dinner and find me sobbing in the living room.
I hadn't yet uttered the the three letters to her. I kept it all locked away. I had swallowed the key and it rotted
in my stomach. I was her daughter. I didn’t want to cause her any shame
or disappointment. I felt guilty for assuming she wouldn't understand. But what if she didn’t get it? OCD is messier to explain than anxiety.
Anxiety is an umbrella term people are familiar with. People toss OCD around but in ignorance.
People claim they are "so OCD”
without realizing the agony it inflicts.
Disclosure about having OCD
meant providing a mini lecture. It wasn’t like saying, “I have a cold.”
People get colds. People know you’ll be sniffling and sneezing and
coughing and tired. People know to offer you tissue and some Buckley’s.
But with OCD, people don’t know you’re worrying whether you've caused multiple deaths even though you know you haven’t. People don’t
know you're worried you have the power to cause a fire because of being away
from home. People can’t offer you Buckley’s.
So I chose
to use the word anxiety with my mother as well. It’s not like this was coming out of left
field. After all, I was a self-identified worrywart. But that wasn’t something
we talked about much either
That day, I revealed
the extent of my fear of something bad happening; I explained that I needed to be
nearby just in case my home burned down. Even describing that was difficult. Saying it out loud was an exposure I didn’t realize I was doing.
But I didn’t dare mention OCD.
She cried, having had no idea it impacted
me on the level that it did.
Suddenly three family members knew about my anxiety. It was therapeutic. It was a disclosure, but with
pieces missing. But it was a step. Puzzles aren’t always put together
in one sitting.