My thoughts raced in the hours following the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde Texas. My thoughts flooded with images of my daughters trapped in fear in active shooter situations in their classrooms. My mind replayed this horrible scenario over and again, getting more horrific with every passing minute. By the time I reached the school — where my children were safe and happy — I was actively fighting back tears and my heart was racing. My obsessive compulsive disorder had taken over.
OCD makes parenting difficult. I’m not talking about being “so OCD,” a phrase most people misuse when what they really mean that they are conscientiously neat and organized. Actual OCD is a disorder that can interfere with daily life for people with it. It’s often called the “doubting disease” because it feeds on the smallest sliver of uncertainty. Obsessive compulsive disorder is more than a temporary inconvenience. It causes constant distress. This is what I mean when I say that I have OCD. It’s a mental illness that I’ve struggled with since I was a child.
In addition to the obsessions revolving around my own well-being, I am constantly plagued with intrusive thoughts concerning my children’s safety. Some parental anxiety is normal. Any parent who watches their children play in the tub, jump on furniture or sit too high on a pile of toys can worry that they could injure themselves. They are not my concerns because I obsess. I obsess over them, imagining nightmare scenarios and giving up control of how I parent. Roughhousing in the bathtub makes me fear for hours that my children will dry drown, compelling me to sometimes check on them after they’ve fallen asleep to make sure they’re breathing.
My mind works in extremes.
I am constantly aware of the possibility of being injured while playing, and this leads to intrusive thoughts in my mind that replay violently in my head. To prevent my worst fears from coming true, I try to avoid certain behavior patterns or rituals. My mind works in extremes.
Being in constant crisis mode as a global community doesn’t make it any easier as a parent with OCD. My obsessive compulsive disorder is fueled by news from both national and global sources. Once I accepted that every cold and stomachache wasn’t going to be fatal to my children, the coronavirus pandemic began. As far-right political parties became more active, marching down the streets with guns, I began to worry about the pro-police father, who illegally carried his gun into my children’s school. I changed our pick up and drop off times to avoid him, and so reduced the chance of us being shot.
The Supreme Court of the United States has recently ruled in favor of overturning the decision Roe v. Wade Invigorated one my greatest obsessions: being taken from my children. I stood in the wake of SCOTUS’ ruling worried about parenting with OCD. This decision would have a significant impact on fundamental parental rights. What happens if someone determines my mental acuity to be unfit? What if being diagnosed with OCD means that I could be considered a threat to my children’s safety? How long until they take my children from me?
OCD is a battle that I’m fighting even as I write this essay. Admitting particular inabilities or “deficiencies” as a parent means inviting unwanted scrutiny. To be frank, sometimes I resist talking about my mental health struggles even with family because I don’t want anyone to challenge my parental fitness or express a lack of confidence in my mothering. I struggle with incessant mental images of people chastising me in public — I don’t need that to be my reality.
Yet, here I am sharing this because it is the only way to stop my obsessions, and to expose them as unwarranted, to confront them. It is possible to show parents who have mental health problems that they can still care and support their children by discussing openly how we do it.
My girls are my grounding and give me perspective. I’m able to get out of my own thoughts.
It’s not easy.
I first reassess my surroundings when my obsessive thoughts about my children start building up and stacking on top of each other until it seems as if doom is coming. I reassess where I am at the moment, what security precautions are in place and what my children are doing. I lay down next to them on the ground and try to be present with them. My girls are my ground and give me perspective. I’m able to get out of my own thoughts.
I’ve also started doing immediate risk assessment. When the news reports about a disaster or major casualty event I look into how close it is. Is it likely to affect me right away? Do I need to be concerned about it now? Sometimes turning my attention away from the news altogether and waiting until I’m less stressed or anxious helps me, too.
Most importantly, I am in constant conversation with my daughters about what’s going on in the world around them. The details I share vary based on their ages and understanding, but I’ve learned that informing them to some degree helps to reduce fear, build trust, and increase their preparedness. This also gives me another way to process what’s happening and how it realistically impacts our family.
While these methods help me stave off obsessions, they aren’t fool-proof. As a parent, I will never be able to control every event.
My oldest daughter, six weeks after the shooting at Uvalde school, was attending a camp in Uvalde. There were many security guards on the campus. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of something bad happening there. The school was evacuated just an hour after I picked her from camp in the fifth week. Someone had made a credible threat to the students and staff. This threat was more urgent than any scenario I have ever considered. There have been over 300 school shootings across the U.S. since 2022. Thankfully, my intrusive thoughts didn’t overwhelm me in the moment. When it came down to it, my main concern was my child’s well-being.
Whenever I talk to people without kids or parents whose own children are adults, they most often say some version of, “I can’t imagine having to raise kids now.” I can’t imagine it either, but I’m doing it. Many of us are. Although the stakes are higher, we still manage to give our best. We can’t always control what happens to our children, but we have to let them go if we want them to thrive. Our fears and obsessions cannot stop us from helping those who are most in need.
You or someone you know may need help with mental health concerns. Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ website or call 1-800-950 NAMI (6264). You can also visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA), or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for confidential referrals. If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800273-TALK (8255), or 911.
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