This is a personal story by: Alex Carlson
“Maybe you have OCD.”
This is the phrase a social worker said to me one day. I had talked with this person for a while about my recurring thoughts and anxieties, but continuously dismissed their words, thinking that my situation was something I really could “get over.”
It was in high school. It started innocently enough. Getting toothpaste on my manga caused me to constantly smell the pages to make sure the odor hadn’t persisted. Hearing my health teachers warn me about how certain illnesses were permanent and would eventually kill you. Washing my hands upwards to three times in a row simply to calm my mind. Repeating the same reassuring sentence hundreds upon hundreds of times to clear myself of any chance of being wrong. It was hell. It was a parasite gnawing at my brain and I simply couldn’t believe that it existed.
But then one day I talked to the social worker. I walked into the room, she greeted me, and I said, “You might be right. I want help.” I could tell by her expression that she was actually happy to hear me admit this, while at the same time crushed that I was afflicted by its effects. I asked for advice. She gave it to me.
Now this social worker wasn’t just someone in an office. It wasn’t any old social worker. This social worker was my mother.
My mother had been involved in social work for years, practicing independently in our town of St. Louis, Missouri and treating children from grade school all the way to college-bound. She had been involved in multiple situations where she had to diagnose different conditions like depression, attention-deficit disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She knew from experience that mental illness was very real and demanded treatment beyond simple mental fortitude and persistent denial.
My mother took me to my physician, who recommended me to a mental treatment doctor. I was prescribed medication and therapy. I began taking the pills and visiting the therapist, but nothing worked. I felt hungrier and began to gain weight, and the sessions only shoved the idea of “you’re thinking illogically” down my throat. I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. I felt like my case was a failed one.
But my mother kept talking to me. She told me that some medication doesn’t work on some people. She said that therapy isn’t always the right answer. I was scared to death of what would happen down the line, but listening to my mother, a practicing social worker, was one of the most reassuring things that I could do.
I returned to my mental health doctor and tried other medications, eventually finding one that worked. I dropped the therapy and began being more outgoing with my rituals. I saw results. She was right.
I know that I was undeniably fortunate to have a mother who was also actively involved in social work. She knew the symptoms and was able to determine potential treatments, but beyond all that, she comforted me every step of the way. She knew that what I was feeling was actually common, something that she admitted to me that was even more common in her family. Her father, my grandfather, had similar symptoms during his adulthood. He was afraid to touch some people for fear of contaminating them, just like I was. She even said that she herself worried and that what I was feeling was something that built from her own experience.
In that moment, I didn’t feel like I would never be repaired. I felt like I had just been in a wreck, but I would be rebuilt. I would be back on the road someday.
Today, I’m still struggling, but I know that my battle is not a losing one. I can say with confidence that I’ve conquered the limitations that were brought upon me in high school, and while I have many people to thank for this fight, I will always, always put my mother at the top of the list.
I will always recommend to anyone who is struggling with mental illness, OCD or otherwise, to not only get professional help, but to communicate and talk with your loved ones. They may not have all the answers, but they will support you. They will help you. They will love you even in your darkest hour and will continue to love you even at the end of the road.
I just happened to have both a social worker and a loving mother as the same person. I love you, Mom, and I wouldn’t be as I am today without you.