I hear it a lot. People use it in everyday conversation. “Wow, you are so OCD.” “Your house is so clean because you are so OCD.” “Look at those pictures hanging so perfectly on the wall, I can tell you are sooooo OCD.” When my children were small, they heard someone refer to me as OCD… and they named it Obsessive Cheryl Disease.” I used to laugh, but as my kids got older, I realized that I should have addressed my obsession with cleaning and daily rituals earlier in my momhood. Not for myself, but for them.
People don’t get it. If they aren’t familiar with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, they are rather flip about it. It’s serious. I was a mom who would literally freak out and turn into a puddle on the floor if I found a sock on it after I put the laundry away. Some days were better than others, but for the most part, my children were clean, dressed perfectly and VERY well behaved. My home always spotless and ready for company. I can still remember how fear and anxiety would leave me feeling as if all the air had been sucked out of my lungs when I planned to have people over. It’s a real thing, and for those of you who may struggle with the same issues I do, I’m sending you a hug. It’s hard. It’s hard to remember that our children are kids! They get dirty, they mess up their rooms, and they most certainly don’t always remember to put their bath towels away. My high expectations of how my children were supposed to act were unrealistic. Having the house company clean at a moments notice? Who does that? I did (and I still do).
I noticed it when I was a teenager. Only then, instead of being clean and spotless, (you can ask my mom–my room looked like a hurricane hit it!) I was obsessed with things in pairs, even numbers, and having balance. It still amazes me that I survived my teen years. It drove me absolutely nuts! How things were stacked on a table, how many pieces of toast I should have for breakfast, the even number of eye blinking that went on before I went to sleep. Horrible, right? I never told anyone. Ever.
As I became a mom of two very active children, it got worse. My kids could tell you about how Saturdays were for changing furniture around, cleaning, and then cleaning again. Even on week day evenings I had rituals that prepared me for bed: door and window checking–several times each–making sure lights were off, and then checking them again to make sure they worked, and then turned off again.
What I didn’t think of while I was working through my OCD cycles was how it was affecting my kids. I was the mom that didn’t expect her son or daughter to clear the table, clean their bathroom, or vacuum the carpets. Oh, I asked once, and I can only imagine how horrible my children felt when I told them it wasn’t good enough. Thinking about it now breaks my heart. I was so consumed with my own perfection and “right” way of doing things, that I made them feel that they were doing even the most simple tasks wrong. I would change that now if I could.
When my son and daughter were in elementary school, I finally went to the doctor. I sat in his office and sobbed as I told him that I was so overwhelmed that some days I thought my brain would explode. I’d get into such a tizzy over a plate left in the sink, or a towel on the floor, that I am sure my dear, patient husband could have left me. Several times. No one would have blamed him. I was prescribed an anti-anxiety med, a sleep aid, and an antidepressant. Within 3-4 weeks, I felt like I could breathe again.
It’s still there, the need to check the locks each night, 1…2…3…4 times, but the anxiety has lessened. I’m still pretty clean. If someone called and asked if they could stop by and have coffee, pick up or drop off their furniture order, or just plain say hello, I can have the house almost spotless in about 15 minutes, give or take a few. If not, I can always shut a few doors. The thought that things aren’t in their perfect place doesn’t send me into a blind panic.
I need my kids to know: you were, and are, so much more important than a clean bathroom. More than a spotless wood floor. More than changing around furniture every Saturday. You will find your own comfort level and go with it. Remember, when people come to see you, they are there to see YOU, not your home. And to my husband, my patient partner in life, thank you for not running from our home screaming that your wife was feeling overwhelmed.
Saturday mornings are still for cleaning and tidying up the house–it’s just what I do. But now, I do it for me and not for anyone else, so I sometimes just vacuum and call it a day. Because really, it doesn’t matter how clean or organized your home it. As long as you feel comfortable in your own skin, that is what truly matters.