You Taught Me to Wash My Hands, Now It’s Wrong?

Parents and doctors must work together to help child sufferers reach diagnosis and treatment early on.

Key Takeaways:
  • Reaching an OCD diagnosis is hard, but far too often parents and professionals stand as barriers to treatment instead of necessary helping hands.
  • Stephanie started experiencing OCD in childhood. It wasn't until her early twenties that her diagnosis was taken seriously.
  • If your child has symptoms of OCD please take them to a doctor for an official diagnosis. It's crucial they get the help they need before it evolves into a bigger issue.

Sitting at my second grade school desk, surrounded by classmates, I look like any other child. I’m not. Inside, I’m plagued by intrusive thoughts. I’ve been acting on compulsions for awhile, but they’ve been subtle enough to go unnoticed by adults. In my mind, my ritualistic behaviors aren’t problematic. They’re whom I am. They’re normal. Doesn’t everyone make sure the windows aren’t broken when returning home? And how about my newfound fear of germs? I’m scared of catching diseases most children my age haven’t even heard of. My hands don’t feel clean. I need to wash my hands, but I’m afraid I won’t be excused from class.

“May I go to the toilet?” I ask. My teacher allows me to leave the room. I exit the classroom and hurry through the school grounds to the nearest girls bathroom. Inside, I don’t use the toilet. I turn on the tap and rinse my hands under the water. There’s no soap provided, so I rinse my hands under the faucet a few more times, and then hurry back feeling a little bit calmer. The problem is, in a few minutes I’ll need to wash my hands again. The cycle continues.

Unfortunately, I haven’t realized my teacher is keeping tabs on my frequent toilet visits. She stops letting me go when I ask, including the times I actually have to use the bathroom. Because of this, I become the girl who regularly wets her pants as well.

My teacher informs my parents of my constant toilet visits and my accidents. A physical medical condition is assumed, and next thing I know, I’m in the doctors office undergoing tests — urine samples, blood tests, and so on. Every one comes back clear. There’s nothing physically wrong with me. I could have saved time and resources by telling them I was going to the toilet to wash my hands, but I’m confused about my behavior too. Hand washing has always been taught as a positive thing, so how is it wrong now? My parents are assured they have a healthy child and I move along thinking I’m just like everyone else. I have yet to hear of OCD.

I’m around ten years old when my parents notice the hand washing again, and by then I’m repeatedly flicking light switches off and on too. I hear the term OCD for the first time when my mum says I have “OCD tendencies.” Really, there’s a name this? I feel relief, but since OCD is often misrepresented in the media as a series of simple compulsions, I don’t think it’s serious. Throughout my adolescence, it only gets worse. My thoughts strengthen and my compulsions grow. It’s not until OCD takes over my life in my early twenties that I am officially diagnosed. That’s the moment I started to become whom I am today: a person determined to win their OCD battle.

A note to parents: If your child has symptoms of OCD please take them to a doctor for an official diagnosis. It’s crucial they get the help they need before it evolves into a bigger issue — one that’s much harder to gain control over. OCD is not quirky and it’s not fun. It’s a difficult and confusing condition to deal with at any age, but as a child it can be particularly confusing. Knowledge is power. Remember to do your research and if possible, find other parents and children affected by OCD so your child can mingle with children like themselves. Doing so will help them feel less isolated and allow you to gain insight into how other parents handle this difficult situations. Most importantly, with a supportive family and effective treatment your child can live a normal and happy life.