In honour of National Children's Mental Health Week, I bring you a snapshot of my life with my amazing 7 year old child, who happens to have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Anxiety Disorder. She may also have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; we're still in the investigative process with that. (FASD) Although she rates 6 out of 8 characteristics for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, (ADHD) she isn't "bad" enough to be considered ADHD. FASD and ADHD manifest in similar ways anyway. Potato-Potahto.
My little girl's birth mom admitted to crack cocaine use and drinking alcohol while pregnant. We knew before we adopted the Kid that we could have some challenges, researched it and decided to adopt the Kid anyway. She is the child God wanted us to have. I know that in my heart and my soul, and she is the reason that the first adoption fell through. God wanted us to have the Kid instead.
The Kid's OCD and Anxiety are twins that operate in tandem. When her anxiety gets worse, so does her OCD. Things need to be calm and consistent at home, and mom has to be calm and unstressed or things go off the rails fast. The Kid is an empath, and she feeds off stress and tension in the house. The last few months in our lives have been uncertain and chaotic, and I have learned the hard way that I need to keep my stress under control for the Kid's well-being as well as my own.
So what does OCD look like? A million little routines that HAVE to take place in a set order in a set way, or the Kid can't cope. For example, food cannot touch, it cannot be broken, and she can't use the same utensil for two different things. If I send pudding and soup in her lunch, she needs two spoons. Washing the spoon out isn't good enough-she needs two separate spoons. If there is even one corner broken on a cracker, she won't eat it. If the granola bar breaks in half in transit, she won't eat it. She fixates on certain things, so for the last 3 months, it was pasta with butter and cheese every single day in her lunch, except the day that she has a hot lunch. Monday-Thursday for most of this school year, she ate pasta with butter and cheese. Some days, I'd sneak in a sandwich or alphaghetti, but for the most part, it was pasta with butter and cheese. Sometime last week, we were done with pasta and cheese. It can happen that fast. The obsession starts, has to run its course and then it's done.
The special ed teacher last year told me I was enabling her obsession by packing her lunch that way. If enabling that piece of OCD means my child eats lunch every day, I can own that. She has never been able to cope or function if she was hungry. She WILL NOT EAT if her lunch is messed with-found that out in Kindergarten when the school was punishing her every day for talking instead of eating. Turns out a kid was trashing her lunch every day, so she couldn't eat, so she talked instead. Move the kid, problem fixed, she started eating. It was my first clue that we had a challenge to deal with.
Hair must be brushed before teeth. I found that out the hard way when I tried to hurry things along one morning and tried brushing her hair while she brushed her teeth. She freaked and locked herself in the bathroom for 20 minutes. In the winter, the order is coat, boots, hat, mitts, scarf and all must be on before we open the door. She will never be able to put her hat and mitts on in the car. Stuffies need to be in a certain place on her bed, things need to be in a certain place in her room. There are a myriad of rules that help the Kid cope with life, and some of them drive me batty, but I've learned to accept them.
The more worrisome aspect of her OCD, though, is her fixation on people. She will zero in on one person to the exclusion of everyone else. In Senior Kindergarten, one of her friends moved on to Grade 1. The Kid fixated on her to the exclusion of everyone else. It made for a tough school year start until it ran its course. She has also fixated on an older boy who used to be a lunch helper. He encouraged a game of chase with her which eventually had most of the school helping her find him, trying to stop him etc. It was innocent fun, except for a kid with OCD it became her lunch routine. the older boy got tired of being chased every day and put a halt to it, except for the OCD kid, it was still a fixation. Christmas break intervened and she didn't see him for a couple of weeks. The teacher thought I was overreacting about the OCD at first, and downplayed my concern about the chase game-but came to understand that in the Kid's mind, it wasn't a game.
Anxiety makes her check on her possessions. Anxiety makes her so upset that she's awake at 0230 hrs the night before a presentation. Anxiety had her in full-blown hysteria because she was afraid she'd left a favorite stuffy in the car, and was terrified that someone would steal it. I had to take her out to the car to reassure her. Anxiety brought that same stuffy in a zippered carry-all to ride on rides at the fall fair because it couldn't be left at home or in the car. Bunny came on the rides. Anxiety almost got her killed last summer when she left Bunny on a table at summer camp, and nearly bolted straight into 4 lanes of rush hour traffic to go back and get him. Anxiety can increase the OCD reactions. She's only 7-what happens when puberty hits?
OCD and Anxiety are not something she can snap out of. They are as much a part of her as her blue eyes and long legs. They do not define who she is, but they do explain how she reacts. I educate people about her characteristics, and I will help the Kid understand. As a family, we will learn and understand how her mind works. They are part of who she is, granted, but it doesn't change anything. My kid is still amazing and I love her. People will need to understand that, or they will have to answer to me, and you don't mess with mama bear.