[Anxiety has been part of my life for as far back as I can remember. It is like a piece of thread woven into the tapestry that is my life. Good or bad, it is a part of me. It has shaped me. It has refined me. It has almost killed me. This might take a few posts, so bear with me as I attempt to share this part of me and the impact it has had on my life….]I was a pretty fun loving, outgoing kid. I was very chatty too. I had the nick name ‘motor mouth’. Surprising huh? I was also an anxious kid. I have a feeling I came out of the womb with a low grade anxiety level that only grew as I experienced my world. And I was a worrier for sure. And a serious worrier at that. I mean, if I got distracted from I was worrying about and forgot what was bugging me, I would keep thinking about it until I remembered. Now, that is commitment. I was also a sensitive kid. I was that kid that couldn’t kill the insects for the 6th grade bug collection science project; I drew pictures of them instead. I was also sensitive to people’s emotions and moods as well. I would pick up on all kinds of relational nuances and subtleties that could be overwhelming to a child. Honestly, I think it was my sensitivity to all that was going on around me that made me anxious and worried.
It didn’t help that I grew up in the 80’s when the cold war tensions were high and the AIDS epidemic was beginning. There also seemed to be an endless number of children being abducted by creepy guys in windowless vans. And, I knew that I was next. I could see the news headlines, “Girl Disappears on Route to Friends House… Authorities not Hopeful.” On top of all that, my Dad was a bit paranoid of Governmental Conspiracies and had me convinced that the movie “RED DAWN” was going to happen, it was just a matter of time. (For you young whippersnappers, “Red Dawn” was a movie about the US being invaded by Russia, or Cuba, or some other scary country and it scared the shit out of me). This is NOT something to tell you highly sensitive, anxious child. It shouldn’t have surprised me really, my Dad never showed a lot of discernment when it came to what was appropriate to share with his children. This is the same man that took my brother and I to see the movie, “Porky’s” when I was 11 years old.
When I hit the 6th grade, my anxiety hit a new level and began to manifest itself in a very apparent way. At the time, Obessive Complusive Disorder (OCD) was not recognized or understood as it is today. OCD is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by intrusive, unwanted thoughts that create stress, fear, worry, etc. It is generally accompanied by some sort of compulsive behavior in hopes of relieving the stress, fear, worry, etc. Mine was of the classic nature. Hand washing. I would wash my hands constantly. Now, this was in 1982 and I was in school for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. Do you remember the hand soap they had back then? It was like powdered Tide but pink. Needless to say, It didn’t take long for my hands to become a bloody mess. Literally.
My parents were obviously concerned and wanted to know why I was washing my hand in incessantly but I wouldn’t tell them. I pretended I didn’t know. But I knew why. You see, there was a man who owned the local bowling alley who was arrested for child molestation. I knew this man. It was very upsetting and anxiety producing for me. Every time I thought of it, I felt dirty and NEEDED to wash my hands. I know what you’re thinking, “Did this man molest you?” No. If he did, I have buried it down deep and have no memory of it. And as far as I know, I was never molested by anyone as a child .
So, my parents tried to figure out what was going on but I was of no help. They did take me to the doctor and I was given a prescription hand cream that would help my hands heal. It actually would have worked quite well but I was unable to stop the compulsive hand washing. This was when my Dad took it up a notch (I think out of desperation). He pulled me aside and told me that if I didn’t stop washing my hands, they would get infected, I would get gangrene and they would have to cut them off. It worked. I stopped. And life went on as normal….sort of.
I wish I could say that my hand washing was an isolated incident and that my OCD never reared its’ ugly again but that is not the case…..