I think of my father almost every day, if not every day. But this time of year, the months that coincide with his last illness and his death 16 years ago, I think of him very often.
So if I write some posts that include stories about my father, you’ll understand why.
|My father, circa 1994.|
It was late June or early July 1997. I was hunched down over the phone in my cubicle at work, talking with my sister-in-law.
“Do you think Daddy’s going to get better?” I asked her.
“No,” she said.
Her answer shocked me. All I could say in response was something like, “Oh.”
But I knew she had told me the truth.
I had sought reassurance from my sister-in-law, but in truth, I’d been seeking reassurance from everyone around me for weeks. I wanted someone—my mother, one of my brothers, the doctors—to tell me that my father was going to be all right.
I wasn’t interested in the truth as much as I was in being soothed and comforted so I wouldn’t have to feel the worry and anxiety that beat at me all day long into the night.
I recognize now that it was OCD making me search frantically for reassurance, making me ask question after question of the doctors or family members who had spoken with the doctors.
One of my chief forms of OCD is harm OCD, where I obsess over harm that might come to my loved ones.
I used to perform compulsions like hand washing; prayers that turned into continuous, silent chants in my thoughts; and checking to try to get rid of the anxiety about someone getting sick or dying.
I also sought reassurance from others. If others could tell me that everything was going to be all right, then I could relax. I could let go of the anxiety, even if for a while.
Besides questioning others about their health, I also sometimes depended on others to tell me that the light switch was off; the stove was turned off; there was a stick in the path, not a nail.
Seeking reassurance was a compulsion for me.
Those of us with OCD have to learn that we can’t depend on the reassurance of others to make it through anxiety.
We have to learn to be honest with ourselves: We can never be certain of everything.
Whatever drives our OCD—concerns about harm, contamination, completeness, perfection—cannot be permanently sent packing because someone else tells us it’s going to be OK.
We have to stop doing the rituals that are supposed to get rid of the anxiety.
We have to learn to deal with the anxiety. We have to learn to accept uncertainty.
It’s hard. It’s an ongoing process for me. I still prefer someone telling me that everything’s going to be all right. But I know that’s not the way to get past the grip of OCD.
On that summer day in 1997, my demand for reassurance didn’t work. My sister-in-law was a nurse aide and worked in the nursing home where my father was a patient. She had seen others in the nursing home who had grown sicker, who had died. She knew things that I didn’t, recognized things that I didn’t. I knew she was right.
My father was not going to get better.
And I had to accept that. No one could reassure me out of that.