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How My Son Helped Me Conquer OCD

It was in college when I first realized I had OCD, that is, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Each day, I took a 3-hour, roundtrip journey on four public buses to reach college and return home. While I had always had a fear of germs, this pushed me over the edge. The sweaty people who shoved me inside the crowded buses made my nose and mind work overtime. Standing on buses meant literally hugging the person next to me, and sitting meant placing myself on a leather seat, worn and smelly by the use of thousands before me. Neither was a comforting thought, and most days saw me wondering when I could shower again.

An incident on one such commute officially triggered my OCD. On one decidedly terrible day, a sick man found a way to sexually harass me in that tiny, confined space. I reacted like a raging bull and got him thrown off the bus, but I was left disgusted beyond belief. Once home, I discarded the T-shirt I wore that day and realized my head was now a tough place to be.

From there on, the best years of my young adult life were riddled with questions like, “Can I shake hands with this guy?” or “How soon can I reach home and wash my clothes because the restaurant table was stained?” I spent an unhealthy amount of thought on germs and often missed post-lecture fun because I wouldn’t use public bathrooms. And I counted everything – from the number of times I blinked, to the number of times I knocked on a door. In real life, it is not half as funny as it seems when Dr Sheldon Cooper does it on The Big Bang Theory.

The good thing was, I knew many people have OCD, and it didn’t feel taboo. I got help at the right time, and eventually, logic won over the painfully tedious and draining disorder. I still cringe at the sight of gross things or crowds, but now I won’t take a cold bath on a winter night just because a restaurant felt unhygienic.

Crossing one milestone after another in life, I have kept OCD at bay. Be it in the field, interviewing complete strangers, or travelling extensively with family and friends, I have only gotten better with time.

Then, just when I started feeling a wee bit smug about my triumph, I had a baby.

A pooping, peeing, drooling machine of my own making. Ochoa grew swiftly, and with each skill he mastered, dirt was the reward. Dirty knees and palms when he crawled gave way to dirty hands that touched every possible surface as he started walking.

I panicked. I bought knee covers when he crawled, and mittens as he started touching surfaces. I washed his limbs after every fifteen minutes of motor skills practice. But the knee covers clotted his blood, and the mittens went in his mouth along with the dirt they had gathered. Washed hands were soiled in no time. So, as each month passed without a major disease, I prayed to the gods of all the worlds for another good month.

At 16 months, Ochoa, like any other toddler, has become an OCD mother’s biggest nightmare. One afternoon, no sound came from his corner of the house. After 10 minutes (which is 10 hours in Toddler Standard Time), I checked on him, worried he might be hurt.

He wasn’t. But he had peed on the floor and was now running his hands over the urine.

While I stood there, stunned, he lifted a watery finger toward his mouth. But before he could see through his first attempt to learn the late Morarji Desai’s secret of good health, I picked him up and ran to the other end of the house, rescuing myself, more than him, from a tiny disruption to my mental health.

Having a baby is no mean feat, but things get doubly harder if you are finicky, or worse, if you have OCD. Your anxieties develop anxieties every time the child puts something in his mouth. And with every milestone come more worries.

However, I have discovered something during this roller coaster year as a mother; with each passing month, the disorder has given way to a sense of casual abandon. I have worried; I have scrubbed Ochoa obsessively; I have even mopped a room twice in one hour just because too many guests came over. But it really was a losing battle. As I accomplished one cleanliness mission after another, my son’s exploration inched further away from my control: Pooping or peeing in bed gave way to touching dusty objects. Chewing on things gave way to tasting mud from the plant pots. In a way only babies know, he has made me understand I cannot keep up this act forever. There is no way in hell and heaven that I can let the defunct OCD take over while my child grows.

I have since stopped giving it any thought. Every time he comes home from a round or two of Ringa Ringa Roses, I simply change his clothes to PJs. When I realise he has thrown a tomato 20 times on the ground and taken bites of it in between, I remind myself what the elders of the house say: that his immune system is only getting sturdier. Extremely sterile households are not necessarily healthy households, I have been told. Which is a good thing, because yes, he has succeeded in tasting his pee quite a few times now.

Children put many things in their mouths, but they also put things in perspective. They make us realize the extent of our capabilities. Every instant that Ochoa drives me nuts, he also gives me an opportunity to push this disorder further away.

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