TW! I'm putting a trigger warning on this chapter because it contains a discussion of OCD and other mental health conditions.
I've written this chapter out of my own frustrations growing up, struggling with OCD myself and never feeling understood and feeling that it was extremely unhelpful when others would label me as a germaphobe, instead of having an actual disorder. This is based off my personal experience written through Teddy, a six year old boy (around the age I was diagnosed) learning that these feelings were okay and didn't define him or make him weird. Please proceed with caution, and if its a trigger, please skip over this chapter! This experience with harm OCD, and reassurance OCD is my own, and not everyone with OCD has gone through it this way, but I wanna make a way to feel understood through my writing and let others know they're not alone! This chapter is just one example of the many types of OCD. If you struggle know you're not alone, and are loved. And feel free to PM me if theres something I missed or you want touched on in future chapters!
Teddy had always been a meticulous, well organized child. He loved structure and order and was extremely sensitive to others and their emotions. All around he was a wonderful child, Beca always said she never had favorites, but appreciated her son's seemingly easy going, yet structured personality. He was always looking out for others, especially his sisters, and proceeded with caution in everything he did. It seemed normal, it was his personality, until one day, it wasn't, and Beca noticed something off.
Beca liked to practice self care, and initially when she noticed his behaviors, she called him out of school for the day and decided it was time for a mental health focused day. He seemed stressed and nitpicked about every little thing, from the way his sister touched the bottom of her shoes while carrying them, to how Beca didn't wash her hands after cracking an egg for breakfast. He had never shown interest in the fine details of what could happen if they didn't wash their hands, but suddenly germs were his new enemy. Beca thought maybe he had learned about bacteria at school, and he was showing a sudden interest in keeping his family safe. After reassuring him that the likelihood was there, but slim, she washed her hands and proceeded to make breakfast.
"Mom," Teddy pushed a chair to the stove and glared over her shoulder,
"Did you make sure there were no shells? Ms. Ruby said that the shells can have germs. Salmonella." He relayed and Beca was impressed he remembered such a large word.
"Yes Buddy, of course." She rubbed his back with her free hand, scrabbling the eggs clumsily with her spatula in the other.
"Are you sure?" He demanded reassurance.
"I promise I would never do anything that would put you or your siblings in harm's way." She ruffled his hair, and assumed the conversation was over and that it was just a phase.
Tomorrow he'd be worried about something new, Teddy had always been a little anxious, but she saw it as a great characteristic, because he was always looking out for the well being of others, and he was very empathetic for a six year old.
When Beca thought of OCD, she initially thought of meticulousness, organization. She had unintentionally the wrong idea of what it actually was or what others absentmindedly claimed it was. People threw around the word like it was nothing, and she heard her stepmom often claim, "My OCD is terrible today; I've got every picture frame on the mantle out of place and it feels so unorganized in here. They need to be straightened, Beca." That however, was not just what OCD was or what defined it. There was a huge difference between a perfectionist and someone with OCD and it wasn't comparable in her opinion, and the term 'germaphobe', was just as offensive.
What she didn't know and learned eventually through her son was that there were many types of OCD. It wasn't just the need to be organized or clean. There was harm OCD, religious OCD, intrusive thinking, just to name a few. His was the constant need of reassurance that if you didn't do a series of tasks or rituals in the right order, or messed them up, you had to start again, or something bad may happen. She wouldn't understand that kind of feeling or fears because she didn't have to live with those intrusive thoughts. But her son did, and she would soon come to find out.
She heard the faucet flick on as she ate her eggs with her two other children and Chloe at the table, and thought nothing of it. She practiced good hygiene with her kids, and they always cleaned their hands before they ate, (without reminding for the most part). But when Teddy had gotten up from the table for the third time to wash his hands, Beca's gaze followed him to the sink as he trailed his chair with him.
"Teddy? What's the matter, Bud?" She questioned with a mouth full of eggs.
"I'm just washing my hands like you asked." He replied matter of factually.
"Honey, you already did before you ate. What have you touched besides your plate that made your hands dirty?" She tried to question again without sounding dismissive.
Teddy ignored her, proceeding to pump yet a third pump of soap onto his hands and wash them, turning the faucet a little warmer.
He finally turned off the sink, grabbing the towel off the counter and drying his hands, before a blank expression went over his face and turned quickly fearful. He immediately discarded it, throwing it down and turning back on the sink. It was then that Beca stood up, walking over to the young boy.
"Buddy, your hands are clean. I promise."
She began to reach over him and turn the sink off, handing him the towel he threw, but he refused.
"It okay Teddy, I just pulled this one out of the dryer this morning." She tried to comfort him.
"No," He shook his hands over the sink and climbed down, grabbing one out of the drawer instead.
"Why not?" She pressed, unintentionally making her well tempered boy snap.
She could see the tears pooling in his eyes as he tried to not break further, and she pulled him into her arms, getting level with his face.
"What the matter, buddy?"
Teddy sniffed and tucked his head into his mother's shoulder, whispering into her ear.
"The towel might have raw egg on it; I saw you wipe your hands on it this morning after cracking the eggs."
"That's what this is about? Buddy, I washed my hands."
"Yeah, after you wiped the egg yolks off on the towel first. Mama, you're gonna get sick!"
Her heart shattered as he began to cry harder, sobbing into her crew-neck sweater and making it wet.
"Please, let me use a new towel and wash my hands again."
"I'm sorry Buddy! I had no idea that this made you upset. I'll try to be more mindful. And as far as getting sick, it's gonna be okay. We eat raw cookie dough all the time, and that has egg in it."
She didn't realize that things she didn't even think twice about bothered her son so much. He was hyper aware of the things and safety of himself and others and it could be seen as a good thing, until it started to control his every thought and everyday life. His teacher wrote home about what an organized little boy he was, and she seemed concerned with his constant need to stop doing his work to clean up, but Beca didn't think much of it at first because it seemed normal. She felt horrible and immediately shifted the blame to herself, wondering how as a mother she could let this by her.
"I just don't want you to die; Please let me do it again, I didn't do it right. It doesn't feel right and you might die." He pleaded.
"Who told you that?" She was astounded.
"I don't know." Teddy sounded so defeated and Beca looked at Chloe, seeing the tears in her eyes.
Chloe took the cue to take Rosie and Evie into the other room, and Beca led Teddy back to the table and into his chair. It didn't make sense to Beca, but what made sense to her was that for Teddy it was real even though he wasn't sure why it was so bad. Mental health was real and not talked about or normalized (especially in men and boys) enough. It broke her heart that her baby boy felt this way and couldn't understand why. It had to feel crazy to feel this way and not be able to reason why. That had to be so uncomfortable, and though not everything in life made sense, this was especially scary when he needed constant reassurance that his family wasn't gonna die because in his head he did a routine or ritual wrong. That had to be extremely frustrating.
"Buddy, I bet what you're feeling is extremely frustrating, isn't it?" She checked and he nodded. He was only six, and it would be extremely difficult to expect a six year old to know how to label and understand his big emotions, but she was going to help him learn what he was feeling was okay, and expressing them was okay too.
"I love you, and the Bella's love you. We're gonna help you anyway we can, but maybe we could also consider getting a doctor who can help you feel better since myself and the Bella's can't give you medicine to help. Is that something you'd be okay with?"
Teddy looked unsure. The thought of taking medicine scared him, and though it wouldn't cure him, it could help with some of the symptoms he was feeling and he could find a psychologist to help him develop healthy coping skills and ways to talk about it.
"Teddy, you're not weird for needing extra help. We could find someone to help you and talk to you about how you're feeling. Your business is your own, but you shouldn't feel like you have to hide what you're feeling."
"I don't want anyone to think I'm weird. I only wanna talk to you mom."
"I know baby, and I can go with you. But maybe talking to someone who studies feelings for years as a job could help you better. I'm always here to listen, but I may not always understand what you need or how to help. There's doctors who can give you meds to help. I've been to a psychologist, but no two people are the same, so our needs may be different."
Teddy sat quietly, pondering and soaking in what Beca had to say. She wasn't trying to be dismissive, she just wanted to help him and send him to someone who may be able to help with what Beca couldn't. Beca wasn't an expert, and though she could listen and comfort her baby, maybe someone else could offer more.
"I'll be right there with you Buddy." She reassured her, holding out her pinky for a promise.
"Every appointment you want me at, or if you need me to leave so you can tell the doctor something you don't wanna tell me. But we can find someone you're comfortable with. Or if you'd rather have one of your aunties with you, that's okay too. They'd be happy to help you."
"Okay," He surrenders and Beca smiles.
"I love you, sweet boy. And we're gonna help you feel better."
"Please don't tell any of the aunties."
"I promise what we talk about stays between us. But if you did wanna talk about it with any of us, that they wouldn't think you're weird either, and would wanna help. But that's your business buddy, and I wouldn't share it with anyone without your permission."
She hugs him tighter and sees Chloe from the corner of her eye, smiling at the two of them. Chloe was in awe at how Beca handled things, especially from someone who struggled for years with shutting people out and unhealthy coping skills, becoming a wonderful mother. Beca herself had seen a therapist growing up, and though she specifically didn't know about OCD, she did know that it went hand in hand with anxiety, and that Teddy may have an anxiety disorder like she did. Beca knew what to do without missing a beat, and never wanted her son to be afraid or feel that it was weird or taboo to have a mental health condition. She only wanted the best for her children, and would do the same for any of them, including the Bella's. Chloe respected Beca for how much she respected her children and their privacy, and knew that they'd both be okay.