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Why My Childhood OCD Made Me Seem Like a 'Brat'

I was about to use the term “petulant” in the headline, and that alone should tell you somewhat where this is going. However, that term, about which I soon came to my senses, is not fair to myself or others who may read this regarding their own experiences or their children’s experiences. 

I don’t ask my family for a lot of detail about what I was like as a child. I have a good memory, and I’m not quite comfortable in general talking about things in the past as a part of my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I don’t like the past because it is riddled with struggles I overcame, but the situations I was in that I needed to overcome aren’t great memories. With all of that, I also tend to look at things for the negative aspects rather than the positive.

I had OCD as a child; I am fairly certain one is born with it, and don’t really care to get into the nature vs. nurture contention here. This OCD was not diagnosed until I was in my late 30s, so there was no positive mechanism around me that I could have been used to help with my disorder.

I was just “bad.” I was a brat. I needed things to be my way, and if I didn’t get things my way, I would spend more energy than you think a young child would even have to get my way.

I know this falls into the category of “selfishness,” and I’ve already accepted there is a selfish aspect to OCD for anyone. But it is so much deeper than that. A single word is a terrible thing to pin as a description of a child’s character and personality.

I was never comfortable as a child, ever. I was riddled with fear of doing things wrong, and I look back and realize there was an even balance of who defined “wrong” between elders (i.e., my parents, teachers and the like) and my own self. 

Oh, I knew to the absolute what defined “wrong.” Defining “wrong” was a major part of my growing up.

For one, I felt the weight of rules to be followed with every action I took. Did I break rules? Of course, but the weight was always there of “getting in trouble.” However, beyond that — the “wrong” others defined for me — was my own universe of right and wrong, and it was far more detailed than the rules I was set to follow in society.

This was my OCD — right and wrong. I was obsessed with this in my own mind, and it did not manifest much as compulsions (again, my primarily obsessive OCD).

I can remember a situation where I absolutely needed my alarm clock to be at the brightest setting. I have zero recollection as to why I needed it that way, and that lack of recollection is very important here when discussing OCD in a child. I battled with my father for what seemed like hours over the brightness setting on my clock. He thought it was too bright and would be keeping me up at night, or something like that. I needed it bright. I most likely, you see, didn’t even have a reason back then. It just had to be this way. And I was prepared to fight for it because it was a matter of right versus wrong. 

Childhood is nascent, of course. So, when I discuss my OCD as a child, I don’t have nearly the detail I have in terms of describing it as an adult post-diagnosis.

That most likely provides for a less-than-interesting article here. I don’t have stories of compulsions to which one, later in life, would go “ah-ha.” I didn’t have compulsions; I just needed things to be my way. Much more so than other children, I would think. I was taken to psychiatrists for hyperactivity, which is just about as generic of an issue as the “generalized anxiety” I went to doctors for in adulthood.

Sure, I was hyperactive. Heck, I still am today. It is now branded as my work ethic, and I’m not stopping it now.

My hyperactivity was not my issue; they got that one wrong. This is what I fear a lot of children may still be going through because I certainly know adults are, and that is a poor diagnosis. 

Because I did not have outward compulsions, OCD was never on the table. I’d never heard of OCD other than jokes and stereotypes that were not me until after childhood. It was never mentioned even as a possibility.

And that bothers me. For myself, that’s all over now and I am where I am in my 40s. It bothers me for other children. There is a potential that a child has OCD but the markers to diagnose such are tuned wrong. I am certain this is the case with Pure O. The kid won’t be touching doorknobs X number of times or washing hands — all I’ve gone into at other times.

Rather, the child will most likely be presented as a petulant brat.

Like I was.

But I wasn’t. I was obsessed and could not make out how to live in the world in the right way with my obsessions. I may have acted out. But the root issue was OCD, and well, they missed it.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash