A Mother’s Day Thank You
My mom loved tracking my “firsts” when I was little - first smile, first words, first steps. I can’t even imagine how she felt when I was three and had another, far less pleasant “first” - my first phobia, which led to a diagnosis of OCD.
Every parent wants their child to be healthy, and I’m sure my mom was terrified at the prospect of a life with an only child with such a severe mental illness that it manifested before I even went to preschool. Not to mention, as a stay-at-home mom, she was the primary person responsible for taking care of me as I learned how to navigate my way through the world - and my head.
From what I remember, the explanations began simply: she told me that I thought differently from other people, that my thoughts would go around and around in my head instead of leaving. I came to associate those thoughts as “bad,” and she would take me to a child therapist who would let me draw with her scented markers and pick a little plastic prize out of a bin for talking about my thoughts and learning ways to make them go away.
When I recently asked Mom about this time in my life, she said her main concern during my childhood was what to say. Anything could cause me to start obsessing about something new, and she was afraid to set me off, afraid of causing a problem for me. All she wanted was for things to be easy for me in my head, and I can’t imagine how it must have felt on the occasions when I did start obsessing about something new after an offhand remark. It must have felt like her own home was a minefield, and yet she never gave up.
What she said was great, but what she did truly shaped me as a person.
She got me help. Even when none of her friends had children with mental illness, even when it was shameful to discuss such things, she made sure that I had a therapist and later a psychiatrist who could help me in the best way possible. It is thanks to her courage in looking past the stigma that I am who I am today, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
In honor of her great courage, here are fifteen things I’m thankful for on Mother’s Day and every day:
Thank you for getting me help at a time when the stigma against mental illness was even more powerful than it is now.
Thank you for taking me to therapy whenever I needed it, and for helping my psychiatrist gauge medicines’ effects on me when I was too young to know the difference between doses.
Thank you for listening to endless rants about whatever topics occupied my mind, even before my therapist told me that conversation is like tennis, and I sometimes have to hit the ball back.
Thank you for cooking me separate meals throughout my childhood, even when it would have been a lot easier if I’d just eaten what you made for yourself and Dad.
Thank you for being willing to only eat at restaurants where I could get pasta or French fries for the majority of my life, even if it had to be every single time.
Thank you for putting your own anxiety aside and helping me through all the unfounded worries about whether I’d throw up - and being there for me the few times I actually did.
Thank you for being my (often only) friend when I was young, listening to all of my everyday concerns about homework and teachers that probably meant little to you, but everything to me.
Thank you for sticking up for me even when I did unconventional things, especially when it involved confronting my scary middle school principal who regularly called me a freak.
Thank you for waiting fourteen years to get a dog, even when you’d wanted one your whole life, because it was a phobia too strong for me to overcome for a long time.
Thank you for always dropping everything when I needed you. The only thing that kept me going that first night alone in the hospital was that you were on a plane to meet me.
Thank you for staying on the phone with me for hours on end during my crisis two years later, even when my thoughts scared you. Your support is the reason I didn’t lose a semester and graduated college on time.
Thank you for always celebrating my creativity, including when I began writing Tolkien fanfiction. I love that you always read my stories even if you don’t know the characters or context, and discussing writing with you is one of my favorite things to do.
Thank you for cheering for me at the parade last summer when I wore my Tolkien elf robes in public, no matter what you may have been thinking.
Thank you for using your experience with me to serve as an ally to other people with OCD, whether you educate about why saying “so OCD” is hurtful or share your kindness with a student dealing with similar problems.
Most of all, thank you for believing that there was something in my life worth fighting for, even when it meant incredible sacrifices on your part every single day. Because you didn’t give up on me at three, I am now an adult who lives alone, works full time, has friends, and has come out the other end of some pretty serious struggles with a smile on my face. That strength you say you admire? It started with you.
Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.