My husband semi frequently goes out of town for business reasons. Previously, this was the opposite of a huge deal. I enjoyed having some free time, being able to watch whatever shows or movies I wanted to see, relaxing, etc. But as our children have gotten older and my OCD became more prevalent, his business trips became greater burdens and occasionally impossible for me to handle. 

Basically, there was a good year where I did not want him to go out of town and leave me home alone with the children. With my having become more stabilized, though, he has started to make trips a more frequent occurrence.  Yes, I’ve been doing better, but now the kids are old enough to realize what’s happening.

Unexpected Exposure

Our daughter, in particular, has a difficult time with him leaving. Last week, he went on a short (three or so day) trip for a work meeting. Shortly after him leaving, she had an accident in her underwear which resulted in some stinky/stained clothes, a mess on the bathroom floor when she took off her clothes, etc. This is not a new thing for her to do when he leaves. We think it’s a combination of potentially impacted bowels, separation anxiety, and maybe something related to her understandings of my contamination OCD and what triggers it.

It’s a rough issue and one that has come and gone for about a year now. I gave her some kid laxatives to help her, and that resulted in her having another accident one night (once my husband had come home).

My Reaction

Last year when this sort of thing happened, I legitimately freaked out and the OCD had a hey day. I tried this past week to better control myself. I recognized the OCD ramping up. I acknowledged it. And no, I wasn’t perfect in allowing this to be a exposure exercise. But I feel like I won and lost some against the OCD and vice versa. There were things and cleaning rituals I wanted to do but didn’t, but I still did a thorough clean up—perhaps too thorough. I threw out some clothes but not others. I refrained from doing certain things I wanted to do but allowed myself to do others. Mostly I tried not to be overly dramatic, while probably still doing more than the “normal” mom would do in a similar situation.

I also tried not to openly freak out in front of my daughter, attempting to remain more calm and measured instead. It’s not easy, but I know that giving into the OCD only makes things worse. Being on medication helps. And having gone through therapy also helps me remember what I “should” do or how I should behave or react. I have more confidence to let myself “see what happens” rather than worrying about “what might happen.” I can look back at other exposures I have completed AND acknowledge that I survived and nothing terrible happened.

Remembering ERP

This is actually a really valuable exercise when the OCD starts bothering me, and I would recommend it to those who struggle. Think of times when you stood up to the OCD’s “What if…?” scenarios, didn’t do the compulsion, and then REMEMBER that nothing terrible happened—or, that if something negative did happen, you survived and figured it out. Life didn’t end.

I know that in the moment, the OCD seems logical or at least worthwhile to listen to. I know. I’ve been there. Yes, there are times when we do need to clean up soiled underwear or wipe a bottom or lock our car door or wipe blood before we put a bandaid on or whatever. We still need to live our lives. But we can try to take back control from the OCD. We can be mindful. It’s a process. We may not be able to conquer the OCD 100% of the time. Sometimes we may win 50% of the battle and OCD gets the other 50%. But we ought to try our best because it helps us gain confidence for the next battle that will surely come.

Have you had any lifestyle or unexpected exposures lately? How did you react?