Right before my oldest started high school her anxiety kicked up to an entirely new level. Not only was she worried about absolutely everything, she began to question her own behavior and whether or not she was “normal”. Then a new, even more frightening symptom appeared; endless thoughts and fears about harming others, particularly her younger sister. While she knew she would never carry through with these thoughts, she was terrified, as was I. We came very close to a trip to the ER.
As a person with a psychology degree who works with children with mental health issues I felt like this was akin to an anxiety disorder of some kind, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. What I did know was that it was debilitating. I began to do some research…if that’s what you call Googling things. I was prepared for the usual Google responses, she was either pregnant or had cancer. But what I found out shocked me: it was OCD.
But what about all those compulsions? The cleaning. The arranging. The checking the doors. She exhibited none of those. The occasional hand washing that took too long, yes, but I just figured she was worried about germs. It certainly wasn’t a level of hand washing that worried me much.
It turns out that there is a manifestation of OCD called Pure O or Purely Obsessive OCD. Many people are unaware that OCD comes with intrusive thoughts; these are the obsessive component of OCD. Pure O is OCD where the only real symptom is these thoughts. People with Pure O generally lack the compulsions typical of OCD. We were able to get her help and she has reached a point where she can manage it. We were also able to deduce that the trigger is stress, hence the uptick in behavior while she was stressed about starting high school.
I wish I had known that OCD could look like this. So I thought I would share with you some of the information that I found should your child be having these symptoms. It would have saved me a lot of time and tears to have this information up front.
Symptoms of Pure O include:
Guilt or feeling like a bad person for having these thoughts which are often violent or sexual in nature.
Avoidance of the situations that bring about these thoughts. For my kiddo she avoided outings with her friends around Halloween because of her violent thoughts and fears.
Answer seeking or repeatedly checking in with someone to make sure that what you are thinking or feeling is normal or acceptable. I eventually had to set a time limit each day for how long we could talk about her thoughts, which is a technique recommended by many therapists.
Please know that it is ok to need to take some space from a child who is dealing with this issue. Self-care is important to the preservation of your mental health during what is truly a devastating time as a parent. Being able to stay calm is also important to your relationship with your child.
For more information about Pure O please see the following pages: