What About OCD Don't You Understand - Learning About Mom
The Younger Years
Growing up with mom was difficult to say the least. I hasten to add though that she was a very talented lady. A natural seamstress, between her and my father who was a tailor, both my younger sister and I grew up always very well dressed even if there wasn't a lot of money. I spent 8 years on my own with mom and dad before my sister Nanci arrived and looking back at those years I can see traits that were really not the norm for a little girl's play time.
Mom was a very proud person, a good homemaker - as well as an excellent cook and baker. The time was in the mid 40's and early 50's. Even though I know now that my dad was not a huge wage earner at that time, I look back and remember that the few pieces of furniture that we had were of the best quality and we had one of the first TV's on our block. In that period of time my parents, I am sure spurred on by my mom, bought me three beautiful dolls at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) - and they were sure to be collectibles had my sister not been handed them after I grew out of them.
But what I remember of that time is that the same Christmas I got those dolls my mother made a huge box of clothes to outfit each of the dolls and all of these items were under the tree Christmas morning. To my chagrin, my mother has told the story often throughout the years to anyone who would listen, about these dolls, the beautiful clothes she made and how "this little girl" came out Christmas morning - looked at everything and said not a word.
What I remember about these dolls was that I loved them very much and I loved the clothes that mom had sewn for them. But another thing that stands out is that there were very strict rules with regards to playing with them. I was not allowed to brush their hair and at the end of playtime when I was finished playing with them everything had to be put back in order as it was when I took them out. If it wasn't, then it was understood that I could not play with them again. Of course I did not test this rule because I very much wanted to play with them, and so in reality I have no way of knowing whether or not mom had any teeth with regards to this strict rule. Another thing was that I was not allowed to sit on my bed. It was all made and was picture perfect, and so I sat on the scatter rug by the side of my bed and did not make a mess of anything.
Fast forward to a few years and the arrival of my sister Nanci. As I said she eventually got the dolls ard suffice it to say they were never the same. It was always amazing to me that my mom let this happen, but looking back I know full well what it was. Mom and Dad had separated and she was far too busy getting through her days working and keeping house to worry any longer over dolls that were now easily 10 years old.
Trying To Get Along
During this period of time of mom and dad's separation some of the things that had been happening since I was a kid seemed to be magnified. Of course mom was stressed out. She was running a household on her own and trying to keep our heads above water. But what I didn't realize at the time was that as much money as she brought in, it was never enough. She had what I would call now a "wannabe habit". In short she wanted items in the way of clothing and furnishing that was really out of our league. I found out many years later that this was one of the problems in the marriage.
To be fair to mom, during this period of time and through the next couple of years she would do anything and work anywhere to make money. She was at the time working at a clothing factory that one of her brothers owned. But that became shortlived and she went on to being a sales person Woolco and then Eatons - and then eventually she pulled up her bootstraps, went to nightschool and learned accounting, eventually getting a job in an office doing books. I have to say that I was quite proud of this.
But through all of this living with mom was becoming more and more difficult. A lot of the housekeeping fell to me - and if I forgot to do one thing, then everything was wrong. She was an awesome baker, but she never taught my sister or I to do any of this. We were simply allowed to help dry each item she washed and put it away. And she had the knack of knowing how many times she would need to use that half cup measure or that tablespoon. If it was not needed again it was washed, dried by myself and put away.
And in our house everything had its order and you did not deviate. Perfection was the order of the day. I remember one Christmas my boyfriend thought we would try to help and so strung the Christmas lights across the front of the house while she was at work to save her time. Well, they were not straight enough and so when she came home, she took it all down and did it over again. I was taught to iron and when she would come home late in the evening, it didn't matter what time it was - it could be 2AM in the morning and she would enter my bedroom, turn the light on, check my ironing and if it didn't suit her she took it out and I re-ironed it the next day. My sister had different challenges because she baulked at everything my mother wanted her to do. Mom didn't have the patience anymore so I would have to clean up her room as well as mine.
If she bought us something to wear, we had to save it for another day. All to often we grew out of it without ever having worn it. And then one day I did a bad thing. After she left for work I went into one of her drawers and took out a Susan Van Heusen blouse, still in its wrapper (because of course she deprived herself also in this rule of saving it for later), put it on and got ready for school. Trouble was that mom forgot something, came back and caught me with the blouse on. All Hell broke loose. I was called every name in the book and suggested that I should be very ashamed of myself.
Off she went to work and off I went to school, hoping that all would be forgotten at the end of the day when she got home. This should have been at the time a very big warning that something was terribly wrong; she came into the house at the end of the day and carried on where she'd left off, yelling at me again and then kicked me out of the house - only to call me half an hour later at my boyfriend's house demanding that I come home because she had to go out and I had to babysit! You get the picture.
I don't want this to really sound like a sob story because of course there were lots of good times too. I remember well driving along in the car with her, both of us singing at the top of our lungs along with the radio - Nanci sitting in her seat in the back bopping her head along to the music. You could not look at anything in a shop window that mom didn't want to buy it for you. But she was very controlling and very up and down in her behaviour.
In the end I left home at 19 because I couldn't stand it any longer and went to live at my grandmother's house. My only regret is that this left my sister without me at the age of 11 and we were very close. On mom's part she called everyone she could think of from my future mother-in-law, to my aunt and grandmother to blame them - and as for me she swore she would never speak to me again and if she saw me on the street she would cross to the other side. Well this lasted six months! Nevertheless I stayed at my grandmother's house until the day I got married.
Moving Through The Years
The years moved along and I have to say that my relationship with my mother was not that strong. My husband of the time could barely tolerate her because she was demanding and controlling and he was not one to be controlled - which was another story. I had in fact jumped out of the fat and into the frying pan. So my years were spent just trying to survive both relationships. Again, my sister was having her own struggles with mom and where she was once a very vivacious and outgoing little girl, had become more introverted and singular.
Eventually my marriage broke up and I then married the man of my dreams. This is where my life started to change. Without going into details of this relationship in this story I will simply say that he gave me my voice. I had all of a sudden gone from being the introverted singular person I was as a young person to being more outgoing and sociable. In essence I think I became who I always was underneath everything else. And while my husband also had a hard time tolerating my mother's dominating ways he would simply tell her what he did not like and move along, never holding a grudge or shutting her out.
When I left my first husband I had a few sessions with a psychologist because I had tremendous guilt feelings. After one session he announced that he felt I was alright - I had answered all of my own questions about my marriage. He then asked if I wanted to have one more session and talk about family and so I agreed. I talked about my father and misgivings I had about his early death and not getting to know him well enough and then I talked about my mother after which he said "I get the feeling that your mother is manipulative", to which I said "well you could say that". He then told me that it was up to me to set the parameters and that I was simply to tell her things like "this is not up for discussion" being careful not to be nasty or argumentative. And so I began to put this into practice. Strangely enough this seemed to be working, even if she was a little stunned, she would seem to back down and back away. And so we carried on through the years. Then all Hell broke loose.
In about 2004 my mother starting having some health difficulties. It started with double vision and trips back and forth to eye doctors and neurologists. We found out that she has a neuro-muscular disease called Myasthemia Gravis. Eventually her weakened muscles would necessitate her walking with a walker and who knew for sure where we would go from there. All of this was a struggle because she was very independent. She had eventually bought her own business, a glass company, which she operated for about a dozen years before retiring. She had travelled everywhere on her own, had done her own thing and definitely did not want to have to dance to someone else's tune.
The struggles became worse the more I had to help her, and many a day it ended up with me going home crying. She needed my help, but she still wanted to tell me how to do it, and when to do it. And this is when the lightbulbs started to go off. For years she has been a collector of magazines; she belonged to every book club going. I recalled years earlier when I was a teenager my boyfriend helping her move boxes from our basement to my grandmother's house and his amazement at the magazines he found going back 15 to 20 years prior. As well she subscribed to companies who would send her VHS, CD's and DVDs.
One of the warning signs was back a few years ago when she still had a Beta machine. She had been running back and forth with it getting parts every time it broke down. But her time had run out finally. The Sony store called her and said "sorry we cannot get parts any longer". I was listening and told her to have them keep the machine and get rid of it for her. She was ignoring me and when she got off the phone I said "why didn't you tell them to get rid of the Beta for you" Her answer was a very angry and loud "Because it's mine and I want it, do you mind!!!" I simply said "I'm going home" and I did - stunned! It took her another six or so months to tell me that she had finally asked her super to come, pick it up and get rid of it for her.
Stacks of magazines throughout all the years.
On top of this we noticed that she had kept every invoice she ever received for her videos and she would check these "lists" and watch these videos over and over again, but in a certain order. When I started cooking for her I found that she had food in the freezer (which we were always horrified about because it was stacked right to the door) and all of these had a list on them - what was in them and when she would eat them. Everything was done by a list. And she never threw anything out. We had no idea - no idea at all, because her apartment was very neat but we found a different thing when we opened the bottom cupboards in her kitchen. There was cereal box after cereal box packed tightly with brown paper bags, and plastic bags galore. What for? I was horrified. And then my sister said to me: What About OCD Don't You understand!!
I went home that night and went searching on Google for OCD. I read about that and decided that this did not quite fit her model - but another article caught my eye - OCPD. Obessive, Compulsive Personality Disorder. I called it up and read through the list of things that were the criteria, I saw my mother and I cried. While she did not fit every single qualification - she fit about 95% of it -and it was definitely enough for me to understand now and finally what exactly was wrong with her. I have to tell you, there was relief, and there was sadness. Because I realized in that moment that there was indeed a very valid reason for all of her troubles. She'd had trouble growing up in her family; her father had even sent her to Toronto to live with her married sister because he couldn't figure out what to do. No one understood. It was never diagnosed, and while it still is undiagnosed, there is no doubt in my mind that this is what her demons were all of her life.
The Right Stuff
- OCD ONLINE - The RIGHT Stuff - Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder:A defect of Philosophy, not
Sadly one of the few things that does not fit my mother in this list is hording money. She loved to spend money and that quite often got her into trouble.
I can't tell you what this did for me. I finally understood, and all of the years washed away when I got it - that she was troubled. I mean I knew she was troubled but I did not have a name to put to it. Now I did, and while I still had to hold firm with her, and not let her run roughshod over me, I was for the most part able to take her moods and controlling ways and pass it off. Not much was going to change now.
In this last year we have got her into a nursing home not far from me. Her walking had got so bad that even the walker was not much of a help. She has this Miasthemia Gravis and Osteoporosis to boot with a badly arthritic hip - and all of this for a woman who whenever we tried to tell her to save her money because she might need it in her old age always retorted "Don't worry, nothing's going to happen to me". A fall last summer which fractured her neck, finally was the driving force which got her into nursing care. I am much relieved because of course I could only do so much and it became very much of a worry for her to live alone.
She will be 91 this coming November. We have had a difficult history between us - I have in fact been her nemesis many times throughout the years - but in the end she knows that I am here to help her because she is my mother. I forgive the things that hurt when I was growing up, because I now understand, and I love her.
Mom passed away in the early morning hours of January 2nd, 2013. I miss her, but I hope that she is finally able to find the peace and love that she was searching for all of her life.