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  • Catherine Benfield

The Day my Son Checked the Cooker for Me...

Updated: 3 days ago

A cartoon Olivia checks the cooker dials whilst telling herself it's all off.

How DID I get into the position where my son checked the cooker for me?

It’s a funny old world parenting, in fact, it’s a funny old world full stop.

We like to imagine the passage of time will sort some of the challenges we’re facing. Very often it does – but not all.

“Oh, don’t worry about bedtime” we tell ourselves as we look at our toddlers, “you won't still be sitting with him waiting for him to go to sleep, when he’s nine…!” Famous last words.

“Oh, don’t worry” you tell yourself when OCD grinding you down at the age of 25, “you won't still be checking cookers at 40”.

And the one that’s most relevant to today's post.

“Oh don’t worry”, you say as you carry out obvious compulsions around your 6 month old “ you won't still be doing this when he is old enough to notice.

I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve pacified myself with sentences like that over the past nine years.

It once took me two hours to get out of the flat so I could take a one-year-old Will to London Zoo. I was exhausted by the time we even left the house but I told myself it was okay because he had no idea about what was going on. I used to do all sorts of compulsions around him all the time, but it didn’t matter did it? He was too young to notice. Surely it would all disappear soon – we wouldn’t have this problem when he was older.

Therapy cemented this belief even further “Well, I know how to address it now, so even if severe OCD comes back, I’ll sort it quickly.”

Now there was a flaw in that way of thinking – I'd confused entering recovery and getting better with never, ever, EVER, having a symptom again. That way of thinking just wasn’t feasible.

So, the background to this story?

Over the past few months, I’ve got bad with the cooker again. It is literally only in the OCD community that that sentence makes sense. In layman’s terms, I’m really struggling to check the cooker when leaving the house. It's particularly bad when I’m in a rush or facing a deadline.

I know what’s caused it – it's a bit of stress and grief, we’re building in our kitchen and it’s currently messy. We currently have two cookers (old and new because of building work) so I’m facing double trouble. The obsessions and the resulting compulsions came back a few months ago and, because I’ve been a bit stressed and frazzled, I haven’t completed any exposures or read my relapse prevention plan and, of course, because of that, it’s getting worse and worse.

For the past few months, I managed to hide it from little man. I’d stand in the kitchen and pretend to look at my phone, whilst looking beyond it at the hob dials. I’d pretend I’d left something in the kitchen so I could check again. I’d put little man in front of the TV so I could concentrate on checking ‘properly’ and then quickly scoot him to the front door without letting him go near the cookers – heaven forbid the whole cycle should start again!

And then one day he asked me… he asked me why I kept checking the cooker. And then it started to happen more regularly. Sometimes he asked just out of interest, sometimes he would show me how to check the cooker (with the intention of helping me to understand that it was easy to check they were off – bless him and his huge heart). I could see his little mind wondering why this woman, who was so able in so, so many ways, couldn’t ‘see’ that the dials clearly pointed to 0. They were OFF!

Let me be clear, I’ve always been really honest with Will about OCD, he’s been bought up with Taming Olivia, he knows I was particularly poorly after having him. He knows pretty much everything that’s age appropriate for him to know about OCD. But how on earth do you explain to a none year old that your mind sometimes makes you doubt what your own eyes are seeing. That is such a hard concept for him to grasp at such a young age.

And then, this morning, we had another development. I’d been getting better with the cooker – I was spending less time with it, going back to check on it far fewer times. I was just about to walk into the kitchen to grab Will's water bottle when he said “Don’t worry mum, I’ve done it”. He was talking about the cooker. He'd assumed that I was going into the kitchen to recheck the cooker. Somehow OCD had made it's way into our leaving the house for school routine.

Six years ago, I would have been totally devastated about the fact my son checked the cooker for me. That he'd had to take on that responsibility. That he saw I was carrying a load and tried to lighten it for me. Six years ago, I’d have felt like a huge failure, that I'd have failed at recovery, messed up my little boy for life. I would have used that incident as a stick to whack myself with for YEARS afterwards. I'd have been gutted that my assumption that these symptoms wouldn’t EVER surface again when he was old enough to notice hadn’t been the reality.

And I’m not saying I wasn’t a bit sad – OCD can be painful – but years of recovery work allowed me to challenge those thoughts and to see the whole event with completely different eyes. I know that I deserve so much better than to come down hard on myself about that – so this is how I chose to look at it.

How I showed myself compassion:

  • Will has been brought up in a kind, supportive family – it’s only natural he will want to help me if he thinks I’m struggling.

  • Also, go me and Pete for having that kind of family environment - often in the face of what was at times completely insurmountable odds.

  • I’ve been open and honest with Will about OCD so he isn’t shocked by my occasional obvious struggles. This also shows I’ve been very open to educating him and being honest with him.

  • Compared to how bad I was years ago – it is amazing that checking the cooker is all he’s seen me do. I can go out, eat, lock up… do so many things that I couldn’t do before. It shows how hard I’ve worked at recovery. How incredible is that? I must recognize that achievement. Well done me!

  • I almost immediately could identify and then catch my unhelpful thinking styles associated with the situation. I could see that I was engaging in black and white thinking, I could see I was beginning to catastrophise and I challenged those thoughts. I re-framed them. And what’s more, I did that automatically. My work on self-compassion and kindness made me realise I deserved better than to put up with that sort of thinking. It made me feel just awful about myself. Seven years into recovery, and my brain often still tends to head towards the negative where OCD is concerned but I caught those thoughts almost immediately, and didn’t have to work too hard to reframe them, and THAT is what recovery is.

I really hope this blog helps you to realise:

  • that even if we would prefer something not to happen, the fact that it does is not always the end of the world.

  • that even in really challenging times we have the ability to make things better. And if we can’t make things better, that we can cope.

  • that recoveries can have setbacks – it’s okay – it’s normal. They can be painful, you can believe you'll never get better, but you will. You've done it before, you can do it again. Have faith in what you've learned.

  • that recovery strategies get easier and more automatic the more you practice them.

  • that if your child notices OCD symptoms it is a brilliant opportunity for honest and open conversations.

Right, I’d better go, I’ve got a hot date (boom, boom) with a cooker. ERP… here I come!

As always lots of love everyone!

Cat x

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