Denise’s Diary: The First Trigger

When I was asked to be a writer for this blog, my original thought was…what do I have to offer? Suddenly, I realized that I have 45 years of lived experience with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)…that’s what I have to offer! The hope with our blog is to share real life stories, struggles and most of all successes in recovery!

Coincidentally, the week we begin our blog, is the week 45 years ago (I was 10 years old) when a traumatic event occurred (the death of my brother on August 8, 1971) in my life that was the trigger for the onset of a lifetime of living with OCD.

It was the end of August 1971; the August of my tenth year of life and the first week of fifth grade at Webster Elementary School. I remember being in afternoon music class, which was held on the gymnasium stage, seated on a gray metal folding chair in the second of three semi-circle rows. I was wearing my favorite plaid jumper with a short-sleeved white blouse underneath, white rollover socks, and shiny, new, black Mary Jane’s. I recall my thin legs sweating and sticking to the metal chair as the summer heat refused to cease. We began singing “The Streets of Laredo” about a cowboy who had died and was wrapped in white linen… the tears poured. The song brought thoughts of my brother’s recent death to mind and I could not hold back the sadness. The teacher took me into the stairwell and asked me what was wrong. I told her about my brother, Jerry, who was killed in a car accident just a few weeks prior to school beginning—he would have been a junior in high school; she was unaware of his tragic death. In my mind, I kept seeing the smashed car which had been towed to a nearby lot; windows broken, shattered glass on the seats, and blood… and Jerry’s tattered jeans draped on the backseat of the wreck. Why did I go see the car? The teacher hugged me and brought the temporary comfort I needed. I would have preferred being at home with my mom, instead of at school, but I stayed and finished out the day.

It was just a few days later, as I was walking home from school, when thoughts of loss filled my head and the fear of losing another loved one found a home in my mind. It signed a lease and settled in—with no intent of ever leaving; invading a young girl’s every thought, a young girl who had suffered a great loss.

“Your mom will die,” the thoughts spoke…“Your mom will die,” it said again… and again… and again. Instantly, I insisted, “Mom won’t die, mom won’t die.” This dispute in my head continued back and forth, tiring me more than the long walk home.

“Where did this terrifying thought stem from? How could I even think something so awful? What if something did happen to my mom?” I could not bear the thought of losing my mom; the one truly stable, kind, caring person in my life. She was the only person who was there for me; always home when I arrived from school, always sober, unlike my father who stopped for drinks every evening. I did notice some change in mom since Jerry’s death. She was still physically present, but was not fully there emotionally. Instead, she was quietly attempting to deal with the loss of her child with no support from my insensitive father.

My brother Jim, the oldest in our family was required to return to duty in the Army shortly after Jerry’s funeral. Linda, my older sister, was married and busy with her husband and baby boy, and my brother Tom, Jerry’s twin, was a typical sixteen year old, hanging out with friends. My dad went through a drastic change: drinking more, buying a bright orange Dodge Charger, and having an affair with a waitress from a nearby town. And as I said earlier, mom was not quite herself.

This left me on my own to go on with life. Life without my brother. Life without bringing up his name. Not a picture of him in the house to remind us of him and not a word spoken of his life. It was as if his very memory was locked in that coffin with him, covered with dirt, never to surface again.


*Sponsored by nOCD – an OCD treatment app that helps OCD patients each day with ERP therapy (!

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