Old Pictures and OCD

Jack in 2010, when he was six years old

I had a challenging afternoon. I had to sift through old pictures of my sons, looking for soccer pictures of Jack, my middle son, in preparation for his upcoming 8th Grade Night. They were due last week, but I did not want to do it. This afternoon, I finally forced myself to go through picture after picture of my boys when they were younger. Cute pictures of chubby cheeks and big smiles. Silly pictures. Christmas pictures. Disney World and Toronto. Halloween. Joseph asleep beside Sam. Jack hugging Drew. Me, sitting on the floor, surrounded by little boys and toys and a pug. Hundreds of pictures. I was miserable.

I cannot look through my pictures right now without my anxiety going up. Even now, as I am typing this, my heart rate is up and I’m sick on my stomach, just thinking about the pictures. What should bring joy and sweet memories instead brings grief and near-terror for me. It is one of the many ways OCD intrudes on my life.

Let me try to explain what the OCD makes me think when I look at old pictures. That I can’t go back in time to when my children were younger is more than frustrating to me—it feels like death. And I worry that I didn’t parent them well when they were little, that they missed out on something. And so their futures are ruined because of me. I know this is not true, but it feels so real. 

Looking through old pictures reminds me that I have forgotten so much, and that is simply tortuous to me. It hurts that I have forgotten most of their lives. Like everyone else, I have vague recollections and a few stories, but the day-to-day events of their early childhood has been swept out of my mind, and I fear I can never retrieve it, and so part of my children, and part of me, is lost forever. It is death. I fear that because I can’t remember everything, my love for them is not complete. I fear that they will not know I love them. More lies that my brain makes feel true.

The pictures make me feel guilty. I did not take enough pictures. I lost all our home videos. I am not taking enough pictures and videos now. I could have, should have, done more and should do more now. I am failing as a mother. The pictures tell me this. 

So I can either avoid the pictures or I can look through each of them, tediously reconstruct the moment in my head, try my hardest to remember so my kids will know I love them. I can search the whole house—again—for my home videos. I can cry over lost time and forgotten memories. I can take too many pictures, so many that I forget to enjoy what is happening. I can do all of this, and I have many times, or I can just avoid looking at pictures. 

Maybe there will be a day when I can look at old pictures of my children and not have a panic attack. I used to be able to. That’s the thing with OCD. It doesn’t make sense. It is not logical. And it twists and morphs and seeps into everything. I used to think it was compartmentalized—like this particular thing is an OCD issue. But I’m beginning to understand that it is not that at all. I can’t compartmentalize and seal it off. I have to live with it. 

And I am in fact living with it. I am doing the little things that are difficult for me and not blaming myself for it being difficult in the first place, and I am ultimately finding joy in those little things. So even though this afternoon was challenging and uncomfortable, I did it anyway. And I was able to, amid my elevated heart rate and upset stomach, find joy in Jack’s cute little smile.


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