My Earliest Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Symptoms As a Child

I’ve had obsessive compulsive disorder for as long as I can remember. Probably for my entire life. When I was a child, the symptoms were certainly not as intense as they are now. They seemed to really intensify around the time I became a teenager. This is when they became a constant battle rather than just a part-time annoyance. Even still, they were there, and I remember having some rituals and compulsions at a very early age. I didn’t know they were connected in anyway to mental illness or something called “obsessive compulsive disorder”.

I just felt like I had to do them back then. It made me feel better and safe and would protect me from something “bad” happening. This was usually what they were connected with. Similar to today actually. It is interesting that these rituals stayed with me over the years and that I can remember them quite distinctly. It is probably because they were such a big part of my life even back then. Some were odd, but others sort of seemed to set the stage for the other OCD symptoms that appeared later on. I’ll share a few of them with you now.

One of the earliest obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms I remember having as a child had to do with counting rituals. Counting in different patterns and only counting in certain number sequences. I did this to stop bad things from happening and it provided me with a lot of comfort once I completed the ritual. I would count my steps, the pieces of cereal still in my bowl. Things like that. I seemed to always count in 4’s as that has always been a “good” number for me. I always made sure I wouldn’t count in 3’s since this was a “bad” number. Back when I was around 6 or 7, I had one odd ritual that I would do often, sometimes on a nightly basis. I would put my hand on my chest, over my heart, and count my heart beats in patters of 4.

I would do this for quite a long time. I can’t remember exactly how long, but I do remember there being occasions where it would be longer than an hour since I could tell by my clock (I would go to bed at 8:00pm, would do my rituals and still be up at 9:30pm. I remember wondering why I had to go to bed so early!? I was still up at 9:30pm, why couldn’t that be my bed time? I wanted to watch T.V.!). I would continue to count in my patterns until it just felt right. If I didn’t do this, I would believe my heart would stop and I would die in my sleep.

This is something pretty odd for a 6 or 7 year old to be thinking at that age. I remember this would really intensify on nights before my birthday, Christmas, Halloween, or basically a night before something really exciting was going to happen. I would just lie down and count my heart beats until I felt right or usually until I just fell asleep from exhaustion. This always stuck with me, I didn’t think it was weird or that it made me different. I actually picked this ritual back up years later after a family member passed away from a sudden heart attack. It points out how early on in my life these symptoms started and how they continued to grow from there.

Another early obsessive compulsive disorder symptom I had early in my life again occurred most often at night. It sort of dealt with counting but was a little more complex. This ritual had to do with holding my breath for a certain amount of time in different patterns. I would hold my breath and count to 30, take 2 breaths, then hold and count to 20, take 2 more breaths, then hold for 10.

This pattern changed over time and would become bigger. Sometimes causing me to be holding my breath in this pattern for 30 minutes or longer. I would complete it in my bed, other times in the bathtub or in the shower. Other times in a pool or even just as I was watching T.V. I would have to hold my breath during the commercials.

I remember being very annoyed by this ritual. I did not like doing it one bit. But like most rituals it would help with my anxiety and I connected their completion to good things happening. If I finished my breath holding ritual I would get a good mark on my next test. Or If I did a good job and pushed myself, I would perform really well in my upcoming sports game. Again, I was quite young when I would complete this ritual. Certainly before 10 years old, probably more like 8.

Interestingly enough, I don’t do these breath holding rituals anymore. They seemed to go away once I was finishing high school. They certainly played a big role in my younger years though. I hope they never come back!

Other rituals I remember doing as a young child were religious type rituals. When I was probably about 10 years old, I remember having a ritual where I would do the sign of the cross whenever I thought something bad might happen or if I wanted something good to occur. I would also do it when I felt a lot of anxiety. I would do the sign of the cross, making sure I touched all 4 points or it didn’t count. I would do this a few times in a row, depending on my level of anxiety. I was constantly doing the sign of the cross throughout the day. I would not be surprised if there were some days where I did this at least 100 times. This was constant in my life for a number of years.

Another religious ritual I did centered around me completing a prayer. Sometimes I would do it when I woke up. Others randomly throughout the day. Usually though it was before bed. This prayer was more than just your regular prayer. It was intense! I would literally pray for everything I didn’t want to happen and everything I hoped for.

I not only prayed for myself, but I took it upon myself to pray for all of my family members as well. I would pray for certain good things to happen to them, that they wouldn’t get sick or hurt and that nothing bad happened to them. I would have to repeat each sentence twice sometimes to make sure it stuck.

This was a super long prayer, as you can imagine. I remember on occasion it would take me over an hour some nights to complete it! Another part of the ritual was that if I opened my eyes, it wouldn’t work, so I had to keep my eyes closed for the entirety of the prayer. If they opened, I would have to repeat a certain amount of it to make sure that it was okay. This was a very exhausting ritual. It took up a TON of time in my younger years. I wouldn’t let myself sleep until I completed it. It was also stressful because I took on the role of good or bad happening to those I loved most in my life. If something bad happened, it would be my fault since I did not do the prayer, or I didn’t do it right!

I did this prayer pretty much every day for years. It started out small, but grew over time. It has come and gone over the years in different forms. However, it is no longer apart of my daily rituals.

Lastly, some of my earliest obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms revolve around your classic contamination fears. I would always be afraid of my hands being dirty as early as elementary school. Not just dirty. But contaminated! I didn’t have the hand washing patterns I do now, but I do remember coming in and washing my hands every time I played outside or was just outside in general. I would always look at and study my hands to make sure I got everything off.

I could usually get away with just one wash, but it was thorough and I could not continue with my day unless I washed them right after. I was also very worried about germs as a young kid. I would never drink from the water fountain or ever want to share a water bottle or food. I remember this really bothering me. I played a lot of sports growing up and everyone would just share water bottles like it was nothing.

I was so confused by this. I would always hide my own water bottle in my bag so no one else used it. If I would forget to put it back in there, I wouldn’t use any other ones. I was just always worried about some disease and was hyper-vigilant about these things. I don’t even know if I was aware of what disease, just something that could be passed to me. I’m even worse now, but it’s interesting to see I had this at a very young age when most of my friends didn’t even notice it.

There were other rituals and compulsions I did as a young child, but these were some of the more interesting ones I felt. Some of them have morphed into different rituals, others got worse, while still others completely went away. Of course, I didn’t know these rituals and compulsions had to do with obsessive compulsive disorder. I didn’t realize that until I was in my early 20’s believe it or not. All I knew was that these odd little rituals and compulsions made me feel normal and helped relieve my anxieties from a very early age.

Despite their debilitating effects, I am still here, ready to continue my Mission of moving forward despite them. Hopefully, I’ll be able to rid myself of them all, rather than let them spiral out of control.

– Nate