Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Episode 4: Julie's History – The Early Years | 05/18/2009
ANDY BURNFIELD: Welcome to episode number four of Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Today we’re going to be talking about Julie’s background story. So to start off with, Julie, why don’t you talk about—this particular episode I want to do from when you were born, probably till before you came to America to live for a year.
JULIE BURNFIELD: Mmkay.
ANDY: So, I don’t know how much of that we’ll get in, but as much as we can.
JULIE: Just, you want it just to be about my life? Or about OCD as it related to it?
ANDY: No, no, no, this is kind of just a background story so that you know, eventually we’ll want to talk a little bit about heredity versus—
ANDY: —environment, so, I think it’s important that everybody kind of knows your background so that they can decide for themselves as well.
JULIE: Oh sure. Well, I was born in Dublin, Ireland. Shout out! [Laughs.] Won’t tell you what year. I’m not that old, but you don’t need to know. Let’s see, how do you just synopsize that? Born in Dublin Ireland, as I said. I was adopted—by my parents, obviously—when I was about, think I was about two months old or so forth.
ANDY: Did you always know you were adopted, growing up?
JULIE: Yeah, I always knew I was adopted. It was one of those things—where some parents decide just to sit their kids down when they’re like ten and tell them that “you’re adopted”—but for me it was, I always knew, I always grew up knowing that I was adopted.
The way my parents put it is that “somebody else gave birth to you, but God gave you to us to be our child. And for us to be your parents.” So, I always knew. My brother was adopted too, and he always grew up knowing too, and I definitely prefer it.
ANDY: Was it ever an issue in your family?
JULIE: How do you mean?
ANDY: Like, negative or positive; like, was it ever…
ANDY: I mean, you always knew, but there wasn’t any kind of like hard feelings or—
ANDY: —weird stuff like that?
JULIE: There wasn’t any hard feelings. For me, it was just, I guess, maybe, because I knew I was a little bit different—whereas I had OCD or I struggled with some things—I always wanted to know who my biological parents were. And I always knew that some day I would grow up and want to meet them, and hopefully would meet them.
My brother on the other hand, it kind of somehow, sometimes has to do with being a guy and being a girl, but my brother really never wanted to know, he had never showed any interest in finding out who his biological parents were. But I did. And so for me, it was just the last piece of my puzzle of who I was; who my biological parents were.
Grew up in Dublin, my parents found out they were unable to have kids, and so adopted my brother and then three years later adopted me. And I grew up and went to an all-girl’s boarding school. I didn’t start out as a boarder, but in Ireland they tend to segregate the schools between guy’s schools and girl’s schools—there’s not a lot of mixed schools. A lot of uniform wearing—had to wear a nice little kilt every day. And—
ANDY: Yeah, talk a little bit about boarding school. I mean, you said you weren’t a full boarder; you didn’t spend every day and every night there, but you were a day boarder.
ANDY: So talk a little bit about, like, your hours, how much you’re—well, I guess what I’m asking for is how different this is from an American school, even a day boarding school. Because you were gone real long hours compared to what we were.
JULIE: Sure. Well, when I started off school, you start school over there at age four. Which is bit younger than here. Basically, first class is kindergarten, then you go into a class called “transition”, and then you have another six years. It’s, I believe, fourteen years altogether of schooling, so you have kindergarten, transition; then you have—it goes P1, P2, P3, P4, P5, P6. Which stands for “primary”; because it’s called “primary school”.
So I was together with a lot of girl friends that we started school together and we went all the way through when we graduated together, because my school was a primary school and a secondary school. So we had to wear uniforms from the day we started there. We had to wear little skirts and undies; play sports; and the real emphasis was on language, and we started out, in P1 we started out learning Irish or Gaelic as well as English. Then we added French.
So it went from P1 to P6, and then it was sort of like the break. Then you go to secondary school. So secondary school is when people start to have the option of being a boarder or not. The school that I went to had a lot of, kind of, foreign dignitaries that sent their children to school in Ireland because Ireland is supposed to have a really good school system. So I went to school with a lot of foreign people: lot of girls from Africa, Spain, Greece, India, Pakistan, pretty much all over the globe. And a lot of my friends were boarders, meaning they were there all day every day. They slept there, they did their homework there, they spent their weekends there. The only time they really couldn’t spend there was in the summer. In the summer they had to go home. So as I started— In primary school it was called P1–P6. Well, in my particular school, for secondary school it was called “first year” through “sixth year”. So first year is when you started secondary school and…
ANDY: What would that translate into here?
JULIE: Let’s see…
ANDY: I think it’s seventh grade but I…
JULIE: Well first year, when you go into first year you’re thirteen.
ANDY: Yeah, I believe that’s seventh grade.
ANDY: I’d have to do the math, but sounds about right.
JULIE: Okay, so you start in first year when you’re thirteen, and then when you graduate you’re in sixth year and you’re basically eighteen or seventeen depending on when you’re born. So for the first three years I was just a regular “day girl”, is what they called us.
And in school over there they give you the choice of studying whatever subjects—you have your core subjects that you have to study, but then they also give you the choice to study, say, do you want to study Latin, or do you want to study German? I chose to study Latin. Do you want to study art, or do you want to study home economics? I chose to study home economics.
And then they also split you off into your skill levels. So you could either have the normal level of class, you could have higher level or you could have lower level. So, I was never in any lower level classes, which was good, but I was in mostly higher level classes. And so they basically split it up so that, depending on your intelligence, and depending what you really think that you want to go into maybe when you’re older, that’s what you can concentrate on and that’s where you can have a bit more intense study and so forth.
So I went through first year, second year, and third year, and at the end of third year I know they have, like, TAKS over here or whatever. Well, the way they do it in Ireland is, after first, second, and third year you take what’s called the “junior certificate”, or it’s also called the “intermedior [intermediate?] certificate”. Basically, what that is, the whole country sits those exams at the same time, in every school all over the map—all over the map of Ireland. So it’s not just a TAKS test where it’s like, “this much work from this year we test you on English”, this is three years worth of material from first year to third year. They test you on every single subject, depending on whether you’re in the higher level in the intermediate level or in the lower level. And it’s about three weeks worth of testing. And it is honestly the most horrible thing I’ve ever been through. Until I got to the leaving cert, which I’ll talk about later. But you go through testing, they bring in officials from all over the country (who this is all they do, is go around and watch people taking tests), and you don’t know what you’re going to be asked because it could be from three years worth of work.
If you pass your junior certificate, which, I mean most people—it’s really hard, some people fail—but most people in our school, because we had a, you know, it was really kind of intensive school, most people in our school did pass the junior cert.
But what happens is, after you pass your—if you pass—your junior cert, then you have the option of not going back to school anymore. Because if you have your junior cert, then technically you can get a job out there in Ireland somewhere. So if you do really well, and you don’t want to go to school anymore, and your parents don’t really see any need for you to continue your schooling, you can quit schooling at age thirteen or fourteen, which is insane. Now nobody did that in our school because, not to sound snooty or anything, but we were kind of a upper class school; so none of the parents of my friends would say, “you can quit school”—definitely not my parents.
So after you do your junior cert in third year, you have what’s called an “off year”. It’s called fourth year. And basically what you do there is you can go—you still are in school—but you can go out and get a job in what you think you might want to do after you graduate. You can go out and get a job for a year. They go on lots of school trips, they do lots of job training, and it’s kind of like the year in between your junior cert and your leaving cert.
So for me, I did my junior cert in third year, and then fourth year just happened to be when my brother was starting university here in Texas. So my parents decided that they would, they were going to take me out of school, because it wasn’t a super important year to miss—it wasn’t a leaving cert year or a junior cert year—so they took me out and we moved over here to east Texas that year. And my brother started college here.
ANDY: And we’re going to talk about, that’s kinda where the next episode’s going to cover.
ANDY: But let’s go back a little bit more. You talked a lot about what your school curriculum was like.
ANDY: But I was kind of looking more for schedule-wise, on how, you know, in the US—cause you went to school here for a year—we go to school basically from eight to three.
ANDY: But you were a day boarder, which means something a lot different than what we experience when we go to school.
JULIE: Yeah, I wasn’t a day boarder until I came back from Texas that first year, so… .
ANDY: Oh, okay.
JULIE: Do you want me to—
ANDY: No. So what was your schedule? You had a normal, like eight to five-ish schedule at school?
JULIE: Yeah, we usually eight to four schedule, and then after four PM is basically when, if you were in sports, that is basically when you had your practice and that’s when you had your games.
ANDY: So that’s very similar.
JULIE: Yeah, it is very similar.
ANDY: I guess, I guess I was thinking that you were a day boarder the entire time.
JULIE: No, I wasn’t a day boarder till I came back from Texas.
ANDY: Okay. So, also, talk about—your extended family was not around when you were growing up.
JULIE: No, my mother’s parents lived, and all their family, basically, live in Canada. When my mother was a teenager, her parents, my grandparents on my mother’s side, decided to emigrate to Canada.
So what happened was, it’s kind of funny story, my mother took her junior cert and then they moved to Canada, and she never got her junior cert results. Now as a person with OCD, there is no way in heck that I could ever live without knowing the results of an exam I’ve taken. But for my mother’s family, they just moved off to Canada and she never found the results of her junior cert.
And then my father’s family lives in the Midwest. So my one set of grandparents were in Canada, and my other set of grandparents were in the Midwest. All my aunts and uncles were in Canada or in the Midwest. There was a few aunts and uncles that my mother had that still lived around the Dublin area, so I had two great aunts, and I had a great uncle that we would see every now and then, but…
ANDY: So how often would you say you got to see your aunts and uncles and on both sides of the family?
JULIE: Oh, mm, not even yearly, I would think.
ANDY: So… It’s fair to say that your dad was absent a lot growing up?
JULIE: Oh, my dad was absent most of the time. And like I said, in the summers he would take us—so the summers we would be gone, most summers we’d be gone to America; we traveled pretty much everywhere.
I mean, I’ve been all the places in the world, basically, because my dad had to go there. And apart from that, during the school year and so forth, when me and my brother were in school, my dad was gone by himself raising money—and yes, he was absent a lot.
ANDY: Well, now comes to the fun part of the show.
ANDY: We’re going to talk about your dad.
ANDY: Let me just start off by saying both of us love and respect your dad. He’s a good guy.
ANDY: We don’t have anything personally against him. Everything he does I think he sincerely does in love and respect for his kids. But, that being said, I think there’s a lot of stuff in your childhood around your dad that we need to talk about, just to get background.
ANDY: And so, that being said, let’s get started. What’s the best things you remember about your father, growing up?
JULIE: Mm, that’s a tough question. Um, I think as children you sometimes tend to focus on the negative about your parents, because sometimes relationships are tough; and it’s only as an adult that you can look back and say, “Wow, they really did do this for me.”
I think my dad always tried to provide for us really well, as far as physical needs and so forth like that. He always wanted us to have the best and to be the best, so that would be basically what I remember.
ANDY: How would you describe your dad’s personality?
JULIE: [Laughs.] That’s funny. I think over the years that sometimes I have come to understand that I’m a little bit more like my dad than I would like to be. But after reading a lot (I keeping saying this, “after reading a lot”, but that’s how I find out my information, and that’s how I grow as a person), I think that he had a lot of the problems I did, and I think when we talk about genetics versus environment, that my dad shaped a lot of my having OCD but I don’t think my dad had OCD, so to speak, because he didn’t have any compulsions that I could see. And with people with really serious OCD, you can see that they have compulsions. You can see they’re switching the light switch on, you can see they’re washing their hands.
But I think maybe my dad had what’s called OCPD, which is Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. Basically what that is, is it’s a little bit different than OCD because people with OCD don’t want to do their compulsions, and you know, all their obsessions and compulsions are pretty horrible to them; but people with OCPD, they don’t have that feeling. They really have no desire to change their ways.
Whereas a person with OCD, that’s what they want to do the most, is that they want to change, and they want to get rid of this. Person with OCPD is usually pretty much totally inflexible and unable to compromise. And I think that’s a pretty good way to describe my dad.
ANDY: There’s a few things that I wrote down that I’m going to ask, and you tell me if you agree.
ANDY: I put that he’s a pretty hard man.
JULIE: Very. Very hard man. Very.
ANDY: And you kinda just said that same thing.
ANDY: And then, kind of controlling.
JULIE: Extremely controlling over every detail of everybody’s life, yes.
ANDY: Always correct?
JULIE: Always correct, oh my god, yes, never, ever, ever, wrong.
JULIE: Extremely strict. I’m surprised I made it through my life—all those rules.
JULIE: Misguided, how do you mean misguided?
ANDY: I think he honestly thinks that he was trying to do what was right.
JULIE: Yeah, yeah. And that’s another trait of OCPD, is that these people think what they’re doing is right. They don’t realize it. People with OCD realize that they have a problem and that there’s something wrong with them. People with a personality disorder, they don’t realize it.
Whereas—I heard the example once: as a person with OCD, they know that washing their hands a hundred times a day is totally illogical, and they don’t want to do it. But a person with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, when they wash their hands, they just think, “If everybody washed their hands the same way I do, then there wouldn’t be any problem.”
And that’s how I would describe my dad. His opinion was, if everybody did just what he said in the way he said it to do, then the world would be pretty dang perfect.
ANDY: When you were younger… or well, let me start by saying, what’s your earliest memory of your father?
JULIE: Um, that’s a tough question. My earliest memory is me having to go to him and do my compulsions of confessing all the things I did wrong when I was like four or five.
ANDY: Can you think of a reason that you had that compulsion?
JULIE: A reason to—? Well, part of it was obviously because I have obsessive compulsive disorder, and part of that is low serotonin levels in the brain; but part of that is, I was looking for my dad’s approval, because he wanted everything done his way, and the right way. So maybe in my mind if I confessed all that stuff to him, then I was being like, you know, the good child, and showing him that I knew what I did was wrong, and so forth.
I don’t know if that makes sense, but…
ANDY: Was it hard to find approval?
JULIE: Yeah, I could never do anything right. I would get grades in class, and I would come home with my report card, and I would have all As and one B, because maybe I got a 97 on a test instead of 100, and (if my kid did that, dude, I’d be super proud) but my dad was like, “Well, what happened to those other three points, Julie? Why did you get a B? that’s not acceptable.” I mean, [laughs] very hard to get approval.
ANDY: Tell me how you saw your dad: the way that he treated your brother compared to you and also how he treated your mother.
JULIE: Mm, dang, start getting emotional here, again, I’m not crying. But part of my—what I perceived as a child—is that my dad was very old school. Whereas he was the head of the household and everybody had to follow what he said; because, you know, that’s what it says in the Bible; so, obviously the wife has to obey everything the dad said.
And, in that, I think he put men above women. All men above all women in their roles. And I saw that reflected in the way he treated my mother. It was always, like, his way or the highway. And she had to do everything he said, when he said it, and so on. And then (as far as children) because my brother was a boy and I was a girl—then, I think, I don’t know how much of this is maybe my imagination, but I think my brother got treated differently than I got treated; and because he’s a guy, and so he’s the, quote unquote, “preferred sex”, whereas I’m the one that has to be controlled as a female sex. So I felt I got a lot harder time than my brother did.
And I’m sure every kid feels like they were hard done by and their sibling got treated differently, but even to this day I think I get treated differently because I’m a girl, and because somehow that makes me, I don’t know, lesser of a person or lesser important, because I’m the female sex, and not the male sex.
ANDY: Okay, I think we’ve covered enough of that for now.
ANDY: Yeah. I would classify, you know, your family is definitely a religious family.
ANDY: Religious in kind of the negative use of the word.
ANDY: And so, what impact do you think that had on you and your formation of how severe your OCD was growing up?
JULIE: Well, for me it made me want to rebel. When I was a child, I was thinking about this, I wasn’t allowed listen to any music apart from “Jesus music”. Jesus music—Christian music. My dad called it Jesus music. He said there was Jesus music, and there was “the devil music”. And I was not allowed to listen to any, quote unquote, “devil music”.
He would do as much as come into my room when I was just hanging out by myself in my room and ask me what that was on my TV—or not on my TV, I didn’t have a TV in my room, are you kidding me?—what that was on my radio, and if that was a Christian band. Because if it wasn’t a Christian band, then it was the devil music, and I wasn’t allowed to listen to the devil music, because nothing good can come out of that.
Also, as far as punishment and so forth, if I did something wrong, I mean now, I believe in punishing your child, don’t get me wrong. But if I did something wrong, my dad would tell me that I needed to go to my room and beg Jesus for forgiveness, and that I couldn’t come out of my room until I had been down on my knees, talked to Jesus, asked him for forgiveness; and then, that’s when at that point that I could come out of my room. I mean come on.
I could only watch one hour of TV a day, because TV’s bad too. Couldn’t have a VCR. Nope, VCRs are bad too—because that would be, you know, devil videos. [Laughs.] We could watch Christian movies though; if we wanted to rent a VCR one time and watch a Christian film, that was fine. Also, wasn’t allowed to go to movies, because movies were the devil too. Wasn’t allowed to go to the cinema.
So I think that, as a child (when I read this the other day, this clicked with me) as a child, I was given very little control over my life, and over my own life. And I read the other day that over-protective parents may well be an integral factor of why a person develops OCD. Because if the child is given little control, then I might develop rituals or OCD obsessions and compulsions as a way of retaining some control. And when I read that, like I said, it really resonated with me, because my parents were very over-protective. Rules, rules, rules, control, control, control. And like I said, I had no control over my life, so if that contributed to me starting to have OCD. Because in OCD I felt that I could have some control; or wanted some control, tried desperately to get some control over my own life.
ANDY: To kind of bring it back to religion a little bit, in a previous episode you talked about having to confess to your dad every day. And then also you mentioned a time when you mother was in the hospital and you kind of had to tell her everything that was going on.
ANDY: Do you think having to “confess your sins”, quote unquote, [Julie laughs] was kind of impacted on you in a way that kind of translated into that? Do you think that had any correlation—I guess is what I’m getting at—into any of that? Or you think it was just your mind?
JULIE: Um, I really don’t know. I’ve never actually thought about that before, but I see how it could. There definitely was a point where, in order to receive forgiveness from your sins, you have to confess your sins. And my parent’s church was very strict. We had to wear skirts and we had to wear, we had to have our head covered at all time. It was very “men are in charge, women can’t speak in the presence of men, women can’t pray in the church out loud”. If you want to pray you have to separate into men’s and women’s so the women can pray out loud in front of themselves, and so forth. So definitely maybe a religious aspect to that, knowing my background, but like I said that’s something I never really thought about until you asked it.
ANDY: Well, we’ve run our allotted time today.
ANDY: Yeah! I think it was a good episode. I just want to say again that we have, you know, both Julie and I have no hard feelings towards Julie’s dad.
JULIE: Oh, no.
ANDY: It’s always tough to revisit your past, especially if it hasn’t been what you would consider to be a perfect childhood.
ANDY: But we love Julie’s dad, we love Julie’s mom; they’re good people, but I definitely don’t think we could have skipped over that, as far as telling some background to her life. So thanks again for joining us for this episode. And we’re going to take up where we left off when we come back. And we’re actually going to get into when Julie and I first met.
ADNY: So, join us again next time. Thanks for listening!
Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder