I’m sitting at home catching up on some volunteer work for Blake’s school when my cell phone rings. It’s Blake calling. For a moment, I hesitate to answer as I wonder what it could possibly be. It’s been less than two hours since I dropped him off at a thrill ride park that is not too far from our home. This is the first time he’s ever gone without an adult; it’s just him and his friend.
“Hi Blake,” I answer.
“Mom, I’ve hit a wall,” he says. “I need your advice.”
Blake and Kyle have been planning this trip to the amusement park since late last school year. Kyle is terrified of roller coasters – so terrified, in fact, that he was one of the only kids in the entire 8th grade to miss out on the class trip before the school year ended. Blake can smell anxiety from a mile away. He took Kyle aside to get to the bottom of things. He discovered that Kyle had never been on a roller coaster in his life and he was afraid of how he would look in front of his classmates.
While Blake has fought us in the last year or so over engaging in his own treatment for his OCD, he has been through enough treatment and had enough success in the past to know what it takes to get past a fear. In fact, his own fears prevented him from riding even a kiddie ride until he was 10. With concentrated effort and a lot of support from his therapists, Mom, Dad and big brother, he became a roller coaster riding machine.
He shared his own struggles with Kyle and promised him that he could help him get past his own fear. The treatment? Exposure with Response Prevention with Blake as the behavior therapist. Kyle apparently bought into the treatment plan. He even convinced his parents to set up the date and to purchase Blake’s ticket to the park. Blake gave it a lot of thought and came up with what he thought was a good plan. He even knew what order they would visit each ride in order to build up Kyle’s confidence and extinguish his fears.
Now, apparently, it wasn’t going quite according to his plan.
“What kind of advice do you need, honey?”
“Well, I got Kyle to go on the Fast Track, and I want him to go on the Looper, but he keeps saying he has to go to the bathroom, or he wants to get a snack or a drink. I think he’s stalling and trying to avoid. Sounds familiar, huh?”
I smile to myself because he’s referring to his own avoidance – both in his quest to become a roller coaster rider and in his OCD treatment before we stopped this past year.
“Yes, that does sound familiar,” I say.
“Now I understand better what it was like for you and Dad,” he tells me. “So tell me,” he says. “What did you guys do when I did this? What were the skills and tricks you used?”
We talk for a moment about some of the tools at his disposal. Then he tells me that Kyle is asking to go on the Rocking Thunder.
“Maybe you should go on the Rocking Thunder with him, then,” I suggest.
But Blake sees a problem with this.
“It’s too similar to the other ride, Mom. He’s trying to stay in his comfort zone and if he’s going to get over this he’s got to get outside of his comfort zone.”
I suggest to Blake that maybe Kyle isn’t ready to step it up yet. Perhaps they need to stay in this zone. As the day progresses, Blake can ask Kyle if he is ready to take it to the next level. Blake accepts this as a possible road to take.
“Bye, Mom. I love you.”
Hours later, as I walk Blake back to the car, he is wiped out. He’s not as exhausted from being at the park as he is from playing amateur behavior therapist.
“We got on the Looper, finally, but it was sooooo….frustrating,” he says. “I understand what I put you and Dad through. Thank you.”
“Thank you? What for?”
“For pushing me.”
“You’re welcome. It’s hard work being a behavior therapist, isn’t it?”
“Yep. Well, we didn’t make it to the toughest ride, but we made progress. We’ll do it again,” he says as he tilts his head back in the back seat and closes his eyes.
I feel a glimmer of hope inside that maybe Blake will apply this to his OCD. At least now he recognizes what it is like to see what someone you care about is capable of achieving and to face the “wall” of fear and resistance when they can’t find the strength or motivation to keep moving toward that potential. For Blake, it is another step in the right direction.
As for Kyle, his mother is overcome with joy. Today, with Blake’s support, he has accomplished something his parents have been trying to help him achieve for over a decade. He rode a roller coaster. He rode three roller coasters! She text messages me to declare her delight.
“I see career possibilities for Blake :)”