In the Trash


Tonight as I’m preparing dinner, Blake pulls out the trash and begins searching through it.  He has both hands fully inside and is fumbling with the contents.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Oh nothing.”

No surprise at that answer.

“You’re not doing nothing.  You’re going through the trash.”

I sound like such a mom.  The thing is, I know exactly what he’s doing.  It’s all part of this dance that we do.  Moments before he had asked me what was for dinner.  I told him – and then I could hear him doing his quiet, anxious mumble.

“Ummm.  Hmmm.  Uh….”

It’s what he does when his OCD rules pop up.  He hedges.  He tries to be unobtrusive, but to get my attention at the same time.  Most of the time I don’t bite.  Tonight is no different.  He’s fully capable of stating the problem he’s having, so I don’t respond to this mumble.  I wait for him to say something.

Honestly, I’m pretty sure what the problem is.  He’s unhappy with the roast I’m serving.  It violates his eating rules.  Still, I wait for him to share the problem.  If he’s not going to speak up, I’m not going to do service to this.

Now he’s in the trash, searching for something to help his anxiety.  As I’m noting that he’s in the trash and asking him about it, he finds what he is looking for.  It’s the wrapper from the roast.  Still deep in the trash, he pulls it apart so he can get a good look at it.  I can see it doesn’t meet with his satisfaction.

“Blake, if you have a question about the meal, ask.  Stop hiding and pretending and saying it’s nothing.”

“Umm…okay.”  He walks away.  But then he starts again, quietly, at first.  “I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know what to do.”

“Blake, are you asking for help or is there something you’d like from me?  Or do you just need to be talking about this to yourself?”

“Well, um, I’m kind of asking for help.  I just don’t know what to do.”

“Is it about the roast?  You don’t feel you can eat it?”

“I’m sorry, Mom.  I just believe I shouldn’t.  So I don’t know what to do.”

“Blake,” I answer “you know that we want you to eat healthy.  I prefer that you eat the meal I prepare, but if you aren’t going to, then you’ll need to prepare yourself something.”

“I know, Mom.”

“And also, please just come out and say what’s going on.  This hiding and pretending and mumbling doesn’t help.”

He puts together something to make a complete meal for himself and we all manage to eat a meal together.  Still, I’ve got a frustrated feeling inside me.  The fact that he won’t eat the meal I’ve prepared is less upsetting than the sneakiness, the hedging and the hiding.  If he would simply come out with the truth, at least we could discuss it openly – but OCD tells him to sidestep the truth, tell partial-truths or omit the truth entirely.

I don’t understand exactly  what it is about OCD that seems to cause so many sufferers to operate in the realm of not being honest. It’s almost as though OCD can justify taking whatever means are necessary to maintain itself. Perhaps it is that OCD thrives on secrecy, but is threatened when it is out in the open.  At any rate, the irony is not lost on me that a young man with contamination fears is willing to literally dig through the trash because he is afraid of  eating the “wrong” food.

I’m hoping that I handled it okay tonight.  I didn’t blow up or get into a big lecture.  I tried to simply let him know how I felt and what he needed to do if he wasn’t going to eat the meal I was making.  Maybe next time he can be a little more honest – hedge a little less.  For our family, that would be a step in the right direction.

7 thoughts on “In the Trash

  1. I laughed a little when I read this. Perhaps you would appreciate knowing that not all OCD’s have to be about deception. Some in fact, are the exact opposite.

    One of my biggest obsessions/compulsions, was to be honest. Compulsively honest.
    If I was asked a question, even rhetorical ones, at least directly, I’d be compelled to answer truthfully and to the best of my knowledge. Often over-explaining.
    Sometimes I could resist this by just not saying anything, but when I was a kid I considered this a lie of omission, and was compelled to answer even if I didn’t want to.

    .Even now I still have the compulsion, but I can manage to be silent. Lying however, is still mostly beyond me.
    (how silly that sounds, a woman of 26, and I get panic attacks if I even think about lying — Even in answer to simple stranger to stranger small talk “How are you today?” I usually answer “not terrible” because that’s almost always true.)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences. And, it doesn’t sound silly at all that you get anxious at the prospect of lying. Here’s an interesting tidbit about my son’s OCD: He actually is compulsively honest as well. He will not even commit and say that he is going to do something. Example: “Blake, will you take the dog for a walk?” Answer, “I’ll try.” He won’t say, “I will,” because something might prevent it from happening, making his statement a lie. Only when he’s trying to hide his OCD does he hide or omit information. So, we have a young man who believes in being honest all the time – except when it might interfere with his OCD.

    1. Ahh, yes, that actually makes perfect sense. Non-committal is always the stafe-nook for OCD. When one can’t control the circumstances in their entirety (and with the restrictions OCD can end up placing, that can end up being practically never), it’s almost the only possible honest answer.

      I just read through the comments section in “Janet (ocdtalk)”s post and it seems like that’s pretty commonly the experience for those who worry about honesty.
      The other thing, which I didn’t see mentioned there, but is a factor is that OCD can warp ones perceptions. (Example: someone with OCD might genuinely believe that something terrible will happen if they don’t move the banana pudding to another part of the fridge. Even though when examined rationally there’s no logical reason to think that — a reason why learning critical thinking skills is very useful for those with OCD )
      So a person might think they are telling the truth, when really their “truth” is seen through the lens of their OCD. It is problematic.

      Thank you for being so patient with both of your sons.
      I know it might not mean much coming from some random stranger. But I know, it was really hard for my parents, and they lost their patience with me a lot — So I think you deserve a thanks for going through that. It’s hard, and I think you are doing a good job.

  3. David

    There can be a lot of shame associated with OCD. It can be embarrassing and distressing to have to share our OCD “rationale” with others. There is a lot of shame within society regarding mental illness. Of course he’s shy and hesitant to explain to you what’s going on in his mind. Of course he’s unsure how other people will think. Do not blame this person for being afraid to be “honest.” He is dealing with enough already without you putting more pressure on him. Maybe next time you can be a little more empathetic and not shame him into telling you everything you want to hear. For your family, that would be a step in the right direction.

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