This past week has been especially difficult for me. I don’t know how it has been for Blake, but I have seriously been knocked flat. It’s not so much the events of the week, but it is all about how I have been coping – and I haven’t been coping well at all. My old companion, depression, has come for a visit and, frankly, she’s a lousy houseguest.
I’ve delved little into my own mental health, or anyone else’s in the family, since I began this blog. Blake obviously does not live in a vacuum where everyone else around him has perfect emotional health – far from it. We have our share of severe depression, anxiety and a whole host of other issues. My own brother shared with me only a year-and-a-half ago that he has struggled with OCD for a long time, but he has kept it hidden from us – that, however, is a story for another time.
A Depressed Teen
I have struggled on and off with depression at least since I was a teenager. I didn’t really understand what it was back then. I only knew that there were days when the only food I could stomach was chocolate chip mint ice cream from the ice cream shop across the street from my high school. It became a kind of joke for our yard supervisors.
“There she is again with her ice cream!” they’d joyfully proclaim, but nobody recognized that the happy looking food was my only way to put a bright spot in a day where I’d rather be in bed, away from everyone.
Indeed, almost no one knew of the days I spent unable to see anything bright on the horizon. On those days, I got out of bed to get to school, but got back in just as soon as I could. And there was absolutely nobody who knew of the times I’d contemplated ending it all – letting myself out of what felt like the never-ending pain and despair in my own mind. One well-timed step off the curb in front of an oncoming car. That would do it. Yet something held me back. I silently knew that something was not right – my feeling this way – and while it was my sister who was taken to therapy regularly for her own struggles, I knew that I belonged in that therapy room too.
As a young adult, I recognized that it was depression that I was dealing with. I got myself into treatment. Painful as the process was, the depressed times came less and less, and the fog that seemed ever present in my life lifted. I had no idea that it was possible to live life clear-headed, or to find beauty and meaning in small moments. And I was amazed to learn that, even if the dark moments came, I could see beyond them to better times that would surely come.
Bed Sounds So Good
This past week though, I’ve been slammed harder than I have in years. It started early in the week, with a vague tearfulness and a sense of self-doubt. It was exacerbated by Blake’s constant blaming my husband and I for things going wrong in his own life. He was two hours late for school one day because he over-slept, and it was our fault because we should have pulled him out of bed and “made” him get ready (no matter that we had been in his room three times telling him to get up). When he lost out on a sleepover with a friend because he had failed to finalize the plans (despite daily reminders that the deadline was coming), it was we who were “destroying” his friendship.
These are not unusual encounters in our regular dealings with Blake; it’s just that my resources were too depleted to be able to handle them well. I found myself withdrawing, descending deeper into the pit. When, one evening, I accidentally smacked my arm into something in the garage, I ended up in a crumpled heap, sobbing on the garage floor. I knew it wasn’t about the immediate pain; it was about the emotions that felt clogged up inside of me finally finding an escape route.
We attended a friend’s celebration yesterday as a family. It was one of those where the DJ works hard to get everyone up and participating. I tried hard to be in the moment, but all I could seem to do was feel the heaviness that is upon me. It did not help at all that Blake refused to even stay in the room and socialize. The food being served was all suspect and defied his rules, so he removed himself to the lobby to stay as far away from it as possible. My heavy heart broke a little more at the sight of my son, all alone for hours, unable to join the party because of the food in the room. I think of how hard it has to be to be him and the fog settles in a little deeper into my brain.
My hubby just took leave of me a moment ago after hugging me deeply and reassuring me that it will all get better. He had just taken a look at the title of this post.
“That’s a good title,” he told me. “That’s a good thing for you to be writing about.”
That’s what I am hoping, that by writing about it, it will release some of it from me and help me to move forward. He made me promise before he left that I will work out today. We both know that being active is one of my best tools for feeling a little better. So that is what I will do now. Move into the day and use the tools I have.
This post was originally going to be about a quandry I was in – and I was going to wonder with you, my reader, about what direction I might go. But, as things go, situations change. With Blake’s OCD, they rapidly evolve. So now, instead, I will share with you what happened. Perhaps you will have words of wisdom for me as I stumble down this particular path.
One of Blake’s most current OCD issues lately revolves around food. He has lots of rules about what he can eat, where he can eat, and when. In the past, I have always tried to make a well-balanced, healthy meal for our entire family. Then, I simply hope that Blake eats. Sometimes I make meals that I happen to be pretty sure are completely friendly; other times I pay little attention to that. Something else that’s important information here is that both of my boys used to not like foods with much spice or with sauces. So, if I was making something like chicken in chile sauce, I’d just pull a little bit ot the chicken out for them before adding the sauce to the rest of the recipe. Big brother now eats most sauces, so he’s outgrown that phase. Blake, not so much yet.
One night this past week, I made just one of those meals. I pulled some of the plain meat out for Blake and continued with making the rest of the meal. This particular meal had been just fine with Blake – until that night. As we sat at the family dinner table, I noticed Blake was eating everything but the entree. He ate rice, he ate fruit and then he started to drink an enormous amount of water. My husband and I suspected he was trying to avoid the main course.
“Blake,” I asked, “are you planning to eat the chicken?”
“Why do you ask?” he answered.
“Well, it just kind of looks like you are trying to avoid it.”
“No, I’m planning to eat it. I’m just waiting.” Then he continued to down more water.
A few minutes later he excused himself from the table and went to lie down on the couch in the family room.
“Oh, so full. Must rest,” he grumbled.
“Blake, we’re eating dinner,” my husband called after him. “Come back and join us.”
“I will. I just need to rest for a bit.”
My husband and I exchanged glances. We were pretty sure this was the food rules evolving and showing off their newest incarnation at the food table. Several minutes later, Blake was in the pantry. He was fishing around for something to eat.
“Blake, please come out of the pantry. You said you were going to eat your meal. Please don’t start with snacking now,” my husband implored.
Blake sat at the table and stared at his chicken. By now, everyone else was finished with their meal and relaxing. Blake made no move to eat.
“Blake, are you eating or not? The food’s getting cold now. Either eat or let’s clean up,” I said.
“I’m just not so sure about the chicken and whether I can eat it,” he said.
“That’s fine. If you’re not going to eat it. Let’s clean up.”
And then he was up and in the trash can once again (as he has been on other days). He started digging through trying to find the wrappings from the chicken to see if they met with his approval. All along he hadn’t been honest with us about his intention to eat; he’d been struggling with his new rule.
“Blake,” I said, “the chicken is not going to meet with your rules. Your choice is either to break the rule and go ahead and eat, or you can clear your plate from the table and find something else to eat if you’re still hungry. I can’t keep up with the food rules anymore, honey. If your choice is to throw away your food, then I think it’s time for me to stop preparing your meals.”
He hesitated for a bit.
“I just can’t eat this, Mom.”
He picked up his plate, and the chicken went into the trash. I went to bed emotionally exhausted that night. I think all four of us did. The food rules were taking their toll on everyone.
BLAKE TRIES TO STRIKE A BARGAIN
The next morning, Blake came to me.
“Mom, I’d like to talk with you about the food. Why do you have to stop making my meals? Why can’t you just make the things I’ll eat? Here’s my idea. On the nights when you’re making something I’ll eat, then you cook for me. On the nights when it’s something I don’t eat, then I’ll make something for myself to replace the food I won’t eat.”
I pondered this for a moment. It sounded somewhat reasonable. Still, I could see pitfalls to his proposal.
“Honey, I appreciate your trying to find a compromise, and I can see some reasons that might be a good idea. At the same time, your food rules change. And they are changing more rapidly lately. A week ago, you were eating that chicken, so when I made it, I thought you would eat it. It wasn’t until you sat down to dinner that Dad and I could see that you were having a problem with it.”
“I’ll work with you on it, Mom. We can make it work.”
“Tell you what – I’m exhausted and not in a great place to make a decision right now. Let me consider it for a bit and I’ll get back to you.”
He agreed. I kept it under consideration and made dinner that night. He ate what I made and all was well. Still, I needed time to weigh my decision.
The following evening, my husband was out late and I was having dinner with some friends. I asked the boys what they’d like to eat so that I could make them something before I left. They agreed they’d both like pasta. I put the water on the stove to boil.
Just as I was about to put the noodles into the boiling water, Blake came over. He had that distressed look he gets when OCD is disturbing him with one of its thoughts, but he’s trying to avoid telling me what’s going on. He stood staring at the pot of water.
“Blake, I can see that something is going on. Please share it with me before I go any further with this meal preparation.”
“Well, it’s just that I’m not so sure about the pot.”
He tried to tell me that it had something to do with something that had touched this particular pot the last time it was in the sink waiting to be washed. Really? Is my son that aware of every pot, pan and utensil in the house and what’s happening with each one? That has to be exhausting.
“Blake, we know what this is. Let’s do this. Just tell me if you’ll be eating the pasta or not so I know how much to add to the water now.”
“It’s just the pot,” he said.
“I’m not switching to another pot. This is the pot I’m cooking in.”
“Then the answer has to be ‘No.’ I won’t be eating the pasta.”
“Alright then, I’ll trust that you’ll make something for yourself. Make sure it has a protein, some fruit, some carbs. You know.”
Blake left the room and went down the hallway to be with his thoughts.
My older son looked at me.
“Mom, I thought you weren’t going to cook for him anymore. What’s going on?”
“Blake made a proposal to me and I told him I would think about it. So I haven’t changed anything yet. I’m still making up my mind, but this is sure helping me to decide.”
I COME TO A DECISION
That night I crawled into bed with my husband and told him what had happened that evening.
“I can’t do it anymore,” I said. “I’ve got nothing more to give. I’ve tried to make well-balanced meals, but lately there’s more and more wrong with what I prepare. And now, even when it’s something he’s asked for, there’s something wrong with the pot. I can’t keep up with it…”
There are tears in my eyes. I’m at a breaking point. My husband is exhausted. He doesn’t really want to hear the details. He’s tired of being frustrated, too, and he has little left to give. He’s behind my decision. We fall asleep.
The next day, during a calm period, I call Blake over to chat with me.
“Uh oh,” he says. “This doesn’t sound good.”
He tries to hide behind my bedroom door as I begin to speak. I’m not sure if he’s really nervous or if he’s playing with me. I tell him I’ve made up my mind and that I really did give consideration to his request. However, this situation with the pasta last night has made it clear to me that it is best if he prepares his own meals. Then they can be made the way he likes, in the utensils he sees fit.
“But, Mom, all you have to do is check with me as you’re cooking.”
“Honey, I can’t prepare meals with you watching over my shoulder and having to approve every pot, pan, spoon and ingredient I am using. It’s not good for either one of us. If you need to have say over these things, it’s best if you have full responsibility for it. You’ll go grocery shopping with me. You’ll choose your own ingredients and when I make dinner, you’ll prepare yours.”
Now, he’s angry with me.
“Mom, this isn’t going to help. It’s only going to make things worse.”
“How, honey? How will it make things worse.”
“I can just tell you. It’s going to make things worse. There’s going to be so much more fighting.”
“You may be right. And if that’s the case, I may have made the wrong decision.”
“It is right!! It will be worse!” he asserts.
“I could be wrong…”
“If you don’t want to feed me, then I just won’t eat!!”
“I do want to feed you, Blake, but I can’t keep up with the ever changing food rules. I never know when they’re going to change and what’s coming next. I have to pull myself out of this, honey.”
“I’m really thinking that this is not the right family for me,” he says.
“We all love you, Blake. I love you. I’m trying to do what I think is the best choice. Only time will tell.”
“Come on, Mom! I don’t want to cook.”
“I’m not changing my mind. I love you and this is what I’m going to do for now.”
I take my leave of him and move into the next part of my day. He goes downstairs to talk to his brother about all of this. I silently wonder if he will pack up and leave, as he’s threatened to do in the past. Where would he go? And then I wonder if he’ll make good on his threat to just not eat. I hope that’s not what it comes to.
I have a presentation to make this particular evening and I mentally try to prepare myself. I step in front of the audience. My talk is on OCD in children and teenagers. I want to share information that will give these folks hope and useful tools. I begin by telling them my professional background and I share that I am the mother of a young man who has OCD. Silently, I think to myself, “Please do not ask how he is doing.”
Five times this past week, I’ve been approached by friends or family members who follow this blog and wanted to tell me just how they are impacted by reading it. Two of them cried as they shared their reactions. Several times, the words were something like, “Wow! I didn’t realize just what it is like. I am so sorry. I wish I could do something to make it all better.”
I found myself wanting to reach out and hug these people and comfort them. I felt a bit awful for “making” them feel bad. I never realized the impact my words and shared stories could have on the people who love and care about Blake and our family. Each one assured me that they are glad to have this window into our world. The few moments we’ve had to check in on what’s going on in our OCD experience apparently have done little justice to really helping them to understand what it is all about and now they have a way to connect in a different way than before.
Still, I feel compelled to share that our family life is not dominated by OCD. Some days it feels that way, but that is just for the time being – and then something else moves to the forefront. Our lives are full, rich and multi-faceted. We have problems, as all families do – and OCD is just one of them. It happens to be one that provokes great emotion in me.
I am so grateful for this opportunity to share with our family, a few close friends and those of you in the world out there about our OCD struggle. Many times, I have felt so lonely as we’ve dealt with this disorder. I started this blog as a way to give all these feelings, emotions and experiences a place to live that is outside of my own head. And I hoped that someone out there might also gain or learn from it. Writing has helped me to feel closer to those friends and family who are reading because they have a little view inside that they didn’t have before and it gives us the opportunity to connect in a different way.
I am also grateful for those of you who I do not know personally, who take the time to read and comment on what I post. I have received supportive comments and thoughts from many of you, and I realize that I have gotten something I never expected when I began – I have a support community. I want you to know how grateful I am when you share your own experiences. I am grateful when you encourage me. I am grateful when you tell me that you have a child who has been through this. And I am grateful when you tell me that you are struggling with OCD, whether because you have it or because you have a family member who has it. And I am grateful when you tell me to keep on writing. Thank you!
So that is it for now. Just a moment to share that I am feeling grateful. May your day be blessed with opportunities for gratefulness, as well.
Tonight I am writing with equal parts frustration and sadness. Once again, OCD has reared its face and thwarted our family plans. I’m feeling a little bratty about it. I want to tell on it, chastise it, turn on my heels and take my toys home – except I live here with it.
Tonight we had plans for a family game night. It was Blake’s idea – a kind of celebration that all four of us are home on a Saturday night. He had a game all ready to go; it was one he had been wanting to play together for days.
We ordered in a pizza. My hubby had been craving one all week. I made us a salad to go with it and the boys set the table, but as I was working, I noticed that the table was only set for 3. Those of you who have read other posts may recall that Blake has a lot of rules around food. I often don’t know what they are, and I try not to accommodate to them even if I do know. I try to present a wide variety of foods at each meal and hope that he will eat.
“Blake, there’s only three place settings at the table,” I noted.
“I’m going to eat over here,” he told me. He pointed to the kitchen island where he was setting a place for himself.
I knew what this was about. The food we were eating didn’t conform to his rules. He had already asked me if he could make himself a different meal. I didn’t argue; he made himself a something different than the rest of us were eating. What I hadn’t seen coming was that now he was eating clear across the kitchen from us lest our food might somehow contaminate his.
“Blake, come join us at the table. Please.”
“I can’t, Mom. I can’t be near the stuff you guys are eating.”
So, three of us ate at the table while Blake ate his meal alone. It was sad for me, and I was hoping it was at least a little sad for Blake not being able to directly be a part of our conversations and stories. At least we could look forward to playing together once the meal was over – but that’s where I was wrong.
When the table was cleared and the leftovers put away, we all sat down to play our game. Blake brought it over and held it protectively in his arms. Like a referee he looked around at the three of us and made an announcement.
“Guys, I need you all to wash up before we play.”
My head shook as if clearing cobwebs away. What? Wash up? Huh? …And just like that, OCD took the reins at game night.
“Wash up? Why?” my older son asked.
“You guys all ate food I won’t eat, so before you touch my game I need you to wash up,” he announced.
The truth of the matter was that I had already washed up, but I stopped short of telling him. That’s because I knew in this case that it was OCD making demands, not Blake’s rational mind. To offer up that I’d already washed would have been offering reassurance, something that to Blake, and many other OCD sufferers, is like a drug. My hubby and our older son were savvy to the “OCDness” of this request, too.
“No, Blake. We’re not going to wash,” my hubby said gently, but with conviction. “You can get through this. Let’s just play.”
“Yeah, c’mon Blake,” said big brother. “You’re not gonna eat off the cards.”
“No, guys, I’m standing firm on this. I’m not going to change my mind. I need you all to wash up.”
“Blake, are you really going to let OCD hijack our game time?” my husband asked him.
“I’m not going to change my mind.”
I stood up. I wasn’t in any mood to get into a long-winded discussion about this. Sad and frustrated as I was feeling, I was done.
“In that case, I guess we won’t be playing.” I said, and I walked out of the room.
My husband offered one more time to just play, but Blake declined and my husband turned on a college football game on T.V. His big brother tried one more time to reason logically with him, but got nowhere. He sat down, looking dejected, and turned his attention to the laptop in the room.
Blake ended up still holding his game, his arms folded over it. I’m not really sure how he felt about the whole thing, but I suspect he thinks it is all our fault that we wouldn’t comply with this small request. As you’re reading this, you may also wonder why we couldn’t just comply and get it over with. The reason is this: if you give OCD an inch, it’ll take a mile. One little thing is never enough to satisfy OCD; it always asks for more and more. If we comply, managing Blake’s OCD becomes our problem too, as we have to ever adapt our behavior to its continually changing requirements.
Now I sit here writing. I put it here instead of taking it out on Blake or anyone else in the family. Would I rather be playing a family game? That’s for certain, but not on OCD’s terms. Perhaps I will get us another game and at least 3 of us will play. Maybe Blake will join. I look forward to the day when we can sit down to play without the uninvited guest.