Michael and I are sitting on his therapist’s couch. We are here because his psychiatrist is concerned about how Michael is being affected by Blake’s OCD (See “The Psychiatrist Weighs In – Part II“). I am, as well.
“Thank you both so much for allowing me to join today,” I begin. “I asked to be a part of this session because Michael’s psychiatrist was concerned when he saw him. We’ve had a lot of conflict at home related to Blake’s OCD and I think we can really use a neutral party to help us.”
“I’ve heard some about the conflict,” Dr. H answers. “What are Dr. X’s concerns?”
“He’s worried about all the attention Blake is getting during our arguments, and the attention that Michael is missing. What I’d like to accomplish today is to be sure we are doing our best to give Michael the attention he deserves. I’d also like to figure out how we can approach Blake’s OCD together. Right now we have a difference of opinion and that’s creating conflict, as well.”
Michael steps in and shares his experiences and viewpoints. He tells Dr. H how arguments at dinnertime ruin his time with family, how they take away the most special part of the day. He talks of his frustration at having the table reset or re-organized after he’s already finished it. And, in a statement that takes me by surprise, he shares his desire to protect me.
He Doesn’t Want to See Me Hurt
“I can see that it hurts Mom and I don’t want to see her hurt,” he tells Dr. H. “I feel like I have to stand up and do something.”
I love this young man like crazy and my heart swells, but he cannot be responsible for taking care of me.
“Michael, yes, I hurt sometimes, but that’s not your job to take care of. If I hurt, I can deal with that. I can handle my own feelings. I so appreciate your caring about me, but, truly, it’s not your responsibility to take care of me.”
Dr. H agrees and Michael appears ready to relinquish his role as my protector. We talk about the food rules. We talk about how each of us contributes to the arguing. I commit then and there to not pointing out Blake’s OCD behaviors and to staying focused on our time together. Dr. H reinforces the need for me not to cook for Blake, and she picks up on something in my eyes.
“It really hurts not to be able to feed your child, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” I agree, as a tear slips down my face.
“Food is a mother’s love,” Dr. H says. I can feel her compassion.
But there’s another matter. While my husband and I are in agreement that we must not point out Blake’s OCD behaviors to him, or try to strong arm him into breaking his rituals, Michael is just not there.
“I feel like he gets to live in his little OCD world and there’s no consequences of that for him. Somebody’s got to hold him accountable. Somebody’s got to let him know how his actions make people feel,” Michael says. His anger is apparent. His brother gets to “get away” with having OCD no matter how it affects other people.
“Michael,” Dr. H asks, “how many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?”
“I’ll bet a whole lot.”
“The answer is supposed to be: One, but the light bulb really has to want to change.”
But He Doesn’t Want to Change
Michael ponders for a moment what Dr. H is trying to say to him.
“But he doesn’t want to change!”
“That’s right. Right now Blake does not want to change. What he likes is to argue. He is very good at getting people to argue with him. It keeps him from having to really feel the problems connected to his OCD. He gets a lot of attention for arguing and he doesn’t have to deal with the OCD.”
“He does like to argue,” Michael acknowledges.
“When you argue with him and try to strong arm him, you give him exactly what he wants. If you don’t fight with him over his rituals and you keep your focus on being with your family, then you make it so that he is alone with his OCD and its effects. It’s only when he has the chance to really feel those effects that he might decide that he’d like things to change.”
“Okay, I finally understand what my parents have been trying to tell me all along. Okay, I won’t argue with him.”
“It’s still okay to tell him how you feel when he rearranges something you’ve done or does something that upsets you. Just wait until a later time, when you’re calm,” Dr. H advises him. “By the way,” she adds, “I think it’s time to make Blake responsible for all the table setting. Then he can reset it how he wants without changing what anyone else has done.”
We leave with a plan. The three of us will stay united in a quest not to argue with Blake. We will re-claim dinner and other family time for the things we enjoy doing, like talking about each other’s day or discussing world events. And we will hope that, on his own, Blake will come to see the downside of his OCD rules and rituals and that he will strive to fully be able to join us someday in the not-to-distant future.
This feels good. This is the first time in a very long time that Michael has been on the same page as my husband and I. He seems to be willing to let go of some of this responsibility he has felt for ridding Blake of his OCD. I imagine that, in some way, that must be a relief for him. Only time will tell. It is a good place to begin from.