“Blake, are you feeling okay?”
“Heartburn,” he noted.
Heartburn is not unusual for Blake – at least lately. He’s had it several times over the past month. I’m not sure if it’s due to his strange eating habits or if something else is up. We may need to take a trip to the doctor if it keeps up.
“Do you want me to head back home so you can get some antacid?” A couple of antacid tablets generally does the trick for him.
“No, Mom, I think I can get through this one.”
We drove on. Soon enough, I started to hear him groan.
We pulled into the parking lot at school.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” I asked.
“If I don’t feel better, I’ll see if Connie has a pill she can give me.”
Connie is the school nurse. Did I mention that Blake is on a first name basis with her? Children with anxiety disorders often get to know their school nurse well – but I’ll bet you already knew that.
“Connie can’t give you any pills, honey. The school isn’t allowed to give you anything like that. They’ll just call me back to school to give you something. If you need some antacid, we can go the to grocery store down the street and get some right now.”
The Truth Comes Out
“Do they have pills instead of the chewable tablets?” he asked.
“Blake, what’s this about?”
“Oww. Ouch. I don’t want to eat any food. I’m fasting today.”
Yes, he’s fasting again on this day. It’s another religious fast day that I’ve never heard of before. That doesn’t matter, though; when you’re sick, you take medication. Physical and emotional health come before the need to fast.
“Blake, antacid tablets aren’t food. They are a vehicle to deliver medication you need to feel better. The point isn’t for you to suffer all day.”
Blake knows this, intellectually, but his black-and-white, OCD thinking tells him that if you chew your medication it is just like eating. Then, he would be breaking a religious rule.
“I don’t know. Let me think about it. Ouch! Ow!” His groans and cries grew louder. The heartburn became worse.
We sat in the school parking lot for a few moments.
“Ouch!!! Okay! Okay! Let’s go to the grocery store.”
I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes later.
“I’ll be right back,” I told him.
“Try to find it in pill form!” he called out in between groans.
Take the Antacid!
I returned a few minutes later, antacid in hand. Blake was doubled over in the back seat. He looked up at the bottle. It was chewable tablets, like always.
“I’m just not sure about this. Ow! Ow!”
“Blake – take the antacid!” I commanded.
It seemed I could not open the bottle fast enough for him. He took two tablets into his hand and mumbled a prayer to himself just before he popped them into his mouth. I wondered if he was praying for forgiveness for this perceived transgression. He sat quietly for moment, allowing the calcium carbonate to make it’s way to his burning pain.
“I don’t feel very good about doing this,” he finally said.
“You did the right thing,” I told him. “Your health always comes first.”
“I just don’t know.”
Blake never did make it into school for the day. We sat in the car for a while, but the pain from the heartburn did not abate. He went inside and saw his teacher and then we checked him out of school through the health office. He laid at home on the couch until the pain finally grew almost imperceptible.
I left for a couple hours to meet a friend. Blake continued to be plagued by the thought that he had broken a religious rule in taking those antacid tablets. While I was away, the thoughts would give him no respite. He picked up the phone and called my brother-in-law for reassurance. My sister-in-law returned his call.
“You did the right thing,” she told him, and he shared this information with me upon my return.
“Hmmm…” I remarked. “Isn’t that interesting.”
I know that Blake already “knows” that it is okay, in fact even important, to put his health ahead of perfect religious observance. It is his OCD that causes him to doubt and worry. It used to be enough for me to tell him that it was okay to do this or that. Then he had to start checking with my brother-in-law (who is more religiously knowledgeable). Now, even that does not completely calm his mind.
I wonder if we all need to put it back onto Blake, simply ask what he thinks is right and allow him to struggle with the issue. Reassurance is like a drug to OCD, providing brief relief from worry, but growing in its craving as time goes on. It’s a messy business when dealing with religion because, on the one hand, he does need direction, but on the other, it becomes all tangled up with OCD. It takes some savvy to pull the two apart.
In this case, it was more about OCD than Blake needing real direction. It was about needing reassurance about something he already knew. Time to put heads together with the family again, and find ways to remove ourselves from the cycle.