Blake loves my minestrone soup, but tonight, something is wrong. His body stiffens as it usually does when he realizes there’s a rule “violation” – a moment of panic. I’ve added something different to the soup this time. That’s not unusual; it’s a very versatile recipe and Blake has always rolled with the variations. Sometimes I add some spinach. Sometimes a bunch of chard. Tonight, some broccoli seemed in order. Broccoli, however, apparently is in the “No Zone.”
Michael is watching Blake attempt to salvage his soup. Blake picks bits of broccoli out of the soup, placing them on the napkin next to his bowl. He is clearly not happy, but not yet ready to abandon one of his favorite dishes. I’m churning inside, but I try to focus on my own meal and say nothing. Michael is getting angry and he cannot keep it under wraps.
“What’s the problem with the broccoli. Explain this to me.”
“There’s just a problem with it, okay?”
“No. It’s not okay. Why do you have to listen to your OCD? Why can’t you not waste food? Can’t you break the rules for once?”
“It’s NOT about OCD.”
“Yes, it is! Can’t you just admit that for once?”
“Hey, guys,” I break in, “can we not do this at dinner?”
“If we don’t do this now, then when CAN we do it?” Michael asks. “I want to talk about this now. This is my dinner, too.”
I pick up my bowl and my placemat and I walk into the dining room. I’m frustrated, too, and I hurt inside because I am once again reminded that I cannot feed my son. I am incapable of even providing his basic daily sustenance. I don’t want a dinner that’s full of arguing. I don’t want to sit through yet another meal that is full of fighting and anger. If Michael is going to insist on this battle, I don’t want to be a part of it.
I can hear them continuing to argue. Blake defends his position. Michael tells him why he is wrong. Finally, I hear one of the boys get up. I hear the door to the cabinet where the trash is slam, and then I hear the refrigerator door shutting.
“Are you really going to throw that away?” I hear Michael asking angrily. “Because, if you are, maybe I’d like to eat it?”
And then – silence.
I get back up from the dining room table and make my way back to the kitchen. Michael is still at the table eating. Blake is sitting on the sofa reading a book. He apparently never got a bite of food into his mouth. I sit down and we eat our dinner. The silence envelops us.
A Walk Will Do Us Some Good
After we clean up, I ask Michael to walk the dogs with me. Once we are outside, I acknowledge how strong his feelings are. I understand; I’m full of emotion myself.
“Mom, he wastes perfectly good food. He’s sick. Can’t we put him in a hospital somewhere?”
I hear Michael out. I help him to stay focused on his own feelings instead of having him point the finger at his brother. Finally, I’m able to point out the futility of bombarding his brother at the dinner table.
“But I am so tired of having to sit with him at the table and watch him refuse to eat the food – or pick at it like there’s something wrong with it. I’m tired of having my dinner ruined by his OCD!”
“So, is attacking him making your dinner any better?” I ask.
“No,” he admits, sounding defeated. “I know I’m over the top. But I want to yell. I want to get it out. I want him to hear how this makes me feel. I want to be angry. And you won’t engage in it. You leave the table.”
“Michael, you have every right to share how you feel with your brother, but is doing it over your evening meal the best place? I have no problem with you sharing how you are affected. I just don’t want to hear it over dinner. I don’t think it helps. It just puts him on the defensive. Don’t you think it kills me to watch him picking over the food I prepare, or throwing it away? Bringing it up in an accusatory way at that moment accomplishes nothing.”
He Needs to Feel the Consequences
Michael has shared what he needs to. He is silent for a moment, then he looks at me with a determined expression.
“Mom, he needs to feel the consequences of his behavior. I won’t argue anymore. If he has to eat frozen pita and cheese every day for months, then we have to let him do that.”
I agree with Michael. It’s actually what we’ve been talking about needing to happen for a long time, but Michael needed to actually feel this for himself. I let him know that his dad and I welcome him to come to us about this any time he needs to vent. We get it. This OCD behavior affects us all in some way.
It is not easy to be the sibling of someone with OCD. It is painful to watch the futility of rituals performed day after day. It is difficult to see someone you love caught up in something that has no reason to you. It is probably even more difficult when that sibling denies that there is a problem, leaving virtually nothing to work from.
Michael and Blake have an incredible bond and Michael cannot understand why he is unable to break through and get his brother to care enough to get better. He feels his brother slipping away from him sometimes and he tries to pull him back. Sometimes, he feels he’s losing his grip. That’s when the desperation comes out. On this night, though, I believe he realized that, in order to save his brother, he will have to help himself first – as painful as that may be.