This post is out of my cycle – an extra one for this week since the impending New Year has me feeling contemplative. For the last several weeks, and especially in the last couple days since Blake’s been home from camp, I’ve been pondering how much my own behavior has to do with Blake’s OCD. I don’t mean that I “caused” his OCD (I know enough to know people don’t cause another’s OCD) , but I’ve been wondering how much my role in his life has helped to maintain it.
When I talk about helping to maintain his OCD, I’m not really talking about accommodating to it either. With accommodation, family members, friends and others in the OCD sufferer’s life adjust their own behavior to make things easier on the person with OCD (or maybe just to avoid conflict). For example, they might wash their hands even when it isn’t necessary just because the sufferer “needs” them to do it. Or maybe they help with checking that all the windows are locked – even though it’s clear that it’s redundant or unnecessary to do so.
What I am talking about is two ways I think I contribute to the vicious cycle we are in. One way has to do with my own attitude; the other has to do with who I am in my professional life. Attitude-wise, I think that I am too on edge. While I try not to be accommodating, I am often looking for the OCD behaviors to pop up. I feel a lot of tension when I see them, knowing that my hands are tied and I cannot intervene. I feel the anger that I know is often in my voice when I talk to Blake. I know that I come across as being fed up with this whole refusal to work to get better. I am quick to anger and too ready to set consequences with him. Heck, the first morning he was back from camp I was already angrily lecturing him about not getting ready to leave for his grandparents’ home on time. And I think, because of my attitude, I create too much stress. Stress in the home is, without a question, not conducive to battling OCD. It creates an environment in which OCD thrives.
The other way I think I’m maintaining this whole thing has to do with me being a psychologist who treats OCD, and an advocate who speaks about the disorder and works to educate others about it. When Blake was in a period of doing really well, I was called upon to speak to others about OCD and its treatment. I did so tentatively, at first. I wasn’t completely fluid with the material yet, but it felt right. I felt passionate about it. I knew what it was like to be a mother, one who was a psychologist no less, who did not know how to help her son. I knew what it was like to watch him scream in terror for half and hour or more and to feel completely helpless to tame the demon that held him in its grasp. It gave me solace to be able to reach out to others – to teach them what I wish I’d known when my son was suffering. And each time I presented, I got better and better at it. For the first time in my life, I truly felt like I was contributing to something important.
It was the same thing with beginning to treat OCD in my psychology practice. I reluctantly accepted my first referral. It came from a colleague who knew what we’d been through. And there are few professionals in our community who are truly trained to treat OCD. The parent wanted help. The case seemed like something I could wrap my head around. How could I say, “No?” So I accepted the family into my practice, stumbling a bit and relying heavily on my reading material. But the child got better – done with treatment within a few months. And the next child got better too. I understood this treatment. I understood the anguish of the parents, especially the mothers. I continued to get training and to study this disorder. I found it all deeply gratifying – more than any work I’d ever done before.
Yet, as I was treating other people’s children, and they were leading lives less dominated by OCD, by own son’s OCD was creeping back in. As Blake approached adolescence, it was almost as though he had never been in treatment. Sure, he could use all the terms and he knew everything to do to combat his symptoms. The thing is, he didn’t. Perhaps he wouldn’t. He slipped more and more into OCD’s grasp again, prompting us to return to treatment. But this time, things were different. Blake paid the therapy team and my husband and I lip service, at best. At worst, he blamed us all for being the problem. We left treatment after 9 months – with Blake still refusing to challenge his OCD. Maybe we should have left sooner, but I wasn’t ready to give up.
So, as Blake continues to deny that OCD affects his life, I am deeply entrenched in working with other children who have it, and educating our community about it. I can’t help but wonder if that doesn’t give Blake reason to not want to combat his OCD. Is his refusal to fight for himself his teenage way of standing against something that is important to me? Is allowing OCD to take up more space in his life some big “EFF YOU” to mom? Is what I do too close to him and does he need to disengage? Does he need me to not have the satisfaction of seeing him using that tools that are effective in combating OCD?
I know what I need to do about my attitude. I know that I need to strive to be less tense, more loving, slower to react and more ready to truly allow Blake to be his own person with his own consequences. And I pray that I find the strength to do that more successfully in this New Year. The bigger struggle for me is what to do about the fact that my professional life has become about OCD and anxiety. If who I am and what I do professionally holds my son back from getting healthy, then do I need to change it? Do I need to pull OCD out of my professional picture even if I feel incredibly passionate about this work? If so, what about the people with kids who have OCD? Do I refer them elsewhere? Perhaps so. But is that right? I don’t know that the OCD world would miss this one clinician – I don’t claim to be irreplaceable. Or maybe I just need to tone down what I share at home. Keep quiet about my professional work so that Blake doesn’t have to hear about any of it. But then, am I being honest, hiding the work that I love?
I will continue to grapple with this in the New Year, as right now I’m not certain what the answers are. The only thing that is clear to me is that I need to do what I can to be less influential in maintaining my son’s disorder. Wishing you a beautiful and meaningful 2014.