When your child has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, many people fail to see what the problem is. OCD’s symptoms are often hidden from public view, or are so subtle to the outside eye that no one who is not very close to your situation would ever notice. Many children with OCD are also notoriously good at hiding their symptoms. When your child’s OCD takes the form of scrupulosity and religious observance, the whole thing can become (at least in our family’s experience) even more insidious.
Blake’s OCD took the form of increased religious observance and polite and moral behavior about two years ago. At that time, our family began a journey that has caused us to question right/wrong, respect/disrespect, and the very basis of religious observance. On the surface, Blake appears to be a very polite and religious young man. We receive compliments all the time on his behavior. The truth is that Blake is a very nice young man. He has solid values and believes in treating others with respect. To the uneducated eye, there is nothing wrong here. How refreshing to come across a 14-year-old who is so kind to others and who places such a strong emphasis on his religion. Why would we be concerned or want that to change?
I have to say that we question that all the time ourselves. Why, indeed, would we not want our child to embrace the religion of his family, or why would we not rejoice that he is as polite and conscientious a young man as he is? Even my husband has found himself laughing with Blake about, “How bad can it really be? I mean, we could be arguing over drugs or illegal activity. Instead, we argue over being religious.”
We are in a quandary, for certain. We are incredibly grateful to have a son who has internalized what we, and others who meet him, believe are good values. On the other hand, when, in our private moments, I watch my son rise to pray over and over again because he repeatedly believes he has committed a sin, I hurt inside. When my son panics and insists I must take him home NOW because he might not accomplish reciting ALL the prayers he needs to today, I feel cheated of his time and presence. When the rules he has around food are based in religious observance, but go far beyond what any religious authority has counseled him – and when he rejects that counsel – I can’t help but feel frustration. How do I explain this to an outside party?
Friends and family often ask me what they can feed Blake. I get angry inside when I start to think about it, because the answer is, “I don’t know. It really depends if he thinks what you have to offer will pass his test of ‘fitness.’ What was fit yesterday may not be tomorrow, and tomorrow’s may not be the following day.” Sometimes I actually try to explain that to people. I think they must believe I’m nuts – which I just may be.
Where I am going with this post, I am actually not quite sure. What I am trying to communicate is that OCD, when played out in the form of scrupulosity, becomes a confusing situation for all involved. To the sufferer, it is a never-ending process of trying to be the “best” person or to get religious observance “right.” To the immediate family, it is a maddening experience of watching the core values and ideals you were taught being twisted in unimaginable ways, and to the outside observer it appears that this is just a very good and religious human being – nothing wrong here. How we get out, how we separate what’s real from what’s OCD is such a strange odyssey. I’ll keep you posted on the journey. – Angie