Many of us who live with a loved one who has OCD have heard this familiar refrain. It doesn’t really matter what it is about; it could be one not trusting their own eyes that their homework is in their backpack, or whether the knob on the stove is really in the “Off” position. OCD has a nasty way of making its victims regularly doubt themselves.
“I just don’t trust myself!” Blake uttered in defeat one morning this week. This had followed an excruciating morning of trying to choose a simple something – anything – to eat for breakfast. He just couldn’t do it. He stared deeply into the refrigerator. His angst was palpable. I could see the wheels churning furiously in his brain. What can I possibly eat that will be acceptable?
Blake has lots of food rules and restrictions, yet he usually finds something to eat in a relatively quick period of time. On this particular morning, he had just come home the evening before from a two-day visit with his aunt, uncle and cousins. I’ve written before that Blake views his aunt and uncle’s home as a more ideal place for him. In many ways, this might be true. In any case, he came home happier than usual, lighter, more chatty. The sense of tension that usually accompanies our interactions with him were absent. It was a pleasure to spend time with him. All that came to an abrupt halt when the prospect of choosing breakfast foods loomed ahead of him.
Facing the prospect of being late for my own obligation that morning, and frustrated that we were, yet again, dealing with the food dilemma, I told him that I was getting angry.
“Blake, it is important that you eat something,” I raised my voice. “It is not healthy for you to go to school without eating all day long.”
And then I said IT.
“This is your OCD interfering with you being able to make good choices for yourself. It is NOT about making the right or wrong decision.”
By IT, I mean that I actually invoked the words “your OCD.” I actually pointed out that something was OCD. We’ve been not pointing out OCD around here for months now – close to a year, actually. It was part of our agreement with Blake when he refused to participate in treatment any longer. We wouldn’t point out his OCD. It was his to deal with. The consequences, everything, they were all his. And, yet, in that moment I could not help but point out how it was OCD that was holding him hostage in the refrigerator door – nothing else.
I ended up shoving some sticks of cheese into his hand as we walked out the door. He ate them, gratefully.
“I don’t understand it,” I said to him as we drove to school. “You go to your aunt and uncle’s home and you eat with abandon. You don’t question anything. How do you know that they do it all right? Maybe there’s something they do that breaks the rules.”
“I don’t know,” he told me. “When I’m at their house, I let go of responsibility. They are responsible for the rules. If something is wrong, it’s not my fault. When I’m home, I’m responsible. I don’t trust myself!”
We reflect for a few more minutes on the drive that this is one of OCD’s sinister tricks. It has you believing that, if you make a mistake, the consequences are dire. Therefore, you must question your moves over and over, making action and decision-making excruciating. However, if you give the responsibility over to someone else, and they make a mistake, the blame does not lie with you. Either way, you have a quandary to face: accept responsibility and struggle (no, agonize) over your decision-making, or give up responsibility, but lose the ability to be a true actor in your own life.
“Blake, you know the only real way out of this is to tell OCD to get out of your business. You don’t need to be troubled by whether you are making the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision. We both know that it’s not about that. It’s about making the best decision you can at any given time, even though that may mean living through some uncomfortable feelings. I know that you can do it, and I believe that you deserve much more than to live like this.”
“Thanks, Mom,” he says.
As he leaves the car, I know better than to think that anything will change. He will continue to struggle over what is the “right” food to eat, way to pray, clothing to wear, game to play, thing to say – the list goes on. Watching your child struggle is a struggle. As a parent, I want to see him be happy. I want to take away the needless tension that dogs him day after day, yet, I cannot. It is out of my hands and in his.