He’s Home!

Image courtesy rawich @ freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy rawich @ freedigitalphotos.net

Blake is home!  After nearly three weeks, our boy is back!  He is exhausted. He seems older and more mature in some ways.  He is struggling with re-entry, and he is still basking in the bliss that camp apparently was.  The stories are just beginning to come out, and I am sure we will learn the details of his time away over the next days and weeks.

I had noted that he never wrote, but he insisted, as we drove home, that he did write us one time.  Sure enough, a letter from him was waiting in the mailbox when we arrived at the house!  Leave it to Blake to conserve space.  Three letters (one for each of us) were written on one, postcard-sized notecard:

“For the sake of convenience,” it began, “I have divided this letter into three sections – one for each of you on the back.”

He continued, “I found out that writing letters is like showering at camp (one of those things you keep telling yourself you’ll do and then never do).”

Have I mentioned before that Blake is a character?  Needless to say, he had a wonderful time.  We did discover one reason why we almost never saw him in photos.  Apparently the camp was very generous in taking his group off-grounds for camp outs and activities. One trip was to an amusement park within five minutes of our home!  It was on this trip that Blake once again found that his Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) treatment experiences for his OCD came in handy.

Image courtesy of anat_tikker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of anat_tikker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“It was really cool,” he told me.  “There were kids in my group that were terrified of roller coasters.  I got to be a helper.”

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“I talked to them in line about facing their fears.  I let them know what to expect.  Then, as we got close, I told them that the choice was theirs and that this was a real opportunity for them.  And then, they always got on the ride!”

“And they ended up being glad that they did?”

“They did!” he said.  “It’s funny. I think I got to feel what it was like for you and Dad coaching me on facing my fears.  I got to do what you did.”

It sometimes amazes me that Blake still holds on to what he learned in treatment.  He recognizes the importance of standing up to a fear and not giving in to discomfort.  These are some of the basic tenets of OCD treatment, and he has no problem implementing them with others.  Then he basks in watching their success.  I wonder to myself what this is about.  Is he practicing with others so that he can keep himself sharp?  Will he actually start using these tools that he has with his own OCD one day?  I don’t know the answer; only time will tell.  Still, I’m happy what he learned in treatment helped him to get closer to others, and that, maybe it made their lives just a bit better for knowing him.

Welcome home Blake!!

My Sibling Has OCD…

Image courtesy sattva at freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy sattva at freedigitalphotos.net

Blake is still away at camp.  He hasn’t written and I haven’t gotten any concerned calls from the camp staff, so I’m guessing that no news is good news.  Re-entry will occur later this week.  I’m excited for him to come home, yet, cautiously so.

This has been a peaceful time in our home.  Eerily peaceful, if you ask me.  I think it has been really good for all of us, though, especially for Michael.  Siblings are OCD’s often overlooked victims.  They are witness to, and often participant in, the tumult.  Often, they stand helplessly by as their siblings struggle through painful rituals.  They get dragged along to therapy appointments.  They see activities missed.  They experience the conflict.  They can be targets of their sibling’s compulsions or the object of their obsessions.  They watch Mom and Dad in angst and sometimes they feel completely overlooked.

Michael is no different.  He has shared his anger with his dad and I for turning our attention away from him and to Blake.  He has critiqued our ways of intervening.  He has shared his feelings of helplessness and he has longed for normalcy. What he has shared with me has been the impetus for talks I’ve given at conferences and for support groups I have run.

Michael has been going through this OCD experience since he was in fourth grade.  He is now a senior in high school who is preparing to apply for college.  Recently he told me that he is looking forward to leaving home and getting away from the conflict he sees and the insanity that OCD looks like to him.

“Is that bad?” he asked me.  “Is it bad that I can’t wait to get away?”

I don’t know exactly what to tell him.  I don’t think that it is bad.  I think that it is understandable.  I wish that he didn’t have to watch his brother’s fruitless rituals.  I wish he didn’t have to go through the craziness that we experienced in the past, or the struggles that we face with Blake being a teen now.  I can’t take that away, though.  It is what it is, and we always try to do better, to improve our interactions.  We, however, are a work in progress.

We have tried to keep a balance in supporting both of our boys.  Michael actually chooses to be in therapy and I know that it has been a great support to him. In the end, he and Blake actually love each other very much. They are even good friends a great deal of the time (though I know that Michael feels that OCD has robbed him of parts of his best friend in the world).  Michael has also taken something very special from the experience of having a brother with OCD:  he has become an incredibly supportive advocate for kids with mental health issues.  He can sense them in a social group and he is always ready to lend a hand to help those kids.  If there’s anything to be gained from the experience, his incredible sensitivity and generosity are just that.  And I love the young man he is turning out to be.

Sometimes It’s Not OCD

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici @ freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici @ freedigitalphotos.net

Blake is still away at camp.  The Camp Mom has told me he’s doing great and we are passing the days in relative quiet.  I think it’s good for Michael.  To me, though, the house sometimes feels a little hollow.  As I take in the peace, I am musing over life with a teenager who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It’s quite the adventure, I must say.  Sometimes we have some real uproarious run-ins.  You might think that they are all about OCD, but that is far from the truth.  Many times, they are just about parenting a teenage boy.

A few weeks ago we had a doozy of an argument going on here.  Blake had earned a “C” in Spanish class.  Not quite up to his usual work.  When we asked him about it he told us that the teacher was too difficult to learn from and that a lot of the kids had a tough time.  Apparently that was true, because shortly after the semester ended his small, project-based learning school offered Spanish Boot Camp for the high schoolers who wanted to boost their skills.  We signed Blake up, but not until we told him first.

“School is offering a one week Spanish Boot Camp.  Since you said it was difficult to learn from your teacher this last semester and we don’t want you to go into the new semester at a disadvantage, we are going to sign you up,” I told him.

You would have thought that I told him that we were shipping him off to do hard labor in a work camp for a year.  He tried to begin logically, but things quickly escalated to his being furious with my hubby and I.

The Conflict Rises

“I can’t believe you are sending me!  This is like a punishment!  I won’t go!”

“Blake, this is a one week camp.  You said that you didn’t learn anything from the teacher this last semester.  You didn’t let us know until the report card came that you were struggling.  This is an opportunity to be ready for the new semester.”

He screamed.  He cried.  He ran from the room and slammed doors.  When he was calm, we let him know that he was going anyway.

The day before boot camp began, he tried to bargain to get us to change our minds again.  We listened, at first, then things rapidly began deteriorating. We were trapped in a car together so there was no walking away.

“I’m not going to learn anything anyway,” he said.  “I didn’t agree to this!  You’re not listening to me! Fine…ignore me!  You’re going to do whatever you want!”  and on and on and on.

I had to keep looking at my hubby and gesturing at him not to get into the power struggle.  Michael shoved his headphones into his ears and tried to read a book.  Blake raged on.

Boot Camp Begins

The next morning, Blake was off to Boot Camp.  The teacher structured the whole thing like the kids were immersed in a Spanish-speaking country.  The week was to culminate in a Skype conversation with a high school student in Ecuador.  By the end of day 1, Blake was intrigued.  At day 5, he couldn’t wait to meet the student he was going to talk to.

“Thank you for sending me to Spanish Boot Camp,” he told me late that Friday afternoon.  “It was a really great experience and I learned a lot.  I wish that teacher could teach me next semester.”

Really?  After all the yelling and screaming. Really.

“See…Dad and I didn’t enroll you to torture you.  We were pretty sure you’d get something good out of it.  Maybe next time something like this happens you will think about it before you start getting really angry?”

“Oh no,” he answered.  “Next time I’ll probably argue and scream and yell again.  You should be ready for it.  That’s my pattern,” he said nonchalantly.

“Gee, thanks for letting me know.”

“You’re welcome.”

Ahhhhhh…life with teenagers.  Never ending fun. 🙂


Blake Goes To Summer Camp…For The Very First Time!

Image courtesy Dr. Joseph Valks at freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy Dr. Joseph Valks at freedigitalphotos.net

Yesterday we dropped Blake off to go to summer camp for nearly three weeks.  I can’t believe he’s actually gone.  I would have written about it right away yesterday, but my heart was just a little too achy to put it down in words.  I fretted all night about whether or not he actually got onto the bus.  Isn’t that silly?  We had to leave before the buses arrived to pick the kids up, and I had images of him pacing in that gated concrete playground all night wondering where everyone had gone (I still have a little post-traumatic stress from when Blake was younger and used to wander off from the group…but I digress).  This morning, however, I spied his face in the corner of a photo on the camp website, and I finally relaxed (My hubby still can’t figure out how I found him in the photo.  It’s a mom thing, right moms?).

The camp is a religious one.  That may seem a bit strange, sending a young man whose primary form of OCD is scrupulosity *(see below) to a religious-based summer camp.  It’s all part of a plan we made a few months back, though.  Blake was constantly seeking out religious information and we decided that it was better if he was getting his information from sources we trusted than from ones we had no control over (i.e., internet searches).  He began working with one trusted local leader.  About the same time, we were referred to this camp by my brother-in-law.  Uncle H has often served as a mentor to Blake, but often their exchanges are via telephone because there is a bit of distance between us.  Uncle H helped us to get Blake enrolled in this camp. My hope is that Blake will accomplish some good learning while he is having fun and that he also may have the opportunity to notice where he takes religion to the extreme compared to the others in the religious camp community he is a part of.

When I enrolled Blake in camp, the admissions forms asked about mental health issues.  I was honest that he has OCD and I requested contact from the camp staff in order to give them the details (and to avoid them freaking out – as some people do when they hear “OCD”).  A couple weeks before Blake left, I received a phone call.

“Hi.  I’m the Camp Mom,” said the warm voice on the other end of the line.  “I’m actually a clinical social worker, but kids prefer to talk to a mom more than to a social worker,” she mused.  “Tell me about Blake.”

I told her about the religiosity, about how OCD is entangled with observance.  I noted how he is constantly seeking out how to “do” religion “just right.”  And I explained how Blake seeks out those he considers religious “experts” to find out the “right” answers and to make sure he isn’t making some religious mistake.  She considered what I’d told her for a moment and then formulated her thoughts.

“I know exactly who he is going to head for at camp,” she told me.  “We have a religious instructor and I’m guessing that Blake is going to go to him with all of his questions.  Here’s what I’m thinking. Since Blake is looking for the ‘right’ answers, I’m going to instruct the staff to give him the more flexible answers to his questions.  Teenagers generally approach our religious staff looking to see how they can bend the rules,” she explained.  “Our approach with most is to give them the most clear answer so that they can’t find a way to wiggle out of it.  With Blake, though, it seems it would be counterproductive to give him a rigid answer.  It’s probably better if he has information he needs to grapple a little more with.”

I suddenly loved this woman.  She seemed to really understand the importance of allowing Blake to stay a little uncomfortable.  And her comments about the difference between Blake and most teens struck me.  Most teens do seek out the grey areas.  They try to find ways to get around the rules.  Blake seeks rules.  They make his world a little more predictable – a little more certain. OCD craves certainty.  I felt pretty sure we’d chosen a good place for Blake to have his summer camp experience.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to search for photos of my young man.  I’m hoping he has a good time and that he meets some nice kids.  Making friends has never been easy for him.  While I hope that he feels comfortable there, I also hope that he will push outside of his comfort zone and challenge himself.  It’s good practice for OCD fighting!

* Scrupulosity is “a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involving religious or moral obsessions.  Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine (International OCD Foundation)”