Blake had a milestone event of sorts just a little over a week ago. He left the school that has been his home for the last five and a half years. It is a local charter school that we chose to enroll him in when he began the fifth grade. Back then we could see the writing on the wall – the local junior high school and Blake would not be a good match. A project-based learning charter school seemed a much better way to go for our bright, anxious boy. He could have remained there through high school graduation, and we all imagined that he would. Yet Blake’s growing religious observance clashed with the secular atmosphere. He asked us for over a year to allow him to move into a home study program, until we finally agreed, but was it the right move?
Blake began the journey toward becoming more religious about three and a half years ago. He started small, a little change here and there. At the time, he had been managing his OCD incredibly well. We barely saw any sign of it, and we would rejoice when he made choices to do the opposite of what OCD told him to do.
Then, things changed. Blake’s OCD made a strong comeback. He knew what to do and he reached out to his therapist to coach him. Yet, despite making regular plans of action, Blake didn’t follow through. He gave in to his anxiety. His compulsions around his contamination fears grew, but OCD wasn’t done there. It found Blake’s newly growing interest in religious observance the perfect area to attack. Blake was already uncertain about whether he was practicing his religion correctly, and his OCD dug right in.
“Maybe you didn’t say that prayer right. You should say it again,” OCD would taunt him.
“You may have just done something to offend something sacred. You’d better undo it.”
Religion and OCD became entangled and it became difficult to tell one from the other, at least for those of us at home. To people on the outside, Blake just looks like young man of “a deep and reverent faith” to quote one of his teachers. When people learn that Blake is more observant than the rest of the family, my husband and I often receive praise for being so supportive of our son. I received much positive feedback as Blake wound down his final week of school, but I felt like a sham. I am not who these people think I am.
For the last five and a half years, Blake has been nurtured by educators who have strived to understand his OCD. He has been welcomed by resource specialists who’ve listened patiently to his anxious moments. He has kept warm company with the health office attendant – sometimes for hours on end and for days in a row. Never once has anyone suggested that this young man, initially unable to even sit in a classroom, didn’t belong at that school. No one ever tried to send him home like they did at his former school, because he was wearing the nurse down. No one called home or sent him to the principal because his repetition of prayer sent him late to his first period yet again. They accepted him as he is. And they told me that I am a good mother for supporting his growing religious needs.
So, why do I feel like a sham? Because deep inside, I’m not sure if this is really religious observance. Sure, it looks like it on the surface, but it’s still too tangled up with OCD’s need for a black and white design for living for me to know if it’s genuine, or if it’s OCD. Did I just pull my son out of one of the most wonderful and nurturing experiences in his life in the service of his OCD? Or did he really grow into a religious young man with different needs? I don’t know if we made the right decision. I don’t know if I gave in because I was tired of fighting, or because it really was time for Blake to go in a new direction. All I know is that I am uncertain right now, and I miss the home that was my home, too.