A Laughing Matter?

laughingThose who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and those who love and care about them see the pain it can inflict. They recognize the seriousness of the disorder and the very real suffering involved. If they are lucky, they learn to laugh at their situation sometimes, for laughter may be healing. What about, however, laughter that comes at the expense of those with OCD, or laughter that comes from stereotypes about what OCD is?  Is that a good thing?

This past week, I was perusing the posts on a professional psychologists’ page that I am a part of on a social media site. I notice that one of the psychologists has posted a photo of a flyer requesting participants for a study on OCD. It includes free treatment sessions. Every tab on the bottom edge of the paper has been torn off. Clearly, there are many folks who are interested. The bottom edge of the flyer is ragged.

Then I realize that, while the flyer is real, the post is a joke. It says something along the lines of:

Looking at this I can imagine that people with OCD would be …um… disturbed by how uneven the flyer tore.

The only comment on the post is a bunch of hysterical laughing emojis. You know, the ones with tears pouring off the little guy’s face because he’s laughing so hard. The thing is, I don’t think it’s funny at all. I don’t think this kind of thing is funny when it comes from the public, but I understand that the public has misinformed ideas about what OCD is. From a psychologist, I’m kind of flabbergasted.

I’ll admit, I’m kind of a serious person. Maybe I took it wrong. Maybe because I see patients in pain day in and day out I don’t find this kind of post funny. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived it at home. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of the stereotypes that make OCD seem like it’s all about having a finicky style, being neat, and needing everything lined up.

How a flyer is torn is the least of the issues for anyone I know or treat with OCD. In fact, it’s a non-issue. They’re more concerned whether that thought means they are going to kill another person, whether their unintended carelessness might cause a home to burn down, whether they might have accidentally hit someone with their car, whether they’ve offended G-d, whether they’re contaminated and about to become gravely ill (or make someone else ill), or whether their sexual orientation is what they’ve always thought it is – among many other concerns.

Seeing a psychologist – a mental health professional – perpetuate OCD stereotypes on social media beyond frustrates me. So I reply to the post, trying to be gentle, but not knowing exactly how to say what I want to say. I note that this isn’t what OCD is really about, that my patients probably wouldn’t even notice the raggedness of the flyer. I’m trying to say, “Hey, professional, please think before you post things that post fun or stereotype mental illness.” I feel timid, but I do it. Then I go to sleep.

By morning, I am sorry I’ve posted anything. The psychologist has replied, but, of course, is not appreciative of my comment. Instead, my comment is an opportunity to get deeper into the OCD humor – more sarcastic. The professional points out how many others have pointed out even more things about the flyer that would disturb folks with OCD. Thank goodness, notes the professional, that the folks I treat wouldn’t be disturbed by it!

I fight off an urge to fire something back. I do not try to educate any more. I sit with discomfort for most of the day. I do internet searches about why people act mean. I am an OCD advocate and I strive to put good information out there. There is so much work to be done to educate the public, and mental health professionals, about OCD. I don’t think the best use of my time is to respond to someone on social media who is just set on poking fun.

What I do is re-commit myself to educating. I re-commit myself to this blog. I re-commit myself to educating professionals and the public in whatever way I can. I will not let one mental health professional who was looking for a laugh (or even the little laughing emojis) deter me. OCD deserves to be seen and heard for what it is. It’s no laughing matter.

 

Tenth Anniversary – Part I

Image courtesy of Chaiwat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Chaiwat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This weekend commemorates an anniversary in our family. It is ten years since we recognized that our son, Blake, had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I remember the weekend well. One event in particular prompted us to reach out for help and plunged us into new, unfamiliar territory.

Our family went boating that weekend. We weren’t very experienced with motor boating, and we excitedly packed up both boys, my parents, and one giant inflatable raft and made our way to a local lake. Goal: encourage Grandma and Grandpa to take a turn on the raft as it was towed by the boat. We were sure they’d love it.

We were successful in getting both my parents to give the raft a try. I remember the gigantic smile on my mom’s face and the “thumbs up” sign she threw us as she requested that the boat go faster. We had a ball swimming, picnicking, and taking in the beautiful day.

I don’t recall if Blake, then seven, got in the water or on the raft that day. I do recall, though, that at one point he became aware that people sometimes relieve themselves in the water. The recognition horrified him and, from that point on, he wanted nothing to do with the water. Exhausted from the activities and the sun, he fell deeply asleep on the boat bench. The hubby had to lift him from the boat and into his seat in the car, where Blake awoke as he was being buckled in.

A Child Possessed

Suddenly, it dawned on Blake how he had gotten into the car…and he began to scream. Gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, ear-piercing screams began to emerge from my seven-year-old’s mouth, causing the other five of us in the car to wheel around to look at what was going on. Blake looked like a child possessed. His face was contorted and bright red. He struggled in his seat as those screams kept coming.

Wash! Wash! Wash! Need to wash! Wash! Wash!….”

My parents looked dumbfounded and helpless in the back seat. Michael looked confused. My husband and I tried to talk to Blake, to calm him down. Our attempts fell on deaf ears. Blake just kept right on screaming. I didn’t know what to do. I felt something primal well up deep inside of me.

KNOCK IT OFF!!!!!” I heard myself bellow.

Can’t You See He’s Terrified?

Blake looked at me through tear-filled eyes. I’d frightened him (and probably everyone else in the car).

“Can’t you see he’s terrified?” my hubby said to me. He went to comfort Blake, but Blake wanted nothing to do with him, for it was his father, who had been in that urine filled lake and then carried him into this car, who was the source of the contamination that now tormented him. He didn’t want his father, or any of us who had been in the lake, near him. We were all a source of fear. My hubby and I could not offer comfort to our own child.

We drove home in near silence.

“We need to get help,” my hubby said to me.

“They’re going to say it’s my fault, but you’re right. We can’t go on like this.”

Today’s outburst hadn’t been the first. It was the scariest, though. It was the latest in a summer full of incidents that told me our younger son had OCD. I’d just kept hoping I was wrong. Everything I’d learned about OCD in my psychology graduate program pointed to the mother as the source of the problem, and I was terribly afraid and embarrassed. I was scared of what OCD would mean for my son’s quality of life, and ashamed that I, as a child clinical psychologist, did not know what to do for my son. It was time to surrender to the fact that we needed help. I silently prayed that there was something that would help. I would reach out to colleagues in the upcoming week.