“I’m In an Exposure”

Image courtesy Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

“Hey Mom, I’m in an exposure right now,” Blake informs me. He sounds just the slightest bit excited.

“Really?” I ask. “What are you in an exposure for?”

I’m curious about this statement. Blake hasn’t talked about “exposures” in years. Certainly I haven’t heard anything of the sort from him since he refused treatment for his OCD just over three years ago. Exposures are an integral part of evidence-based treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The person with OCD places themselves, often with the support of a therapist, in situations that would normally provoke compulsions/rituals, but chooses not to pacify the OCD by performing those compulsions. Gradually, the OCD sufferer adjusts and learns to cope with what might have previously felt intolerable.

“Today is a special day, religiously,” Blake tells me. “I don’t know if there are any special observances I should be doing beyond what I’ve already done. I’m feeling pretty anxious, but I’m not giving in to it. I’m allowing myself to tell myself that I’m doing the best I know how and that has to be good enough.”

I know this is tough for him. We’ve been held captive in the house, at times, with Blake paralyzed over not knowing how to handle some religious observance (he is more religious than the rest of our family, having embraced religion about five years ago. OCD loves to mess with that and his obsessions and compulsions often revolve around religion). I tell him that I recognize this must be tough and that I’m glad he’s happy he’s made the choice not to give in to his OCD this time.

Blake is still struggling with depression and having difficulty with motivation. His OCD lingers mostly in the background, rearing its head from time to time. Yet, at moments lately, I see mini breakthroughs. He is more willing to talk about feeling anxious – something he would have become furious about in the past if I would have mentioned it. Just yesterday I heard him repeating a prayer as I sat next to him.

“Are you supposed to repeat that prayer at certain times?” I inquire. “I notice you just said it a second ago.”

“No,” he says.

“Oh, it’s an anxiety thing?”

“Yep, it is,” he replies – with no defensiveness.

That little exchange would have been unthinkable even six months ago. Perhaps he’s a little more mature. Perhaps I’ve learned to be less intrusive, to have less of that accusatory tone in my voice. Whatever it is, this little window of openness is nice.

As for the exposure he self-imposed, we never spoke of it again, but I’m pretty sure it went well. He went off to babysit our friends’ children, came home later and proceeded with his day. There was no frantic calling of religious authorities or begging me to text someone who is in the know. Maybe that is how Blake’s war with OCD will be won, with little hand-selected battles he feels ready for. If so, I’ll cheer him on quietly each time he takes one on.

 

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Comes to Our Home (Re-Post)

This post originally appeared on this blog in August of 2013.  It has remained one of my most viewed posts.  The photos of Blake’s hands are probably the most clicked on photos in this blog, and appear at the top of Google’s Images when you search for anything related to OCD and hand washing (and they appear to be the first “real” image of what can happen to a person’s hands when contamination OCD leads to hand washing). I thought it was worth re-posting.

* Advisory:  This post has some photos of hands damaged from over-washing.  They may be difficult for some people to look at.

This is a nearly empty bottle of liquid soap.

IMG_1740

It looks pretty normal sitting on the bathroom counter until you take a closer look.  That brown ring around the bottom of the bottle is dirt from our backyard.

IMG_1741

The bottle of soap caught my eye several days ago and I snapped a few photos of it to remind myself of where we’ve been.  This bottle, with its dirt that is settled all around the bottom has been with us this entire summer – since before I even began this blog.  It is a remnant of one of Blake’s last OCD treatment sessions before we made the  heavy-hearted decision to stop therapy.  I am sharing it with you today, as a way to share what Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) can look like.

What is ERP?

ERP is “the most important therapy in CBT for OCD,” according to the International OCD Foundation.  In a nutshell, ERP involves a conscious choice for a person with OCD to confront the items (thoughts, situations, etc.) that create discomfort and then not do the compulsions or rituals that would normally be provoked.   The idea is for the OCD sufferer to allow his or her anxiety and discomfort to abate naturally, without using rituals to cope and thereby creating healthier ways of coping.  This is commonly done with the help of a mental health therapist who is trained to do Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with OCD (for more information, Click Here.  Janet at OCDtalk has also written a thorough post on ERP.).

In our situation, Blake was really struggling with hand-washing compulsions (in addition to many others).  It was particularly bad at the time and he ran to the sink to wash anytime he felt the slightest bit “dirty.”  No amount of salves or special creams could heal the damage he was doing to his poor hands.  Below are some photos of how his hands looked around the time.  A reminder, these are 14-year-old hands.  They are painful for me to look at.  Anyone who pokes fun at compulsive hand-washing or thinks it is a joke has never lived with a family member who is suffering because of it.  The pain is real, intense and it interferes with day-to-day activities.

IMG_1199IMG_1198IMG_1149IMG_1150

While Blake’s treatment team had done ERP work with him on the hand-washing at the office (they would touch “dirty” things and then he would not wash), we were seeing little impact of the exposures.  We all agreed at the time that Blake was “white knuckling” it through the exposure and avoiding truly immersing himself in it by reminding himself that he could wash as soon as he got home.  He never gave himself the opportunity to allow his anxiety to come down to a manageable level.  So, it was decided that one of his therapists would make the trip to our home.  The plan was for Blake and the therapist to “contaminate” our entire house so that Blake would not have a place of safety to run to in order to avoid his discomfort.

The Day Arrives…

Blake was in agreement with the plan, until the actual day arrived.  He was tired of painful hands and was hopeful that this exposure would finally put his hand-washing to rest.  He greeted his therapist, happily, at the door.  As they began to prepare for the actual exposure, he began to change his tune.

“I don’t remember actually agreeing to do this,” he told the therapist.  His anxiety was already on the rise, and he was trying to thwart the exposure from going any further.  His therapist and I reminded him of his desire to get better and advised him how important a step this was toward breaking free from the grip OCD had on his life.

Begrudgingly, he followed his therapist into the backyard where both dug into the dirt and began to put handfuls of it into a squirt bottle.  Then they returned to the house where they filled the bottle with tap water and shook it vigorously.  It looked like a muddy mess.  I silently gulped when I saw it.

Are you really going to spray that mess all over my house?

This was not going to be easy – and I really have no problems with dirt.  I can sit in it, get it under my nails, whatever…  But this – even I wasn’t relishing the idea of my house being sprayed with a bottle of dirty water.  The thing is, that was just the point.  Yes, it is uncomfortable to have dirt sprayed in your house.  It’s even kind of over the top.  BUT, it’s not going to kill anyone.  It is survivable – you can even thrive with dirt on your belongings.  The point for the OCD sufferer is to stick with the discomfort long enough to recognize that it abates and that they can have a good life without having to give in to their compulsions.

Reticent as I felt, Blake’s anxiety was rising through the roof.  He now wanted no part of this exposure.

“I changed my mind.  I don’t want to do it,” he stated.

His therapist reminded him that this exercise, as uncomfortable as it felt right now, was going to help put his OCD in its place.  She asked me to bring her all the bottles of liquid soap that were in the house.  I complied and sought them out.  Within a few minutes, I was back.  Blake was not in a good place.

The Battle Begins

While I’d been on my mission, Blake’s therapist had opened my bottle of dish soap (which Blake uses all the time to wash his hands) and poured a good amount of that muddy water right into it.  Blake was going to have none of that and before anybody could convince him otherwise, he’d dumped the entire contents of the bottle down the drain and placed the empty container in the recycle bin.

“Blake,” she reminded him, “we need to contaminate all the things you use to relieve your anxiety.  You remember; we talked about this.”

“No,” he said firmly.  “I don’t want to do it.”

She continued with her task and began to pour muddy water into the liquid soap bottles I had brought to her.  Blake’s face grew red.

“I said, ‘No’,” he stated.  “LEAVE.”

The therapist continued.  She was finished contaminating his sources of washing.  She took a rag and sprayed it with the dirty water.

“Come on, Blake.  Help me.  Let’s contaminate the house together. It’s better if you’re a part of this.”

NO! LEAVE!”  His voice was powerful.  Anxiety was making way for fury.

“Remember?  You wanted to get better.  I’m not going to stop because I care about you.  I care about your hands and I don’t want you to have to keep living with OCD bossing you around and controlling your life,” she told him.

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ME!!!!  I’M TIRED OF THIS!!! I’M TIRED OF BEING TOLD THAT I’M SICK!!!  SICK! SICK! SICK! LEAVE!!! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!!!!”

Blake was absolutely getting out of control at this point.  He’d never said an angry word to his therapist before.  Now, he was screaming at the top of his voice and looking like a maniac. My heart was breaking for him.  I didn’t know whether to cry or burst out into giggles at the sheer anxiety the whole thing was creating in me.

His therapist continued with her quest.  She carefully wiped the dirty cloth over all the furniture, the walls and our personal belongings.  Our entire family was going to be in on this exposure.  But was Blake going to buy into it?

Blake Hits His Breaking Point

“I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE!!!  I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!  I’M JUST GONNA…”

Blake lunged for the pencil cup on top of the cabinet near him.  In one swift move, he pulled out the sharpest pair of fabric shears in the house and raised it up over his head, as if he were about to plunge it into someone.  But it wasn’t clear to me if he was going for his therapist or himself.

“Put it down, Blake!” I commanded, but my words weren’t necessary.  Blake’s hand hesitated in the air and his expression turned to horror and he began to tremble.

“What am I doing?  What am I doing?”

He ran down the hallway to the living room where he started sobbing.

“I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry,” he repeated.

The therapist stepped outside to call her supervisor.  Blake looked at me through his tear-filled eyes.

“I wouldn’t have hurt myself,” he said.  “I just wanted her to stop.  I can’t believe how far I went to protect my OCD.”  He cried quietly for a few minutes until his therapist stepped back into the room.

“Do you want to talk?” she asked him.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.  “I wouldn’t have done anything.  I know what I need to do now.”

He walked down the hallway with a half-smile on his face and picked up the abandoned squirt bottle.

“May I?” he asked.

“Of course,” she answered.

He began to make his way through the house, squirting that dirty water on the walls and the countertops.  He covered his game consoles in it and his favorite sitting areas.  Tears streamed down his face, but now they were tears of relief.  He knew this was what he needed to be doing.  Then, he directed the therapist to his room.

“We need to do my room,” he told her and he contaminated his entire room with that water, making sure he didn’t miss a thing.

The Aftermath

Blake adjusted relatively quickly to his contaminated surroundings (although I did put away all sharp objects, just in case).  He didn’t care that there were pieces of dirt in the soap bottles.  He relished it when I reminded him that our entire home was contaminated.  He’d won another battle in the war on his OCD.  His hands healed.

But the other areas his OCD affected were untouchable.  He wouldn’t budge on them; held onto them like a badge of courage and battled us to keep them.  Of course, this lead to us ultimately discontinuing treatment and to being in the limbo that we are in.

Today I still find remnants of that exposure, though it is about 3 months in the past.  There are still places that are too high for me to reach where he aimed that squirt bottle – and I kind of like the bits of dirt that remain anyway because they remind me that we still live with contamination to some extent.  They also remind me how far Blake was willing to up the ante to protect his OCD, how powerful the disorder can be in asserting itself.  And I wonder when Blake will grow in his own power and desire to take it on.  We can only wait and see.

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!!

Finding a Therapist

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net

A little while back, one of my wonderful readers asked if I would write a post about finding a therapist who treats Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  I thought that was a wonderful idea.  I know how confusing it can be to find a therapist to treat yourself or a loved one.  It’s tough for me – and I AM a psychologist with plenty of connections in the mental health community.  It can be that much more confusing when you don’t know the lingo or what to even look for.

What I am sharing here is a combination of my personal experience in obtaining treatment for Blake, as well as suggestions from wonderful resources such as the International OCD Foundation (http://ocfoundation.org), the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (http://www.adaa.org), and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (http://www.abct.org). Please take it as just that, not as a perfect guide for finding a therapist.  Ultimately, it is best for you to make a carefully thought out decision that you determine fits you or your loved one best, perhaps with input from a medical or mental health professional who you trust.  That said, here are some thoughts I have:

Ask Professionals You Trust:

Many times, our own doctors or friends we know who are mental health professionals know people who treat OCD.  If there is a professional in your life who you trust, ask them.  When I reached out for help for Blake, I called another therapist friend who had noticed Blake’s OCD symptoms.  She had mentioned to me that she knew a child psychiatrist who specialized in OCD.  I am personally asked by friends and acquaintances all the time for referrals to therapists for different types of issues.  And I am very happy to assist if I am able.

Contact Professional Organizations:

Mental Health professionals who are dedicated to treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and anxiety disorders often belong to specialized organizations, such as the International OCD Foundation, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and/or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.  If you live in a country besides the United States or Canada, search for organizations in your country that are for therapists who specialize in treating OCD, anxiety, or in Cognitive Behavior Therapy.  Many of these have a part of their website where you can actually search for a therapist who specializes in treating OCD in your area – or nearby.  Or you can call the organization directly and they will help you locate a therapist.

Interview Therapists on the Phone:

Most therapists are happy to speak with you on the phone before you decide to make an appointment.  Choosing a therapist is a very personal decision and no one therapist fits all. If it is possible, speak to more than one therapist who treats OCD.  Ask questions about the therapist’s approach to treating OCD, as well as their training and background.  Specifically, are they trained in Cognitive Behavior Therapy – Exposure and Response Prevention?  Find out how loved ones are included (or not) in treatment.  How much of their practice is devoted to treating OCD, or anxiety disorders?  What is their attitude about medication (experts will generally say that it is best if the therapist is open to it as a potentially beneficial part of treatment)?

When I made that first call to the psychiatrist, he personally phoned me back and took time to assess the situation.  Based on what I shared, he believed that Blake could begin with a psychologist (which would also be more cost effective) and he referred me to one.  That therapist also personally returned my call and spoke with me about the situation before we decided to proceed with treatment.

Assess Your Own Level of Comfort:

When you’ve interviewed a therapist, ask yourself how comfortable or confident you feel about the therapist.  This is important.  This is someone you, or your child, will be sharing personal information with and who will be asking you (or them) to do things that make you feel uncomfortable.  It is essential that you feel comfortable and confident in order to create a strong working relationship.

I recall having felt so heard on the telephone, both by the psychologist, who we ultimately saw, and by the psychiatrist we spoke to first.  The psychologist even spent time educating me about OCD during our conversation and referred me to a helpful website and to books that I could order that would help me to help Blake.  Before we ever met, I was confident that both individuals could help my son and our family.

Educate Yourself:

This is not so much about finding a therapist, but it will certainly help.  One of the best recommendations I received when we realized that Blake had OCD was to read about OCD from reputable sources, like the International OCD Foundation, and to obtain books on treating OCD in children.  Learning about the disorder yourself helps you to know what to expect from treatment and to understand what is happening in therapy and why.

These are just a few thoughts I have about finding a therapist.  I hope that they are helpful.  Here are a couple links to more information on finding a therapist to treat OCD:

– International OCD Foundation:  How to Find the Right Therapist

– Anxiety and Depression Association of America:  Choosing a Therapist

 

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Comes to Our Home

* Advisory:  This post has some photos of hands damaged from over-washing.  They may be difficult for some people to look at.

This is a nearly empty bottle of liquid soap.

IMG_1740

It looks pretty normal sitting on the bathroom counter until you take a closer look.  That brown ring around the bottom of the bottle is dirt from our backyard.

IMG_1741

The bottle of soap caught my eye several days ago and I snapped a few photos of it to remind myself of where we’ve been.  This bottle, with its dirt that is settled all around the bottom has been with us this entire summer – since before I even began this blog.  It is a remnant of one of Blake’s last OCD treatment sessions before we made the  heavy-hearted decision to stop therapy.  I am sharing it with you today, as a way to share what Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) can look like.

What is ERP?

ERP is “the most important therapy in CBT for OCD,” according to the International OCD Foundation.  In a nutshell, ERP involves a conscious choice for a person with OCD to confront the items (thoughts, situations, etc.) that create discomfort and then not do the compulsions or rituals that would normally be provoked.   The idea is for the OCD sufferer to allow his or her anxiety and discomfort to abate naturally, without using rituals to cope and thereby creating healthier ways of coping.  This is commonly done with the help of a mental health therapist who is trained to do Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with OCD (for more information, Click Here.  Janet at OCDtalk has also written a thorough post on ERP.).

In our situation, Blake was really struggling with hand-washing compulsions (in addition to many others).  It was particularly bad at the time and he ran to the sink to wash anytime he felt the slightest bit “dirty.”  No amount of salves or special creams could heal the damage he was doing to his poor hands.  Below are some photos of how his hands looked around the time.  A reminder, these are 14-year-old hands.  They are painful for me to look at.  Anyone who pokes fun at compulsive hand-washing or thinks it is a joke has never lived with a family member who is suffering because of it.  The pain is real, intense and it interferes with day-to-day activities.

IMG_1199IMG_1198IMG_1149IMG_1150

While Blake’s treatment team had done ERP work with him on the hand-washing at the office (they would touch “dirty” things and then he would not wash), we were seeing little impact of the exposures.  We all agreed at the time that Blake was “white knuckling” it through the exposure and avoiding truly immersing himself in it by reminding himself that he could wash as soon as he got home.  He never gave himself the opportunity to allow his anxiety to come down to a manageable level.  So, it was decided that one of his therapists would make the trip to our home.  The plan was for Blake and the therapist to “contaminate” our entire house so that Blake would not have a place of safety to run to in order to avoid his discomfort.

The Day Arrives…

Blake was in agreement with the plan, until the actual day arrived.  He was tired of painful hands and was hopeful that this exposure would finally put his hand-washing to rest.  He greeted his therapist, happily, at the door.  As they began to prepare for the actual exposure, he began to change his tune.

“I don’t remember actually agreeing to do this,” he told the therapist.  His anxiety was already on the rise, and he was trying to thwart the exposure from going any further.  His therapist and I reminded him of his desire to get better and advised him how important a step this was toward breaking free from the grip OCD had on his life.

Begrudgingly, he followed his therapist into the backyard where both dug into the dirt and began to put handfuls of it into a squirt bottle.  Then they returned to the house where they filled the bottle with tap water and shook it vigorously.  It looked like a muddy mess.  I silently gulped when I saw it.

Are you really going to spray that mess all over my house?

This was not going to be easy – and I really have no problems with dirt.  I can sit in it, get it under my nails, whatever…  But this – even I wasn’t relishing the idea of my house being sprayed with a bottle of dirty water.  The thing is, that was just the point.  Yes, it is uncomfortable to have dirt sprayed in your house.  It’s even kind of over the top.  BUT, it’s not going to kill anyone.  It is survivable – you can even thrive with dirt on your belongings.  The point for the OCD sufferer is to stick with the discomfort long enough to recognize that it abates and that they can have a good life without having to give in to their compulsions.

Reticent as I felt, Blake’s anxiety was rising through the roof.  He now wanted no part of this exposure.

“I changed my mind.  I don’t want to do it,” he stated.

His therapist reminded him that this exercise, as uncomfortable as it felt right now, was going to help put his OCD in its place.  She asked me to bring her all the bottles of liquid soap that were in the house.  I complied and sought them out.  Within a few minutes, I was back.  Blake was not in a good place.

The Battle Begins

While I’d been on my mission, Blake’s therapist had opened my bottle of dish soap (which Blake uses all the time to wash his hands) and poured a good amount of that muddy water right into it.  Blake was going to have none of that and before anybody could convince him otherwise, he’d dumped the entire contents of the bottle down the drain and placed the empty container in the recycle bin.

“Blake,” she reminded him, “we need to contaminate all the things you use to relieve your anxiety.  You remember; we talked about this.”

“No,” he said firmly.  “I don’t want to do it.”

She continued with her task and began to pour muddy water into the liquid soap bottles I had brought to her.  Blake’s face grew red.

“I said, ‘No’,” he stated.  “LEAVE.”

The therapist continued.  She was finished contaminating his sources of washing.  She took a rag and sprayed it with the dirty water.

“Come on, Blake.  Help me.  Let’s contaminate the house together. It’s better if you’re a part of this.”

NO! LEAVE!”  His voice was powerful.  Anxiety was making way for fury.

“Remember?  You wanted to get better.  I’m not going to stop because I care about you.  I care about your hands and I don’t want you to have to keep living with OCD bossing you around and controlling your life,” she told him.

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ME!!!!  I’M TIRED OF THIS!!! I’M TIRED OF BEING TOLD THAT I’M SICK!!!  SICK! SICK! SICK! LEAVE!!! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!!!!”

Blake was absolutely getting out of control at this point.  He’d never said an angry word to his therapist before.  Now, he was screaming at the top of his voice and looking like a maniac. My heart was breaking for him.  I didn’t know whether to cry or burst out into giggles at the sheer anxiety the whole thing was creating in me.

His therapist continued with her quest.  She carefully wiped the dirty cloth over all the furniture, the walls and our personal belongings.  Our entire family was going to be in on this exposure.  But was Blake going to buy into it?

Blake Hits His Breaking Point

“I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE!!!  I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!  I’M JUST GONNA…”

Blake lunged for the pencil cup on top of the cabinet near him.  In one swift move, he pulled out the sharpest pair of fabric shears in the house and raised it up over his head, as if he were about to plunge it into someone.  But it wasn’t clear to me if he was going for his therapist or himself.

“Put it down, Blake!” I commanded, but my words weren’t necessary.  Blake’s hand hesitated in the air and his expression turned to horror and he began to tremble.

“What am I doing?  What am I doing?”

He ran down the hallway to the living room where he started sobbing.

“I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry,” he repeated.

The therapist stepped outside to call her supervisor.  Blake looked at me through his tear-filled eyes.

“I wouldn’t have hurt myself,” he said.  “I just wanted her to stop.  I can’t believe how far I went to protect my OCD.”  He cried quietly for a few minutes until his therapist stepped back into the room.

“Do you want to talk?” she asked him.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.  “I wouldn’t have done anything.  I know what I need to do now.”

He walked down the hallway with a half-smile on his face and picked up the abandoned squirt bottle.

“May I?” he asked.

“Of course,” she answered.

He began to make his way through the house, squirting that dirty water on the walls and the countertops.  He covered his game consoles in it and his favorite sitting areas.  Tears streamed down his face, but now they were tears of relief.  He knew this was what he needed to be doing.  Then, he directed the therapist to his room.

“We need to do my room,” he told her and he contaminated his entire room with that water, making sure he didn’t miss a thing.

The Aftermath

Blake adjusted relatively quickly to his contaminated surroundings (although I did put away all sharp objects, just in case).  He didn’t care that there were pieces of dirt in the soap bottles.  He relished it when I reminded him that our entire home was contaminated.  He’d won another battle in the war on his OCD.  His hands healed.

But the other areas his OCD affected were untouchable.  He wouldn’t budge on them; held onto them like a badge of courage and battled us to keep them.  Of course, this lead to us ultimately discontinuing treatment and to being in the limbo that we are in.

Today I still find remnants of that exposure, though it is about 3 months in the past.  There are still places that are too high for me to reach where he aimed that squirt bottle – and I kind of like the bits of dirt that remain anyway because they remind me that we still live with contamination to some extent.  They also remind me how far Blake was willing to up the ante to protect his OCD, how powerful the disorder can be in asserting itself.  And I wonder when Blake will grow in his own power and desire to take it on.  We can only wait and see.

“I’ve Hit a Wall”

Image courtesy of cjansuebsri at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cjansuebsri at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m sitting at home catching up on some volunteer work for Blake’s school when my cell phone rings.  It’s Blake calling.  For a moment, I hesitate to answer as I wonder what it could possibly be.  It’s been less than two hours since I dropped him off at a thrill ride park that is not too far from our home.  This is the first time he’s ever gone without an adult; it’s just him and his friend.

“Hi Blake,” I answer.

“Mom, I’ve hit a wall,” he says.  “I need your advice.”

Blake and Kyle have been planning this trip to the amusement park since late last school year.  Kyle is terrified of roller coasters – so terrified, in fact, that he was one of the only kids in the entire 8th grade to miss out on the class trip before the school year ended.  Blake can smell anxiety from a mile away.  He took Kyle aside to get to the bottom of things.  He discovered that Kyle had never been on a roller coaster in his life and he was afraid of how he would look in front of his classmates.

While Blake has fought us in the last year or so over engaging in his own treatment for his OCD, he has been through enough treatment and had enough success in the past to know what it takes to get past a fear.  In fact, his own fears prevented him from riding even a kiddie ride until he was 10.  With concentrated effort and a lot of support from his therapists, Mom, Dad and big brother, he became a roller coaster riding machine.

He shared his own struggles with Kyle and promised him that he could help him get past his own fear.  The treatment?  Exposure with Response Prevention with Blake as the behavior therapist.  Kyle apparently bought into the treatment plan.  He even convinced his parents to set up the date and to purchase Blake’s ticket to the park.  Blake gave it a lot of thought and came up with what he thought was a good plan.  He even knew what order they would visit each ride in order to build up Kyle’s confidence and extinguish his fears.

Now, apparently, it wasn’t going quite according to his plan.

“What kind of advice do you need, honey?”

Image courtesy of anat_tikker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of anat_tikker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Well, I got Kyle to go on the Fast Track, and I want him to go on the Looper, but he keeps saying he has to go to the bathroom, or he wants to get a snack or a drink.  I think he’s stalling and trying to avoid.  Sounds familiar, huh?”

I smile to myself because he’s referring to his own avoidance – both in his quest to become a roller coaster rider and in his OCD treatment before we stopped this past year.

“Yes, that does sound familiar,” I say.

“Now I understand better what it was like for you and Dad,” he tells me.  “So tell me,” he says. “What did you guys do when I did this?  What were the skills and tricks you used?”

We talk for a moment about some of the tools at his disposal.  Then he tells me that Kyle is asking to go on the Rocking Thunder.

“Maybe you should go on the Rocking Thunder with him, then,” I suggest.

But Blake sees a problem with this.

“It’s too similar to the other ride, Mom.  He’s trying to stay in his comfort zone and if he’s going to get over this he’s got to get outside of his comfort zone.”

I suggest to Blake that maybe Kyle isn’t ready to step it up yet.  Perhaps they need to stay in this zone.  As the day progresses, Blake can ask Kyle if he is ready to take it to the next level.  Blake accepts this as a possible road to take.

“Bye, Mom.  I love you.”

Hours later, as I walk Blake back to the car, he is wiped out.  He’s not as exhausted from being at the park as he is from playing amateur behavior therapist.

“We got on the Looper, finally, but it was sooooo….frustrating,” he says.  “I understand what I put you and Dad through.  Thank you.”

“Thank you?  What for?”

“For pushing me.”

“You’re welcome.  It’s hard work being a behavior therapist, isn’t it?”

“Yep.  Well, we didn’t make it to the toughest ride, but we made progress.  We’ll do it again,” he says as he tilts his head back in the back seat and closes his eyes.

I feel a glimmer of hope inside that maybe Blake will apply this to his OCD.  At least now he recognizes what it is like to see what someone you care about is capable of achieving and to face the “wall” of  fear and resistance when they can’t find the strength or motivation to keep moving toward that potential.   For Blake, it is another step in the right direction.

As for Kyle, his mother is overcome with joy.  Today, with Blake’s support, he has accomplished something his parents have been trying to help him achieve for over a decade. He rode a roller coaster.  He rode three roller coasters!  She text messages me to declare her delight.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I see career possibilities for Blake :)”

Indeed.