What’d You Do With That Cereal?

Where's that cereal been?

Where’s that cereal been?

It’s late in the evening and Blake is in the kitchen pantry. He pulls out a box of cereal and pours himself a big bowl. He comes over to show us. It’s remarkable only because Blake frequently avoids eating from already-open packages of food. Why? Because, well, who knows how that food might have been contaminated?

“It’s the after dinner snack of champions!” remarks my hubby, as he continues to watch the college basketball game on the screen in front of him.

Blake comes over and shows us how very full his bowl is. The hubby and I both admire it. Then he pours the milk in…and hesitates. His head peers over the side of the sofa.

“You guys don’t ever pour yourself a bowl of cereal and then pour it back into the box, do you?” he asks us.

“Of course not,” my hubby replies, glancing at Blake and then back at the screen.

I perform a little inner eye roll and realize how innocuous this little exchange would look to most, except to those with OCD in their family. Blake has just asked for reassurance. He is asking whether the food is contaminated or not. Hubby has just accommodated with his reply.

Reassurance is one of those things that can be so unobtrusive and simple, like the question Blake just asked and my hubby so quickly answered. Or it can be extremely frustrating and seemingly never-ending, such as when a child asks a parent over and over, “Are you sure you washed your hands? You’re sure, right? There’s nothing wrong with it, right? You’re sure?” However it happens, reassurance-seeking can be a compulsion for those with OCD. They feel uncomfortable and then need to seek out someone who can remove that discomfort. It’s one of those things a parent learns, in treatment, that they ought not to do.

So hubby has just reassured Blake that the cereal is fit for his consumption. I, however, am feeling playful. I want to upset this apple cart just a bit.

“Blake, I don’t ever pour out a bowl and pour it back, but I do sometimes take a taste and spit it back in the box when I don’t like it.”

“Oh, Mom,” he laughs…and he eats the entire bowl.

Room to Grow

Full grown wax palms in Cocoro Valley in Colombia

Full grown wax palms in Cocoro Valley in Colombia

Blake’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has been in a calmer place for a while now. I say that as an outside observer. I really do not know what goes on in his mind; I only know that our family life has been much less impacted. I do know that there are still lots of little symptoms I observe: he utters a prayer multiple times (presumably because it wasn’t just right the first time), he repeatedly does a ritual hand washing, his entire hamper appears in the laundry room when it is only partially full (that means there is something in there that’s contaminated everything inside). Still, this is a far cry from the days his OCD kept us from going places or had him in a meltdown.

Most of the time, when I notice a little OCD symptom, I manage to keep my mouth closed and just let Blake manage it. That’s generally best for everyone. It was no different when we were recently in Colombia (yes, in South America) on a family trip. Michael was overjoyed to be practicing Spanish, his college major, with the locals and trying out different accents. Blake was there because he wanted to be with his brother while he was on winter break. It was tough for him to be in a very unfamiliar place, and there were trying moments, but he persevered.

One day, we visited a farm that is working to re-establish the wax palm which is a

Baby wax palm we planted in the Cocoro Valley, Colombia

Baby wax palm we planted in the Cocoro Valley, Colombia

national symbol of Colombia and has come to be threatened. One of our tasks there was to plant our own baby palm. Our guide brought our little palm over to us and gestured for all four of us to take hold of it and place it in the ground. I noticed Blake wince and hesitate to reach for the clod of dirt around the plant’s roots. Then I saw him reach out wholeheartedly, grasping the tree with the rest of us. Together, we placed it in the ground and covered it with earth. Blake immediately started wondering where there was some water so he could wash the dirt off his hands. Since we were in the middle of the farm, there was none immediately available, and he seemed to tolerate that just fine. He even walked off to get to know one of the nearby horses.

I snapped a photo of our little palm. With any luck, it will last longer than any of us as it will take about one hundred years to reach maturity. In terms of Blake, there were no words that passed between any of us. I don’t know if anyone besides me noticed that Blake stood up to his OCD in order to help give that little tree its start in life and it really doesn’t matter. They are Blake’s moments to savor and grow from, or not, while I get to delight in my own mind.

It’s Not Paris, But it Works for Me (Guest Post)

Today’s post is a guest post by my hubby:

imageWhenever we start a new endeavor, we have high hopes, anticipation, and curiosity as to where that endeavor or journey will lead.  It’s no different when our children come into the world.  Will he or she be a Nobel Laureate, a Hollywood heart throb, the next President of the U.S., or, perhaps, even more pedestrian, simply a good human being? Either way, we have expectations and curiosities about the journey, all the while anticipating that we will end up at the destination we envisioned. I liken this to traveling abroad.

When we board a plane to Paris, we expect that our journey will take us to…well…Paris. When we have children, we expect that our journey will take us to our metaphorical, “Paris.” More often than not, though, because life is just life, we find ourselves disembarking somewhere quite different than Paris – like Istanbul.  Then we wonder, “How in the world did I ever get here??” When we realize that didn’t arrive in “Paris,” we can chose to either appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of our new, unanticipated destination or pity ourselves and curse the gods of destiny; it’s completely our choice.

A couple of weeks ago, Angie came home from a trip to the market to find Michael, Blake, and I all in the pool.  Angie quickly noticed that, while Michael and I were in bathing suits, Blake, was fully dressed. Yep, jeans, t-shirt, and socks.  She just looked at me and I just looked back at her with a smile.

For a lot of families, a day in the pool would be no big deal, because that is just “Paris” for them. In our family’s case, we didn’t land anywhere near Paris. OCD and anxiety diverted that flight. Blake doesn’t like a lot of things.  He doesn’t like getting wet. He doesn’t like going outdoors. At times, he doesn’t like to socialize, even with his family.

My “Paris” was having a family like the one in National Lampoon’s, “Vacation.” I sort of planned and built our lives accordingly.  I intended us to be the Griswold family; the kids and Angie even call me “Clark” because of my family idealism.  I always wanted a home with a pool so that we’d have plenty of days playing there and making memories. Trouble is, especially with Blake’s dislikes and “rules,” it just doesn’t seem to happen much.

On that sunny day, when the boys and I were just livin’ the dream, the idea of Blake being fully clothed in the swimming pool didn’t bother me a bit. I just sat back and reveled in my trip to Istanbul, and loved every minute of it.  I hope that you enjoy whichever destination that you may find yourself.

A Moment for Feeling Grateful

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five times this past week, I’ve been approached by friends or family members who follow this blog and wanted to tell me just how they are impacted by reading it.  Two of them cried as they shared their reactions.  Several times, the words were something like, “Wow!  I didn’t realize just what it is like.  I am so sorry.  I wish I could do something to make it all better.”

I found myself wanting to reach out and hug these people and comfort them.  I felt a bit awful for “making” them feel bad.  I never realized the impact my words and shared stories could have on the people who love and care about Blake and our family.  Each one assured me that they are glad to have this window into our world.  The few moments we’ve had to check in on what’s going on in our OCD experience apparently have done little justice to really helping them to understand what it is all about and now they have a way to connect in a different way than before.

Still, I feel compelled to share that our family life is not dominated by OCD.  Some days it feels that way, but that is just for the time being – and then something else moves to the forefront.  Our lives are full, rich and multi-faceted.  We have problems, as all families do – and OCD is just one of them. It happens to be one that provokes great emotion in me.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to share with our family, a few close friends and those of you in the world out there about our OCD struggle. Many times, I have felt so lonely as we’ve dealt with this disorder.  I started this blog as a way to give all these feelings, emotions and experiences a place to live that is outside of my own head.  And I hoped that someone out there might also gain or learn from it.  Writing has helped me to feel closer to those friends and family who are reading because they have a  little view inside that they didn’t have before and it gives us the opportunity to connect in a different way.

I am also grateful for those of you who I do not know personally, who take the time to read and comment on what I post.  I have received supportive comments and thoughts from many of you, and I realize that I have gotten something I never expected when I began – I have a support community.  I want you to know how grateful I am when you share your own experiences. I am grateful when you encourage me.  I am grateful when you tell me that you have a child who has been through this. And I am grateful when you tell me that you are struggling with OCD, whether because you have it or because you have a family member who has it.  And I am grateful when you tell me to keep on writing.  Thank you!

So that is it for now.  Just a moment to share that I am feeling grateful.  May your day be blessed with opportunities for gratefulness, as well.


“I Didn’t Understand”

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The phone rings in the late morning as I’m sitting at the computer.  It’s my mother-in-law on the other end of the line.

“Oh honey.” she says to me “My heart goes out to you.  I didn’t understand.  Now I know what you go through.  How do you do it?  And how can we help?”

She has recently spent two days with Blake and she’s been dying to talk with me about the experience.  She pours her thoughts and emotions through the phone line as she describes how confusing this experience was for her.  She’s known for nearly seven years that her grandson has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and she has even read articles I’ve written about our experience.  However, it is not until now that she and my father-in-law have had Blake in their home without his big brother for a few days that she’s beginning to connect knowledge and experience.

“We had pizza planned for dinner because we know that it’s his favorite,” she says, “but then he asked us where we were getting it and that restaurant wasn’t okay with him.”

The restaurant he approved was clear across the valley from them and my father-in-law made the trip over and back to bring pizza that Blake would eat.

“We just weren’t sure what to do,” she continues.  “We wanted him to eat.  We wanted him to be happy, but we weren’t sure if we should have done it or not.”

I can hear the struggle in her voice. She never expected being a grandparent would put her in the position of wondering whether it was okay to make trip to a special pizza restaurant.  And then there was the praying.

My mother-in-law was raised in a religious home.  Saying evening prayers together was a special part of family togetherness.  It tickles her when her grandchildren want to do that with her.  This time, she didn’t have to ask.  Blake was all ready to go with prayers, but these confused her as well.  She didn’t know what to do about his stopping and re-starting again.  She didn’t recognize the strange rituals that went along with them.

“I don’t recognize this religion,” she tells me.  “I wanted to feel good and close to him when we did this, but it didn’t feel that way.”

I know she’s struggling.  How can something that’s has wonderful memories and feelings for her become something she wants to avoid doing with him?  How can feeding her grandchild his favorite food become something she has to question?  As she probes for how to deal with this, I am aware of how grateful I am to have her and my father-in-law in our lives – aware of how grateful I am for all of our extended family for that matter.  They seek to understand this situation, to understand OCD, and to support us.

We are among the lucky in terms of family support.  Many times, parents who have children with OCD face lack of understanding, criticism from family members and outright denial that there is a problem.  One of my own patient’s mothers was just told that she coddles her daughter too much.  She hears that she spoils and babies her child and that the only problems are the ones she is creating.  Another family was berated by the child’s grandparent for turning this into a big deal and getting treatment for the child.

I spend enough time in my professional work addressing and working to undo the things parents have been told by family members to appreciate what my mother-in-law is offering.  She’s been touched by her up-close-and-personal encounter during this visit and she is reaching out to join with us even more strongly than before. For that, I feel a surge of love and want to reach through the phone and hug her tightly.  Though he may not yet realize it, Blake has a loving team around him ready to provide support.