Eating Potato Chips Off the Therapist’s Floor

Image courtesy of khumthong at

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’m sitting cross-legged on our therapist’s office floor, carefully picking baked barbecue potato chip crumbs out of the tight weave of the carpet. I absentmindedly pop a larger piece into my mouth, savor the spiciness of it, and continue my task. My hubby is sitting on the ground close by, leaning against the wall and sipping iced tea. He chuckles quietly when the potato chip passes my lips.

This somewhat absurd scene began when the hubby showed up a few minutes late to our therapy session. He’d stopped for a bite to eat across the street. He still had his drink and his unopened potato chips in his hands.

“Do you mind if I eat my potato chips in your office?” he asked our therapist.

“Potato chips leave a lot of crumbs,” I say, automatically. Then I add, looking at our therapist, whose exposure antics are well known to me, “But maybe you wouldn’t mind that.”

“Oh, that’s right,” he says. “Potato chips can be very useful. May I borrow your bag?” he asks the hubby. “Sometimes I do this with them,” he says, and he empties the entire bag onto the office floor.

I burst out laughing and I glance at the hubby, wondering how he’s going to handle this. This is the man who admonishes me for some of the things I touch with my own patients who have contamination fears. He reaches for a large chip on the floor and pops it into his mouth. Blake says nothing, though I’m sure he places his face in his palms at one point.

Our therapist asks if we’ve ever sat on the floor at a party or gathering. Of course we have. Then he asks if we’ve ever gotten off the floor and gotten a snack and eaten it without washing out hands first. We both have. Blake is still silent. Our therapist explains that people without OCD contamination fears sit on floor and touch it and then go on to eat a snack with those same hands that touched the floor. He reasons that it’s not much different than eating potato chips off the floor. Then he shifts his attention and moves in to talk with Blake.

As Blake and the therapist talk, the hubby and I each bend over occasionally to pick up a chip and eat it. Soon, it becomes cumbersome and, being somewhat irrelevant to the conversation happening in the room, one at a time, we each move to sit on the floor. We take turns eating chips, as the pile grows smaller and smaller. What first seemed silly becomes a normal process to us, until I am left with tiny crumbs that I pick out of the carpet to throw away. I imagine to myself that this might be what it is like to participate in an exposure for OCD – feeling somewhat silly or hesitant at first, then feeling fairly normal. I also wonder if Blake has taken note that mom and dad were willing to be uncomfortable, even for a little bit. If he is, he isn’t showing it. For the time being, he has bigger issues to attend to.



The Great Ice Cream Adventure

It’s 9:30 pm on Sunday evening. Blake, the hubby, and I giddily walk into our local drug store. It’s eerily quiet. The shelving units are on casters, the walls are bare, and the clerk looks at us like there’s something wrong that we are there. I glance in the direction of the ice cream counter. I can see that it’s still there.

“We’d like to get some ice cream,” I say.

The clerk looks back at me like I’m from another world.

“It’s closed until we finish the remodel.”

I’m disappointed. I mean, really disappointed. The three of us walking into a store to buy ice cream together – well, this hasn’t happened in years. Blake agreed earlier to go get ice cream together tonight and I was delighted. I’m not about to give up now. I think for a second.

“You have another store nearby,” I say, noting which one I’m talking about. “How late are they open? Is their ice cream counter open?”

“Yes, their ice cream counter is open. They’re finished with their remodel. They’re open until 10, if you can make it on time…”

Of course I can make it on time. I rush out the door with Blake and the hubby following close behind.

“It’s okay, Mom,” Blake says. “We don’t need to rush over. I’ll be okay without ice cream.”

“Honey, it’s just over the hill here. It’ll take five minutes to get there.”

It’s Not Just About Ice Cream

I’m a woman on a mission. I want to make it to the drug store before they close up for img_4881the night. We must have ice cream. This is about so much more than ice cream. It’s about being able to do something as a family that we haven’t been able to do in so long. It’s about how anxiety and OCD have stopped us from being able to do this simple activity together – and how tonight there is a little window to change that. I want to seize on this opportunity.

To be perfectly fair to Blake, it’s not all about OCD or anxiety. He does have some real dietary restrictions. However, quite some time ago we learned what he can and cannot eat, and how to check that all is okay when he’s out in the world. It’s just that, until tonight, he’s felt far too uncomfortable to do it. Avoiding has been his compulsion. Better safe than risk breaking a rule.

I pull into the parking lot and we go quickly inside. Yup, this store has finished its remodel. Still eerily quiet inside. There’s one lone clerk to be seen. When he glances in my direction, I have a feeling he’s going to tell us that they are closed. Then the hubby asks him if we can get some ice cream and he seems to lighten up as he moves to the ice cream counter.

I Don’t Need Any Ice Cream

The hubby orders first – a big double scoop. Blake pulls me aside. He looks nervous.

“I changed my mind. I don’t feel comfortable with this. I don’t need any ice cream.”

I feel a little switch flip inside of me. Wait? Hadn’t we already talked this out? I’ve taken us to two different stores just to reach this moment?

“Blake. Come on. You can do this. Did we really come out for you to change your mind?”

The hubby sees what is happening and gives me a look.

“Hey, it’s Blake’s decision. Let him do what he chooses.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m going to go order.”

And I order my single scoop of chocolate malted crunch, not sure I’m going to enjoy it quite so much. My sugar cone breaks when the clerk goes to put the ice cream in it and he has to start over.

“They’re making the cones thinner now,” he tells me. “I use twice as many because they keep breaking.”

He hands me my cone and I take a lick. It does taste really good. I just wish Blake could enjoy it, too.

I Want to Try

I turn around, ready to pay for our cones, and see Blake right there.

“I changed my mind, Mom. I want to try. What is it I have to check for? How do I do it?”

I explain to Blake that he just has to ask the clerk to show him the containers that the ice cream and cones are stored in. There, he can check the ingredients appropriately. He’s nervous, in part because he’s learning a new skill, but to a larger degree because his OCD is telling him this is bad, he’s breaking the rules, something bad could happen.

Blake asks the clerk to show him each. It all checks out. He orders a double scoop of chocolate. He eats every last bit, his anxiety melting away with each lick.

A Double Scoop; A Double Triumph

That night the ice cream tasted better than I remembered. Probably enhanced by the sweetness of what occurred. Blake stood up to his OCD for the evening, and he triumphed. He took a new step toward a little more freedom.

I also took a step. You see, I’m part of the problem. When I see Blake giving in to his OCD, like he almost did when he said he wasn’t going to get any ice cream, I get emotional. I actually start to get angry. I want him to stand up to the OCD…but my anger and frustration don’t help. They make things worse. If I would’ve not taken the hubby’s cue and continued to push, it wouldn’t have gone well. Blake would have remained steadfast in not getting his ice cream because my emotions would have only created more anxiety for him. When I stepped back, Blake gained space to do what he needed to do. He was able to find his bravery and do what felt uncomfortable.

Bravery is what defeating OCD is all about – doing different than what your brain is telling you to do. My boy was brave that night. I like to think I was brave, too. Or strong. It’s difficult to step back…at least it is for me. I hate when OCD steps in and takes things from my son and from our family experience. Helping Blake means I have to respond differently that how I might automatically want to. So I guess we both grew just a little from that experience. I think we need some more ice cream…

Mom’s Not Doing So Well

Image courtesy of dan at
Image courtesy of dan at

This past week has been especially difficult for me.  I don’t know how it has been for Blake, but I have seriously been knocked flat.  It’s not so much the events of the week, but it is all about how I have been coping – and I haven’t been coping well at all.  My old companion, depression, has come for a visit and, frankly, she’s a lousy houseguest.

I’ve delved little into my own mental health, or anyone else’s in the family, since I began this blog.  Blake obviously does not live in a vacuum where everyone else around him has perfect emotional health – far from it.  We have our share of severe depression, anxiety and a whole host of other issues.  My own brother shared with me only a year-and-a-half ago that he has struggled with OCD for a long time, but he has kept it hidden from us – that, however, is a story for another time.

A Depressed Teen

I have struggled on and off with depression at least since I was a teenager.  I didn’t really understand what it was back then.  I only knew that there were days when the only food I could stomach was chocolate chip mint ice cream from the ice cream shop across the street from my high school.    It became a kind of joke for our yard supervisors.

“There she is again with her ice cream!” they’d joyfully proclaim, but nobody recognized that the happy looking food was my only way to put a bright spot in a day where I’d rather be in bed, away from everyone.

Indeed, almost no one knew of the days I spent unable to see anything bright on the horizon.  On those days, I got out of bed to get to school, but got back in just as soon as I could.  And there was absolutely nobody who knew of the times I’d contemplated ending it all – letting myself out of what felt like the never-ending pain and despair in my own mind.  One well-timed step off the curb in front of an oncoming car.  That would do it.  Yet something held me back.  I silently knew that something was not right – my feeling this way – and while it was my sister who was taken to therapy regularly for her own struggles, I knew that I belonged in that therapy room too.

As a young adult, I recognized that it was depression that I was dealing with.  I got myself into treatment. Painful as the process was, the depressed times came less and less, and the fog that seemed ever present in my life lifted.  I had no idea that it was possible to live life clear-headed, or to find beauty and meaning in small moments.  And I was amazed to learn that, even if the dark moments came, I could see beyond them to better times that would surely come.

Bed Sounds So Good

This past week though, I’ve been slammed harder than I have in years.  It started early in the week, with a vague tearfulness and a sense of self-doubt.  It was exacerbated by Blake’s constant blaming my husband and I for things going wrong in his own life.  He was two hours late for school one day because he over-slept, and it was our fault because we should have pulled him out of bed and “made” him get ready (no matter that we had been in his room three times telling him to get up).  When he lost out on a sleepover with a friend because he had failed to finalize the plans (despite daily reminders that the deadline was coming), it was we who were “destroying” his friendship.

These are not unusual encounters in our regular dealings with Blake; it’s just that my resources were too depleted to be able to handle them well.  I found myself withdrawing, descending deeper into the pit.  When, one evening, I accidentally smacked my arm into something in the garage, I ended up in a crumpled heap, sobbing on the garage floor.  I knew it wasn’t about the immediate pain; it was about the emotions that felt clogged up inside of me finally finding an escape route.

We attended a friend’s celebration yesterday as a family.  It was one of those where the DJ works hard to get everyone up and participating.  I tried hard to be in the moment, but all I could seem to do was feel the heaviness that is upon me.  It did not help at all that Blake refused to even stay in the room and socialize.  The food being served was all suspect and defied his rules, so he removed himself to the lobby to stay as far away from it as possible.  My heavy heart broke a little more at the sight of my son, all alone for hours, unable to join the party because of the food in the room.  I think of how hard it has to be to be him and the fog settles in a little deeper into my brain.

My hubby just took leave of me a moment ago after hugging me deeply and reassuring me that it will all get better.  He had just taken a look at the title of this post.

“That’s a good title,” he told me.  “That’s a good thing for you to be writing about.”

That’s what I am hoping, that by writing about it, it will release some of it from me and help me to move forward.  He made me promise before he left that I will work out today. We both know that being active is one of my best tools for feeling a little better.  So that is what I will do now.  Move into the day and use the tools I have.

Until next time.

OCD – 1; Family Game Night – 0

IMG_1874Tonight I am writing with equal parts frustration and sadness.  Once again, OCD has reared its face and thwarted our family plans.  I’m feeling a little bratty about it.  I want to tell on it, chastise it, turn on my heels and take my toys home – except I live here with it.

Tonight we had plans for a family game night.  It was Blake’s idea – a kind of celebration that all four of us are home on a Saturday night.  He had a game all ready to go; it was one he had been wanting to play together for days.

We ordered in a pizza.  My hubby had been craving one all week.  I made us a salad to go with it and the boys set the table, but as I was working, I noticed that the table was only set for 3.  Those of you who have read other posts may recall that Blake has a lot of rules around food.  I often don’t know what they are, and I try not to accommodate to them even if I do know.  I try to present a wide variety of foods at each meal and hope that he will eat.

“Blake, there’s only three place settings at the table,” I noted.

“I’m going to eat over here,” he told me.  He pointed to the kitchen island where he was setting a place for himself.

I knew what this was about.  The food we were eating didn’t conform to his rules.  He had already asked me if he could make himself a different meal.  I didn’t argue; he made himself a something different than the rest of us were eating.  What I hadn’t seen coming was that now he was eating clear across the kitchen from us lest our food might somehow contaminate his.

“Blake, come join us at the table.  Please.”

“I can’t, Mom.  I can’t be near the stuff you guys are eating.”

So, three of us ate at the table while Blake ate his meal alone.  It was sad for me, and I was hoping it was at least a little sad for Blake not being able to directly be a part of our conversations and stories.  At least we could look forward to playing together once the meal was over – but that’s where I was wrong.

When the table was cleared and the leftovers put away, we all sat down to play our game.  Blake brought it over and held it protectively in his arms.  Like a referee he looked around at the three of us and made an announcement.

“Guys, I need you all to wash up before we play.”

My head shook as if clearing cobwebs away.  What?  Wash up?  Huh?  …And just like that, OCD took the reins at game night.

“Wash up?  Why?”  my older son asked.

“You guys all ate food I won’t eat, so before you touch my game I need you to wash up,” he announced.

The truth of the matter was that I had already washed up, but I stopped short of telling him.  That’s because I knew in this case that it was OCD making demands, not Blake’s rational mind.  To offer up that I’d already washed would have been offering reassurance, something that to Blake, and many other OCD sufferers, is like a drug.  My hubby and our older son were savvy to the “OCDness” of this request, too.

“No, Blake.  We’re not going to wash,” my hubby said gently, but with conviction.  “You can get through this.  Let’s just play.”

“Yeah, c’mon Blake,” said big brother.  “You’re not gonna eat off the cards.”

“No, guys, I’m standing firm on this.  I’m not going to change my mind.  I need you all to wash up.”

“Blake, are you really going to let OCD hijack our game time?” my husband asked him.

“I’m not going to change my mind.”

I stood up.  I wasn’t in any mood to get into a long-winded discussion about this.  Sad and frustrated as I was feeling, I was done.

“In that case, I guess we won’t be playing.”  I said, and I walked out of the room.

My husband offered one more time to just play, but Blake declined and my husband turned on a college football game on T.V.  His big brother tried one more time to reason logically with him, but got nowhere.  He sat down, looking dejected, and turned his attention to the laptop in the room.

Blake ended up still holding his game, his arms folded over it.  I’m not really sure how he felt about the whole thing, but I suspect he thinks it is all our fault that we wouldn’t comply with this small request.  As you’re reading this, you may also wonder why we couldn’t just comply and get it over with.  The reason is this:  if you give OCD an inch, it’ll take a mile.  One little thing is never enough to satisfy OCD; it always asks for more and more.  If we comply, managing Blake’s OCD becomes our problem too, as we have to ever adapt our behavior to its continually changing requirements.

Now I sit here writing.  I put it here instead of taking it out on Blake or anyone else in the family.  Would I rather be playing a family game?  That’s for certain, but not on OCD’s terms.  Perhaps I will get us another game and at least 3 of us will play.  Maybe Blake will join.  I look forward to the day when we can sit down to play without the uninvited guest.