It’s a Sunday afternoon and Blake is taking a computer scored test for his precalculus class. He’s never liked math, yet he has continued to push himself forward because he knows at least this much math is required for him to pursue his career goal of video game developer. The tension is palpable in the family room air. Twenty problems. Three points each. The anxiety mounted when he looked at the first problem.
“I can’t do this! I don’t understand it!”
“Blake. Yes you can, and yes you do. Slow down.”
Is That Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
The hubby and I keep repeating this mantra, but Blake is not hearing it. He’s far too anxious. Yes, Blake has OCD and while you may be wondering how this is an OCD moment, suffice it to say that OCD often does not occur in a vacuum. OCD sufferers can have many other things going on besides OCD (just as we all can have multiple things going on in our lives). One very common occurrence is to have anxiety (possibly even an anxiety disorder) pop up in areas besides those affected by the OCD.
When a person has OCD, they struggle to deal with the uncertainty, discomfort, and anxiety brought on by intrusive thoughts, urges, or images. It is the discomfort that is created that OCD sufferers must learn to deal with. So, it’s not surprising that other things that make an OCD sufferer anxious can also be a challenge. In Blake’s case, math provokes anxiety. I don’t know if it’s a full blown phobia, but math anxiety is a regular occurrence in his life.
How’d You Get on Number 16?
I walk over to Blake and glance over his shoulder. He’s on number 12 out of 20.
“I’m not going to pass,” he says with panic in his voice. “It’s hopeless.”
“Hey, you can do this. This is your anxiety talking.”
“No! No! I just don’t understand it!”
I glance at the computer. He’s on number 16. This doesn’t make sense. We’ve been talking. He hasn’t even more than glanced at the computer screen. He couldn’t have completed four precalculus problems.
“Blake, how’d you get on number 16? You were just on number 12.”
“I can’t do it,” he just keeps saying.
“Blake, did you enter nonsense answers?”
“I’m not going to pass! It doesn’t matter what I enter!”
The hubby manages to intervene and to convince Blake to take his hands off the keyboard. We talk for a few moments and Blake settles down. He refocuses on the task at hand and answers numbers 16-20 correctly. He earns a forty percent. When he’s finished, I take a look at the analysis that shows what he scored correctly on and what he missed. He got three answers correct in the first five questions and then nothing correct until number 16. He’d gotten anxious because he’d gotten a few wrong. Anxiety took over, he panicked, and there went the test.
What Have You Learned From This Experience?
Blake had to contact his teacher about his score because a minimum sixty percent is required for him to continue on in the course. The hubby and I write a note to the teacher and advise her of what happened. We let her know that we hope Blake learns a lesson from this experience and that he will not do this in the future.
“What have you learned from this experience?” I ask Blake later.
“I learned to slow down and take a break if I need to. I also learned that Mom and Dad are usually right.”
As a mom I smile at that last comment – not that he’ll recall it when we have advice to give.
Blake’s teacher writes me back the next day. She asks for Blake to come in and work with her. She wants to see what he needs help with, and then to reset the test – something we hadn’t asked for nor expected. After she works with him, she asks me to come by.
“He understands all of this. He did remarkably well. Let’s see how he does on the re-take.”
Blake takes the test again and scores an eighty-five percent.
“I have pretty amazing teachers,” Blake tells me.
“Yes, you do,” I reply. “Mrs. C didn’t need to reset that test. She understands anxiety. I wouldn’t expect her to do that again.”
Blake understands that responding to his anxiety by completely throwing off his test was not the best choice. He does seem to have learned something from it, but, honestly, only time will tell. Will he step back and recognize what anxiety is doing to him the next time it surfaces? I hope so. Or it may be a lesson he will have to learn repeatedly before he gets it down. I am confident that he will get it some day.