When Dan was first diagnosed with OCD, I wanted details. What was he thinking, how was he feeling, is today better or worse than yesterday? The problem was, Dan would not, or could not, share the details of his disorder with me. He was even reluctant to see a therapist because he thought everything they spoke about would be relayed to his parents. Once I explained “doctor-patient confidentiality” to him, he couldn’t get to the therapist fast enough.
I now realize that Dan was right. I was better off not knowing. Dan’s OCD dealt with mostly mental compulsions and therefore was not obvious at the time, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I had my head in the sand, I certainly had no idea how much he was already suffering. I think if I had known, I would have accommodated him incessantly, and my heightened anxiety levels wouldn’t have done him any good either.
I wonder how many teens and young (and not so young) adults are hesitant to share details of their OCD with their families, specifically their parents. From the blogs and forums I’ve visited, my guess is: a lot. Why? Is it because family members are just too close for comfort or can’t understand what the OCD sufferer is going through? One explanation that I have seen often is that many parents minimize the OCD with comments such as, “Oh, I do that too,” or “It’s no big deal, you’ll be fine.” Whether these reactions stem from denial, guilt, or something else, I don’t know. But this lack of support can be devastating for an OCD sufferer.
As with most illnesses or disorders, people with OCD seem to benefit from interaction with others who can truly understand what they are going through: fellow sufferers. Social media sites, conferences and support groups for those with OCD are widespread. And so I don’t think family members need to know details of a loved ones OCD if the sufferer does not want to share. What families really do need to know, however, is how to respond appropriately to their loved one with OCD, as this can be paramount to recovery. And maybe what those with OCD really need most from their families is what all of us need and deserve: acceptance, understanding, and love.