There is no question the stigma of mental illness is alive and well, even as many of us work hard to eradicate it. Sharing our stories, and being candid about our mental health issues, goes a long way toward changing our preconceived notions.
But sharing isn’t easy for those with OCD (or other mental health issues) or their families. It’s a catch 22 situation: We can reduce stigma by sharing, but it’s hard to share because of the stigma. While there are those with OCD who are very open about their struggles, there are also those who do whatever they can do hide their pain, and then others on various points of the continuum.
When I was a teenager, there was a woman who used to wander the streets of our neighborhood, talking and mumbling to herself. She had long gray unkempt hair, and always seemed confused and disoriented. There were all kinds of rumors circulating about her, but the story that stuck in my mind is that she was kept in the basement of her home and tortured as a child. To summarize: her parents made her that way.
Fast forward thirty plus years, and I am now the parent of a son with obsessive-compulsive disorder. While intellectually I know I didn’t “make him that way,” I sometimes wonder if I should have done this instead of that, or perhaps reacted to a particular situation differently. The truth is that the cause(s) of OCD are not clear-cut, and seem to involve a host of factors. Maybe the way I raised my son was wrong? Maybe, to some degree, I am to blame for his having OCD?
Of course this type of reasoning discourages families, in particular parents, from sharing. If you feel your child’s illness is your fault, or if you believe others will assume you are a bad parent, you’re not going to be too eager to tell your story.
I know thinking this way is counter-productive, and I try not to dwell on these doubts and insecurities. It does no one any good. The best I can do at this point is to have open and honest communication with my son (so that he can reassure me that no, of course it’s not my fault 🙂 ), learn from my mistakes, and keep trying to be the best parent I can be. Time and energy used to assign blame can be better expended on continuing to fight the stigma of obsessive-compulsive disorder.