When Dan’s obsessive-compulsive disorder was at its worst, it was obvious (to me, anyway) that his illness totally controlled his life. Everything he did, every word he uttered, every way he moved, every thing he ate, and every decision he made, was dictated by his OCD. There was no question who was in charge, and it wasn’t Dan.
Once he became immersed in Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy and started to recover, glimpses of the real Dan began to emerge. Though I was thrilled he was improving, I was often confused over who was calling the shots. If he insisted on not having breakfast, was it because he was really not hungry or because his OCD was telling him not to eat? If he decided not to go to the movies with his friends, was it because he really didn’t feel like it, or was it OCD related? At times I’d ask Dan what the story was, but it was often hard to know whether he was telling me the truth or if it was his OCD talking.
Not only was it frustrating for me, it was upsetting to Dan to be constantly scrutinized. While he insisted “It’s not always about OCD,” I often suspected it was. Ironically, this is one of the very reasons we didn’t share Dan’s diagnosis with family and friends at this time. We didn’t want him to be analyzed by others or perceived differently than he’d always been. Yet this was exactly what I was doing.
Why was it so important that I know what was OCD and what wasn’t? Well, for one thing, if I knew a behavior was OCD related, I would be careful not to enable Dan. Also, knowing how much OCD was playing a part in my son’s life would give me an idea of how well he was doing.
In retrospect, I don’t believe I needed to know these things. Dan had a good therapist, and he was working hard toward recovery. Sure, I could have helped by not enabling him, but really, this was not about me. It was about Dan. This was his fight, and he was on his own. What I needed to do, and what I eventually learned to do, was to believe in him. This trust was well deserved; there were actually many times Dan would tell me I was enabling him. He had the motivation and the know-how to fight his OCD, and that’s a winning combination. I needed to realize that.
As Dan has continued to do well, I rarely wonder if “it’s about the OCD.” My guess is it’s usually not, but sometimes it just might be. But that’s not important. What really matters is that Dan knows the difference, and then keeps doing what he has done so well: Stand up to his OCD.