It’s Not Always About OCD

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.

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10 Responses to It’s Not Always About OCD

  1. 71º & Sunny says:

    Janet, I know this has been a bit of a struggle for my family as well. There have been times when they’ve had to ask me what my real motivation was for doing or not doing something. I understand, although occasionally I will get a little irritated because it can be frustrating. I get it though. Plus, I know they really only just want the best for me. It’s hard to criticize that.

  2. ocdtalk says:

    I’m guessing this is an issue for a lot of families (that’s why I wrote about it :). You’re so understanding, Sunny. I guess the bottom line is we all have our loved ones best interests at heart…but that doesn’t mean we don’t annoy each other every now and then!

  3. krystallynn says:

    Janet, I completely understand why you would want to ask and on the other side of the coin, I completely understand how Dan would feel scrutinized. I think because I have had OCD 32 years of the 36 years I have been married ,my husband knows what is OCD and what isn’t now ..plus knowing me, I probably at one point freaked out and told him to stop asking me because honestly pointing it out only increases my personal anxiety a hundred fold. My mother to this day asks me constantly ,despite my telling her to knock it off. I mean, if I am looking in my purse for my wallet, she will ask me “Is that your OCD?” , but if I ask her not to ask me that, she will cry and say she didn’t mean to upset me and then the crying makes me anxious. It happens so often that I had to compartmentalize it into the humorous part of my brain so that it doesn’t drive me batty. Always love your posts!

    • ocdtalk says:

      And I always love your comments, Krystallynn! That’s interesting that the way your mother reacts to your request to “stop” has caused anxiety for you. I do remember when Dan was really bad off a good friend who is a clinical psychologist advised me to “be cool” and not get all emotional about what was going on around Dan. I think that really helped make things better for everyone………hmm, could be an idea for a future post!

  4. Great post, Janet! Sometimes my husband will ask me if something I’m doing is OCD, but I find that I don’t mind it. Sometimes it’s revealing for me.

  5. veva525 says:

    I related so much to your post. I have had family members/boyfriends attempt to monitor by OCD-like behaviors, and usually the result was me feeling like I was constantly walking on eggshells. Leaving it alone, or checking in just once in a while, is great when someone is recovering. I loved this: “What I needed to do, and what I eventually learned to do, was to believe in him.” Yes! Agree 100%. Way to go.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for your insights! I agree….these interactions make everyone self-conscious and uncomfortable, two feelings you definitely don’t need in your own home.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. We do this often with our daughter. It’s challenging with OCD in a child. She began with OCD- at least severely when she was 8 and is 10 now. She is more able to see OCD as outside of herself than she was 2 years ago but it is still a big challenge for her. It is still a big challenge for her to talk to OCD- She has not been able to do it herself. She has been able to do some drawing with her therapist about it and allowed her therapist to talk back to OCD, as well as us. Its challenging because with everything I have read, I see how important this part is for her- to take back control. We love her therapist and maybe in time, she will be able to do this more. She has been going to her therapist weekly for not quite a year. Maybe the teen years will help with this aspect?
    I really appreciate your distance perspective on this because who wants to be scrutinized and questioned all the time! I will try to keep that in my mind always- and need to share it with my husband.
    She is able to tell us if something is OCD or not- but I too wonder if OCD doesn’t let her admit something is related to OCD!
    Thanks again. I look forward to your posts.

  7. ocdtalk says:

    Hi Gina, Thanks for sharing……it’s all so complicated, isn’t it? I think what was the hardest for us was when Dan was living at home, right under out noses, and I was (or thought I was ) so tuned in to everything he was doing and thinking. When he wasn’t living with us, it was easier to just imagine that all was well. I’m so glad you love your daughter’s therapist, and as you say, as she matures, maybe she will hopefully be able to take back more control of her life. You are an amazing mom (I know this from your blog 🙂 ) and I have a good feeling your daughter will keep going in the right direction.

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