Lighten Up

dad umbrella

Parents whose children suffer from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder are often devastated and heartbroken. Their formerly happy, loving, well-adjusted son or daughter is now barely functioning, caught up in a world dictated by obsessions and compulsions. To make matters worse, mothers and fathers often feel powerless to make things better. It is understandable that we parents might feel distraught, frightened, and overwhelmed.

That is exactly what happened to me. Some days I’d sit with Dan for hours just to get him to eat a morsel. Other times I’d have to step over him because he’d lie on the floor all day. Sadness overcame me. Add stress, exhaustion, and fear to the equation, and you’ve got an unhappy household.

So when a close family friend who is a clinical psychologist gave me the advice to “lighten up and try to relax a little,” my response was, “Are you kidding me? My son, my family, my world are falling apart and you want me to lighten up?”

His answer? “Yes.”

Obviously he knew our family was going through a difficult time, but he also knew that Dan and our other children picked up on my and my husband’s attitude. How we felt affected how they felt.

Since I truly was heartbroken, I started by faking it.  It was hard, but I pretended to be in a good mood and even made a joke or two as I stepped over Dan. My husband worked on changing his outlook also. We tried to live our lives as normally as we could.

Lo and behold, it didn’t take long for the overall atmosphere in our home to really lighten up. Seeing their parents smile and joke a bit gave our children, including Dan, the impression that things just might end up okay. If mom and dad can go out and meet friends for dinner, then how bad could it be?

Soon my husband and I weren’t pretending anymore. Our perspective changed also. If Dan could laugh at our jokes (which he was often able to do, even in his debilitated state), then maybe the situation really wasn’t all doom and gloom.  I don’t want to give the impression that our home went from being in a state of upheaval to the happiest house on the block. That didn’t happen; after all, we were still dealing with a crisis. But there was a subtle change. We had hope. Hope that our family would get through those tough times and maybe even emerge stronger than ever.

If your household includes a person with severe OCD, you might want to give our friend’s advice a try. While we need to acknowledge our loved one’s suffering, we also need to continue on with our lives as best we can. Otherwise we are just letting the OCD win.

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18 Responses to Lighten Up

  1. Jacqui says:

    Great advice, for families going through any difficult time. Thank you.

  2. I love this post. My family’s hope carried me when I had none. It’s so important for an OCD sufferer to see that their loved ones think they’re going to get better. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Tina Barbour says:

    Such a wise and helpful post! You write so honestly about the pain that you felt as a parent, and I can only imagine how hard it must be to see your child suffering. It’s amazing how changing one’s attitude even a little can bring about changes in how others feel. This is a good reminder to all of us to fake hope until we really have it.

  4. I love your comment, Tina, and think it should be a bumper sticker: “Fake hope until you really have it!”

  5. Letizia Bonillo says:

    Thank you for your words. It’s funny how nature works. . When no one gives you answers, you seem to eventually come up with them but you are never sure if what you are doing is right. So when I read this post I felt relieved because I’ve been practising this attitude when ever possible and it works! Since I’ve been receiving your posts (we live in Spain) I have for the first time felt that someone else has gone through what we have been living for so many years now.Every single post I have read has to do with my everyday life. My son is 28 now and I have had to diagnose him by myself. Thank you again for your words, they have given me so much support when I so badly needed it

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Letizia, and I’m glad you’ve found my blog helpful. It is heartbreaking to me that you are going through all this without the support and treatment that your son deserves. I have no idea what the healthcare system is like in Spain but I so hope there is some way your son can get help. Hope to hear from you again.

  6. kris says:

    My heart aches as I read this post because I know how painful it had to be to see your son suffer and it is hard not to reflect on the pain that my husband and children went through as I struggled with depression and OCD when both were severe and disabling.
    I am so glad you wrote this post because it is a good example of what families can do to help their loved with OCD. Life can and should go on with joy and happiness being expressed. It has to be difficult to do but everyone moping about will not make OCD better. My husband had/has a knack for making me laugh and sometimes laughter was indeed my best medicine.
    The whole ” fake it till you make it” has great potential for all parties involved. I think it is essential to overcoming depression. If I laid in bed all day, nothing good happened but once I learned to get up, eat breakfast and go for a walk whether I enjoyed it or not (and I absolutely did not at first) I slowly but surely recovered.

    • I totally agree with you, Kris. Moping around solves nothing and helps nobody. I needed someone to tell me that when we were going through those tough times, as it never occurred to me to try to fake our way out of it. Thanks as always for your insightful comments.

  7. Abigail says:

    Very nicely written post. I think about atmosphere sometimes in my classroom at work.

    It must be hard for parents and family members; actually, someone close to me went through a big depression once, so I know a little of what that can feel like from the outside. But jokes are such a great thing (when appropriate). I love trying to use sarcasm and humor to get through my tough times with mental illness. It doesn’t take the problem away, but it helps change the way you look at it, like you said.

    • Thanks for your comment, Abigail. It is pretty amazing how a change in attitude can really change your perspective as well as the outcome of a situation. I think this realization can serve us well in a lot of different situations; like you say, in a classroom for example.

  8. The Hook says:

    Beautiful and enlightening. As always.

  9. Lynn says:

    I found this very helpful, and I thought others might benefit from trying something that also helps me–attending meetings of Alanon and reading the Alanon literature. In my son’s case, there is a dual diagnosis with alcohol and substance abuse, which is why I started with Alanon. But the program has a lot of very helpful practices that focus on US, the ones who love the person with the illness. And they are about finding hope and being less intensely focused, and thereby more upbeat. I am new to Alanon, and I think I’ve read that members are not supposed to promote the program, so apologies for that. But we parents of kids with OCD can use all the help we can find, and this helped me –so I’m sharing it with you all. I don’t think they will mind!

    • Thank you so much for sharing this information, Lynn. I agree, we all can use as much help and support as we can get. I’m not familiar with Alanon but it sounds like a great program.

  10. Ram says:

    Absolutely agree, having the right attitude is the key to dealing with any problem in life, no matter the magnitude or type of problem.

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