When discussing the causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the general consensus is that a combination of genetic and environmental factors likely leads to its development. There’s talk of genetic predisposition, triggering events, and childhood trauma. Oh, how that last one makes me cringe, and whether it’s my imagination or not, I’ve often felt I was being judged as a parent. The stigma I deal with personally has more to do with “What kind of parent are you?” than “Your son has a mental illness.”
So it makes me think. What kind of parent am I? Did I, or my husband, traumatize our son Dan and contribute to the development of his OCD? Well, I really don’t know. I’m certain that Dan grew up in a safe and loving home. But we’re not perfect. Was I less than patient when “forcing” toilet training on him as his fourth birthday fast approached? Yes. Should I have paid more attention to him when we were focused on dealing with his sister’s serious illness? Probably. While childhood trauma is sometimes unavoidable (the sudden death of a loved one, for example), I think the way it is dealt with can either minimize the trauma or exacerbate it. Should I have been calmer and cooler at times? Sure. Looking back, there are definitely things I could have done better. There are always things I, or any parent, could have done better. Would it have mattered?
Almost three years ago, I wrote about the incident I believe might have triggered Dan’s OCD. I think about that, too. While it was obviously a traumatizing event for Dan (accidentally hurting a friend), it might not have had the same impact on a different child. Dan’s sensitivity, gentleness, and compassion for others made this occurrence particularly upsetting to him. A combination of factors.
Unfortunately, when talking about OCD and trauma in Dan’s case, I believe the trauma he endured after his diagnosis outweighs any he withstood earlier. He was traumatized by improper treatment, including talk therapy, as well as being wrongly and overly medicated. Physical and mental side effects were not only unbearable, they were downright dangerous.
And that “What kind of parent are you?” judgment I’ve felt at times? It saddens me to say I’ve encountered this scrutiny at the hands of some mental health professionals. The ones we turned to for help.
And so the stigma lives on. While never for a moment did I let my fear of being judged interfere with my mission of getting Dan help, this fear might deter others. The focus for mental health professionals, indeed for all of us, needs not to be on where OCD came from, or whose “fault” it is, but how it can best be obliterated. No stigma, no judgment, no trauma. Just understanding, respect, and proper treatment.