Last week I wrote about OCD and the importance of family involvement in treatment, and some of the comments I received proved to be real eye-openers for me. I realize that while I’ve previously acknowledged that writing about obsessive-compulsive disorder is a lot easier than having it, I am still somewhat naive when it comes to certain aspects of OCD. My general assumption has always been that family members, especially parents, are totally supportive of their loved one with OCD. This theory has been backed up over and over. I get comments and emails from family and friends of OCD sufferers who desperately want to help them. I connect with people at OCD conferences who want to learn whatever they can about the disorder so they can encourage and advocate for their loved one. I think of my own extended family who, when things were rough for Dan, offered to help out in any way they could.
While my own experiences are real, perhaps my view is skewed. Obviously I don’t hear from parents who are not supportive of their children. Why would I? And these same people are not attending conferences or reaching out to others or advocating for their loved ones. There are many reasons why this might be, such as believing their child should just “get over it,” or not acknowledging they are dealing with an actual illness. Maybe they’re embarrassed. To me, the reasons don’t matter much. What matters is there are people with OCD out there who are not only suffering, they are suffering alone.
This is heartbreaking. Even with all of the support in the world, OCD can be a devastating illness. But having to deal with OCD without that support? It’s hard for me to even imagine. And my guess is that many OCD sufferers who are unsupported are also ridiculed and totally misunderstood by those they love. Nobody deserves to be treated that way.
I want to make it clear that I am not talking about ignorance here. Ignorance is the lack of knowledge. Most of us who find ourselves catapulted into the world of OCD start off ignorant. I sure did. But we do what we’d do if our loved one had been diagnosed with any illness. We learn as much as we can about it and try to find appropriate help. Of course I know there is stigma to deal with. I know there are a lot of preconceived notions about OCD as well as a lot of misinformation. I know families and their histories can be complicated. I get this. But it shouldn’t matter. When your child is suffering you need to put all that baggage aside, learn the truth about OCD, and take appropriate action.
For those suffering with OCD who have not gotten the support they need from their families, it might be appropriate to take a step back and try to develop the support system they deserve. Good friends, clergy, social workers and teachers are some examples of people who could be helpful.
Unfortunately, I know I am likely preaching to the choir here. Those who have no interest in learning about OCD or helping their loved ones are probably not reading my blog. I just wish there was some way to reach them.