The Imp Of My Son's Mind: Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Did you know that 14% of Australian adults live with an anxiety disorder? From phobias to social anxiety, there are many forms it can take. One of the lesser talked about forms of anxiety is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD appears in many ways, dictating a person’s thought patterns and behaviour which can dramatically impact their quality of life. Laura Travers is a mother and a contributor to Psych Guides. She was introduced to OCD when her son, then a toddler, began displaying symptoms of the illness. This is her story of how she helps her son live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
In the period since I’ve come forward to speak being a parent of a child who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I have been really quite surprised and overwhelmed; not only the number of people who have approached me to share their own experiences, but the people who have simply told me that I wasn’t alone.
OCD is a very lonely illness, or it can be. I have to mention from the outset that probably, as a child and to an extent as an adult, I too have more than likely displayed a lot of the symptoms of the condition. I feel that I may have imparted my own fears and beliefs onto my son in my own way – though I tried my hardest not to.
I hate to use the word “difficult” about my son as I love him dearly and it seems so harsh, but there are precious few other words that sum up as succinctly his behaviour – really from being a toddler onwards. It is of course normal for children to engage in some repetitive actions and behaviours as they develop. Especially if you think about things like them only eating certain foods, or wanting the same bedtime story read to them over and over again. However with my son, it was much deeper and much more rooted.
I think I can also more or less pinpoint the origins of OCD tendencies in my son. When he was around six years of age his father had to go into hospital. It was for a very routine operation, really nothing to worry about at all. But he’d been used to having Dad around pretty much all the time, and for 10 days or so he had disappeared. We’d tried to explain beforehand that Dad would be gone; that it wouldn’t be for a long time and that when he came back he’d be “fixed”, but something about the situation had obviously really worried our son.
After this my son became decidedly clingy. He didn’t like me to leave the house without him. Neither did he like it if his father and I went out together (for instance if we had arranged a night out or something and other family members were going to look after him).
If it had remained at just that we might have been able to deal with it, but alongside this clinginess came repetitive sets of questions, and alongside those – repetitive actions. “How long will you be?”, “How far away will you be?”, “What if something happens to you?” and so on. One night, I’d gone into his bedroom to settle him to sleep. I nearly flattened him when I opened the door, and I found him next to the light switch flicking it on and off repeatedly. It put an end to our questioning of why we’d been experiencing so many light bulbs blowing in the house…but it also raised more issues.
Gentle questioning of my son was tough, we didn’t want to upset him, but at the same time felt we needed to know why he was so distressed. Probably around about this time, we also noticed that his hands were red raw, and blistered – I tried not to put two and two together just in case I was jumping the gun. But at the same time, I think I knew what was wrong.
Finally getting a diagnosis of OCD was a relief, though it really was just the beginning of a very long road. My son is still very young and the treatment hasn’t always been easy. It is of course, very much dependent on the individual doctors and therapists decisions on how to proceed. In our case it was decided for the time to be against any form of medication – but to help him on his way with talking therapy and other holistic methods of treatment involving art, music and movement.
He is a bright, extremely capable boy with above average intelligence, and it was felt that he needed to be challenged and distracted more, rather than calmed and dulled by a regimen of medication. That may well change over the coming years should things (and I hope they don’t) worsen.
The main thing is to keep dialog open, to keep talking, to always make sure your child knows they can come to you about any worries they may have. As a parent it is so difficult not to become over-protective, but also to know when to step in and intervene if a particular ritual is getting out of hand. It’s important not to try and bend to their requests for reassurance, no matter how tough it feels. Every child is different, and will be affected in a slightly different manner. Talking, openness and hope are key