For those of us with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it can be difficult to truly understand how our loved ones feel. Yes, we are dealing with the actual disorder and that is immensely difficult, but just as they cannot really appreciate how it feels to be in our mind, we cannot really appreciate how it feels to be them, watching and living with us and our obsessions/compulsions. I am not going to make any judgment on who has it worse. They are both tremendously difficult in their own ways (and I would welcome any guest posts on being a parent, sibling, spouse, or other loved one of someone who has OCD, please contact me if you are interested!). There have been a few posts about dealing with OCD in our relationships (see the “relationships” tag on the side bar), and my husband even wrote a post awhile back about being the spouse of someone who has OCD (click here to see that post).
However, there was a time a few weeks or months back where I got a small taste of what it would be like to have a child with OCD.
I came from home from an early Sunday morning meeting at the church building to get the rest of my family and return back for our normal church services. My son was in the kitchen, and I noticed him going around to various cabinets, tapping them with his elbow. He did this methodically, tapping the cabinets and repeating.
I was shocked. I know about and have read/seen instances of tapping OCD, but I have never had to deal with that compulsion personally. Because of that, I understood that my son wasn’t doing this to joke around with me or poke fun at my OCD. My heart sank as I realized that he might have OCD or one day deal with it as well, and perhaps in different manifestations than I did or do.
I tried to ask him what he was doing and why, but I also didn’t want to call undue attention to it and make a huge deal out of it—just in case. I watched, helpless, as he tapped. We went to church and for the next few days I kept my eyes open, seeing if he would continue to do the ritualistic tapping.
The Helplessness of Being a Loved One
It went on and off that week, not to an excessive extent but more than normal (normal was no tapping, of course). It didn’t seem random—he appeared to have a set pattern or way he wanted to do the elbow tapping—and that worried me. I began to feel a portion of what my loved ones feel when they see me engaging in compulsions: confusion, sadness, and at a loss as to how to help. Sure, I wanted to tell him “Just stop! What are you doing? You don’t need to tap!” but I knew that anger doesn’t solve the problem and often escalates the situation, especially if OCD is involved. “Just snap out of it” is a knee jerk reaction that many non-sufferers have to the manifestations of mental illness, and it is a painful and pointless remark for those suffering. If only we could just snap out of it! Don’t you think we would?
The helplessness and defeat I felt as a parent watching my son do these rituals was profound. I felt a bit guilty, thinking that maybe if I didn’t have the disorder, he wouldn’t have such a high probability of developing it as well. But with that guilt also came a gratitude that I could recognize warning signs and get him appropriate care if the need arose. I would know what he was up against early rather than being confused and frustrated.
For now, the tapping has stopped. It went away as quickly as it began, and we haven’t really talked about it. I am grateful that he stopped tapping, but I am also fully aware that OCD or another mental illness or behavioral issue could manifest itself at anytime with either of my children. I’m grateful to know the warning signs and thankful to know that help is available. I am also thankful to have a bit more empathy for all the loved ones of those who have OCD and other mental illnesses.