Short Stories: Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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“Joey!  Hurry up, your breakfast is getting cold!”

Joey grunted angrily as he heard the shout come from downstairs.  He couldn’t believe his mom was so clueless!!  What was she doing interrupting him when she knew he was getting ready?  Arghhhh!  Now he had to start all over again, just when he was in his sixth run through.  Joey took a deep breath, fighting the growing panic in the pit of his stomach.  Stop, stop, stop, stop.  Left foot lined up neatly beside his shoe, laces laid out on either side of his shoe, equal in length, lying flat against the floor, all twists smoothed out.  Left foot into his shoe, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. all the way in.  Right hand pulling the lace, then the left hand, then right, then left, bow carefully drawn.  Eyeing the bow, Joey nodded in satisfaction, Yes!  Now right foot lined up beside his shoe, same routine, until he was done with his right foot.

And then, Joey sat on his bed, looking down at both of his feet.  One.  Removing his shoes carefully from his feet, he placed them back on the floor.  Again.  Joey began his ritual again, left foot lined up neatly beside his shoe, lace laid out on either side of his shoe.  Step by step, he slowly walked through each step, until once again, he was done.  Two.  Again.  Three.  Again.  Four.  Again.  Five.  Again.  Six.  Again.  Seven.

Joey felt himself calming as he completed his morning routine.  Standing up, he straightened all of his model airplanes so that they pointed exactly in the same direction.  Looking in the mirror, he carefully combed his hair back.  Twenty-one strokes, 3 multiples of 7.  Frowning, he noticed the stray hairs that were refusing to lay flat.  Again.  Twenty-one strokes.  Oh, no, it wasn’t working!  Joey felt the scream rising in him.  No, no, no!  He couldn’t go to school this morning, everyone would be looking at him, laughing at him. 

He started moaning, panic rising in him.  Just then, he heard a loud bang, as his younger brother, Sam, slammed into his room.  “Come on, goofball, we’re going to be late for school!”  Overwhelmed, Joey began shouting, “GET OUT OF MY ROOM, YOU STUPID IDIOT!  I’M GOING TO KILL YOU, YOU PIECE OF CRAP!”  Throwing his empty pop can at his brother, Joey started screaming expletives as Sam laughed and ran out of the room and down the stairs.

“Moooom!  Joey is having one of his fits again!” Joey could hear Sam’s taunting voice fading as he went downstairs.

Alice sighed, her heart heavy.  Joey was getting worse, and she just didn’t know what to do anymore.  She could hear the screaming and the banging as he threw things around his room.  There he goes again.  There was no way she was going to get him to school this morning, not after his meltdown.  And she had gotten up at 6 am this morning to wake him, knowing that he needed two hours to get ready for school.  It used to only be one hour, but now it was two.  Alice was exhausted and at the end of her rope.  How much more could she take?

It was getting to the point where she rarely went out anymore.  She had long since quit her job to stay home to help Joey, even though she knew that Dan was having to take all of those extra shifts to pay for their bills.  And they had stopped asking for prayer support from their church because, really, no one understood what they were going through.  She hated the trite advice that people gave her to “discipline her son more”.  What did they know?  And they never had anyone over anymore, because it bothered Joey too much to have the disruption of guests in their home.  Alice knew that this was no way to live life, but what else could she do?  Her boy needed her.

Thinking back to his childhood, there really weren’t any signs of trouble.   Joey was always a sensitive and sweet little boy, and he never caused them any problems at all.  But ever since they moved to a new community and he had a hard time adjusting to his new school, his anxiety just seems to have gotten worse and worse.  At first, they were able to manage, but now it had gotten to the point where, deep down, Alice knew they needed help.  She could no longer fool herself into thinking that this was “just a phase” he was going through.  Joey needed help.

Sighing again, Alice sent Sam off to school and finished cleaning up the breakfast dishes.  After taking a few moments to calm herself, she went upstairs.  Knocking gently on the door, she heard Joey sniffing.  Even though she wanted to wring his neck from frustration at times, her heart ached, knowing how much her boy was suffering.  This wasn’t the life she dreamed of for her son.  Not this prison.

“Joey, can I come in?”  Taking his silence as consent, Alice opened the door and went to sit on the floor next to Joey.  “Hey Buddy.”  Taking his unresponsive hand in hers, she began to stroke his arm gently, just the way she knew he liked.  She sat quietly with him for the next 30 minutes, praying silently for him, until she sensed that he had calmed down.  Then, praying for wisdom, she began to speak:

“I’m really sorry that you’ve had a bad morning, Joey.  I’ve called your school and told them that you won’t be in today because I think it would be good for you to take a break.”  Sensing his relief, Alice went on, “But I also wanted to talk to you to see if we can figure out what to do.  Dad and I are really worried about you and we’ve decided that we need to get you some help.”

As she felt Joey tensing beside her, Alice put her arm around him.  “I know it makes you anxious to think about getting some help, but Joey, it’s time.  Please listen to me.  Last week, I happened to read this blog about a woman who seems to have some of the same problems you have with anxiety.  The psychologist was saying she has something called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and that it’s actually really treatable.”

“But mom, I feel like such an idiot.  I’m afraid…I’m scared they’re going to tell me I’m crazy.”  Joey began to cry again.  “I really hate myself, mom!  No one likes me at school, they just think I’m a total loser.”  Alice felt her own eyes well up with tears as she saw her son’s pain.  She wished desperately that she could take away his suffering, and she vowed even more determinedly to get him some help.

“I’m really sorry, Joey, we should have gotten you help earlier.  I don’t think I helped you by protecting you from facing your fears.  And you’re NOT crazy.  The doctor was saying that people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have something in their brain chemistry that causes this “brain lock” to happen – what she calls a brain fart.  She sounds really funny and kind, not judgmental at all.  She also says that it’s not their fault.  And she said that you can learn to overcome this brain lock.  I did something else, too, Joey.  I called the doctor’s office and they were super nice and caring and they gave me a lot of hope.”

Joey looked at her mom anxiously.  “You really think they can help me?”  Alice nodded. “Dad and I have been praying about this and we really feel that God has led us to this doctor.  I’ve made an appointment for you for tomorrow and Dad is going to take the day off to go with us.  All three of us are going to go together, okay?  We’re going to get through this together, Buddy.”

——

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and other anxiety-related disorders affect people of all ages, from young children to the elderly.  Do you or someone you know suffer from intrusive thoughts or difficulties controlling compulsive behaviours?  Or are you like Alice, feeling overwhelmed caring for a family member who suffers from OCD?  If so, please reach out for help.  There is hope.

Please help get the word out by sharing this blog with others.  And if you have your own story to share, please feel free to comment or email me directly.  I would love to hear from you.  Feel free also to email me if you’d like referrals to professionals in your area who can help.

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