Just when you think there’s nothing worse than OCD (well of course there are things much worse than OCD), but relatively speaking for me there is something that’s much worse and is happening right now in my life.
My child has OCD, compulsions and obsessive thoughts that hurt her and upset her and it is absolutely devastating to watch.
There are so many strands to this that compound the body blow of your own child developing OCD. The guilt of knowing you passed this hideous gene onto your child, witnessing the distress and anxiety this brings to somebody you love, to anybody and especially to somebody so young.
Worrying how it will affect their life in the future, whilst deep down knowing what is in store and thinking of your worst OCD moments, whilst panic stricken that your own child may suffer similar OCD characteristics, and then of course there’s the guilt again when you remember that it’s all your fault.
Telling myself that I didn’t invent OCD and that it was in fact passed down to me on my mother’s side does little to negate my guilt. I could chastise myself for selfishly having a child knowing I had such a debilitating mental illness, or pass the buck completely and blame my mother for passing it on to me. Then my mother could pacify herself by blaming her mother for passing it down to her, but this cycle would never end and it’s entirely pointless.
If you dig deeply enough for a figurehead to which you can lay the blame, then you may as well go one stage further and blame the creator of the brain – but that’s ridiculous and pointless and ultimately achieves nothing – it doesn’t lessen my feelings of guilt or help the situation in any way.
OCD is an anxiety disorder and of course the compulsions are repetitive and carried out in an attempt to rid the obsessive, anxious thoughts and feelings.
For me, stress has always played a huge factor in determining the severity of my OCD and at what point I suffer the most with it, therefore it stands to reason that if a child has a predisposition to develop OCD, then there are going to be a number of stressful moments in a child’s life that has the potential to kick start OCD. Of course this is my opinion but I’m pretty confident that I understand OCD well enough that I can link a number of stressful events in my daughter’s life that would have created considerable stress and feelings of loss of control.
There are the obvious milestones, starting school, starting secondary school, puberty etc. Then there are the unscheduled and unexpected turns which my daughter had to deal with from a very early age.
1, Almost losing a parent to meningitis. 2, The loss of a grandmother who she was so close to, she referred to her as her ‘Other mummy’. 3, Then there was the year her father and I separated, it was only for one year and then we rekindled, but it was a stressful event none the less.
My daughter developed an intrusive thought that she might accidentally injure or kill our two pet rabbits. Like all intrusive thoughts this was very distressing and made her question herself, she couldn’t understand why she was having such hideous thoughts and worried that it meant she wanted to hurt the rabbits, which she found abhorrent. She started to avoid contact and withdrew from them. This is a common characteristic of ‘Harm OCD’.
Watching her experience this period, let alone at such a young age was devastating, so I had to intervene and help the best I could, using my experience and skills developed during my OCD moments.
Firstly, I created an open door policy where my child can talk to me about anything at all including the details of her obsessions and compulsions. I listen and offer logical, supportive and kind words, she is free to say exactly what is on her mind without detriment or judgement.
It is so important that she isn’t made to feel embarrassed as this will only close the door and reinforce any feelings of shame and worries of being unusual. I tell her that admitting the illness to another person especially a family member is one stage closer to eradicating it.
Secondly, I talk a little about the pathology of OCD, but I don’t overdo it as she is still very young and I am not a doctor. I tell her it’s a ‘thought’ that gets stuck, I also reassure her that everybody at some point has intrusive, inappropriate thoughts, it’s human nature but the problem with we OCD sufferers is we struggle to release and forget without a second thought, unlike a person without OCD who can just dismiss an intrusive thought without a care.
A person with OCD tends to over analyse these thoughts and questions themselves. ‘Why am I having such a horrible thought? It must mean something. Maybe I’m a horrible person’. I then reassure her that the fact these intrusive thoughts make her feel so uncomfortable and distressed means that she would never do such a thing and that she is a good person.
Another technique we use is a focal point, a cuddly toy in fact, named Brainy! A plushy in the shape of a brain. When she can feel an OCD urge coming on she shouts at Brainy to go away and throws him, this seems to ease the stress building around her anxiety and it can more often than not calm it down.
Finally, when it comes to rituals that overrun her from time to time, we have slowly managed to reduce the urge to complete them. I explained that the more she gives into them the more the ritual and obsession will build a foundation in the brains pathways, but after a while if the rituals and thoughts are reduced down to eventually nothing then the pathway will become redundant. This is a technique I learned during my own Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I find that distractions and praise are a good way to intervene the reduce the urges.
This is how I have dealt with my child’s OCD, it’s not a perfect technique, but it is working and my daughter’s OCD has reduced significantly since we started to talk it all through. Only last week she said to me, that as soon as she talks it through with me now, she can let it go and her compulsions are reducing significantly, so we are making good progress.
I won’t become complacent though, OCD has a way of lying dormant and then suddenly springing into action when you least expect it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I would be really interested in hearing from anybody who has experience of a child with OCD and interested in what techniques you have used to help reduce their anxiety, compulsions and intrusive thoughts. I think the more information we share then the better chance we have of eradicating or at least minimalizing OCD, as well as developing the tools a child might need to control it before it advances to adulthood.
Unfortunately for me as a child, my parents used to look on in amusement when I was displaying signs and symptoms of OCD rather than intervening and offering support. I wish somebody had given me the chance to talk at the time, instead of going crazy all by myself. It wasn’t until I gave birth to my child and the OCD shit hit the fan, that I first got help.