Talking with Young Adults About OCD
Many adults with OCD can clearly trace the beginnings of their symptoms back to childhood. Recalling feelings of shame, isolation and fear, adult sufferers say they wish someone had taken the time to sit and talk with them about their odd behavior, instead of criticizing them for it. Children are aware that they are doing things other kids their age aren’t. In fact, they are dreadfully self-conscious of this. They are afraid of telling a parent (or any authority figure) about dressing routines, brushing teeth a certain number of times, weird and crazy thoughts about God or hurting people, “germs” on the desk at school, crossing “t’s” just right, shooting the basketball until a “good” thought replaces a “bad” thought. Kids, adolescents and adults try very hard to hide the compulsive behaviors out of fear that if anyone knew: “They’d lock me up.” “They’d know I am really crazy.” “They’d take me away.” Unaware of psychiatric treatment, children assume there is something intrinsically wrong with them that cannot be corrected. They also, like adults, think they might be the only one alive to be this way.
An anecdotal note from an OCD sufferer who is now 34 highlights the issues often faced as a child with OCD. This woman recalls great emotional pain as a child afflicted with aggressive obsessions (worrying she somehow hurt someone). The worst part she says was keeping all of her fears in, because her parents expected her to “snap out of it” and “pull it together.” She strongly asserts, as do others, that parents should open the door for discussion when they suspect something is troubling their child. Making an attempt to connect with the child on an emotional level, offers them an opportunity to respond; it’s like extending a hand. Children need to be given some framework to understand what is happening to them. Sometimes they don’t have the ability to explain unless an adult offers some possibilities. With relief a child may say, “Wow! That is exactly what happens to me. . .how did you know?” This phenomenon is not exclusive to children. It occurs at any age when one feels desperately alone in their experience only to find out someone else feels the same way or understands.