OCD and Teen’s PrivacyPosted by Phil Cardenas on Aug 01, 2013
by Janet Singer
When my son Dan diagnosed himself with OCD at the age of seventeen, he came to me and my husband for help. We brought him to our local pediatrician who confirmed the diagnosis and referred him to a local therapist (who we later found out knew nothing about treating OCD, but that story is for a different post).
Dan never shared details of his OCD with us. We knew little to nothing about his obsessions, and because the majority of his compulsions were mental, we knew almost nothing about them either. As I began to educate myself about obsessive-compulsive disorder, I’d often wonder what he was thinking and why. But Dan wanted his privacy, and while we respected that, we also desperately wanted details so we could try to make sense of what was happening. We thought if we could understand him then we could help him.
I now realize the details of Dan’s OCD were never important. Knowing the particulars of what was going on in his mind would not help us make sense of his OCD, because OCD just doesn’t make sense. What was important was that we respected his privacy and provided him with access to proper therapy. As much as we, like any parents, wanted to shield him from harm and make everything okay, we couldn’t. This was his battle to fight and for him to win it, he had to do it on his own.
Sure, there were things we could do assist him, but most of these involved staying out of his way. We didn’t hover over him, asking him if this or that was related to his OCD. We didn’t ask why he seemed to be making little to no progress at times, and we didn’t comment when some new obsession or compulsion seemed to appear out of nowhere. We basically tried to ignore his OCD, though of course we weren’t always successful. There were times we messed up, as when we would inadvertently enable him. Dan often pointed out our mistakes to us, especially if we were treating him in any way that might negatively affect his progress.
Surprisingly, once Dan was on the road to recovery, the issue of privacy became more complicated. Because he wasn’t continually under our watchful eyes, I worried about him more. Was he eating? Was he taking his medications? Was he keeping his therapy appointments? Was his OCD flaring up? While it was easy to grant him privacy when he lived with us, it was harder to do when he went back to living in a college dorm. Now I was the one looking for reassurance, asking him if he was okay way too many times. And when he’d answer me, I’d wonder if he was telling the truth or if it was his OCD talking. My usually mild-mannered son was annoyed and frustrated by my behavior and rightly so. He insisted on his privacy.
What I needed to do, and what I eventually learned to do, was to trust my son. This trust was well deserved as he continued to be motivated to fight his OCD. I found the more I respected Dan’s privacy, the more he was actually willing to include me, because he was doing it on his own terms. While he still didn’t share details of his disorder, he shared details of his life. What more could we have asked for?
Dealing with OCD during the teenage years can be devastating. Adolescence is typically a time of growing autonomy, and young people often distance themselves from their families in an attempt to exert their independence. This period of development, even without OCD, is often plagued by turmoil. Add OCD into the mix, and it can be a very difficult time for the whole family. Teenagers want freedom, and that is exactly what OCD steals from them. They are prisoners in their own lives.
We were fortunate that Dan was always on board with ERP Therapy. For those teens who refuse treatment, there are additional issues. In these situations, I believe it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open. Families should continue to offer their love and support, without enabling the OCD sufferer.
Being a teenager with OCD is definitely not easy. In fact, being anyone with OCD is not easy. No matter what stage of life OCD sufferers might be in, they should be entitled to the same respect, consideration and basic rights that we all deserve.
Janet Singer, an advocate for OCD awareness, is published regularly on various mental health web sites. She explores all topics related to OCD and shares what helped and what hurt in her son Dan’s recovery from this devastating disorder. While there were many lessons learned along the way, Janet feels the most powerful one of all is that there is always hope. She is committed to getting the word out that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. You can read more about Dan’s story and follow her personal blog at: www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com. Janet uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy.