My Son’s Invisible Enemy Wakes Us Up at 4 A.M.

1, 2, 3, 4….thump, thump, thump. *Silence*

1, 2, 3, 4…slam, stomp, slam. *Silence*

It’s 4 a.m. Again. Every day 4 a.m.

He’s hopping again.

My dearest, handsome, brilliant 11-year-old boy is opening, closing, opening, closing doors. That damn grating of the metal doorknob twisting in yet another ritual that pierces my heart.

A mother anticipates and hopes that the next sound won’t come…

*SLAM* The toilet seat is next. Over and over again. *SLAM SLAM SLAM*

4:10 a.m.

The incessant, irritating, heartbreaking rhythm of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) jolts my son and the rest of our house awake before each sunrise.

*4 hops left foot* Just the left. *Go back. Go forward. Doorknob. SLAM*

I hear him sigh. The kind of sigh that comes with the incredible weight only he knows.

The invisible enemy comes again.

Despite the myths around OCD that popular culture implies or encourages, OCD is the worst nightmare our family has ever faced. It has stolen much from my son, from our life, from our “normal.” We grieve and we grope.

I would be a rich woman if I had a nickel for every time I have heard or read an OCD joke online or heard someone talk about it in passing.

Watching my son unable to walk in a straight line, or complete a handwriting assignment because he erases it once he finishes and is compelled to start all over, or watching him say, “I wish I were dead!” is no joke.

Watching him gag himself uncontrollably and cry in shame is no joke.

Hearing the desperate scream across our house, “Mom! Help me! I’m stuck!” physically gives me tremors.

We aren’t organizing colors over here. We are saving a life minute by minute.

Can you understand that? Can you understand this is a battle?

Trying to educate every person around him about the invisible battle he is fighting every day is sometimes more than I can bear.

Teachers, peers, people, passers-by…you can’t see anything but rituals.

But he is the same boy he was last year on the inside. He is the same embodiment of kindness. He is the same boy who encouraged your son. He is the same child who helped your kindergartner with reading. He is the same boy who served for a summer week in urban ministry.

Did you forget?

It feels so lonely because unless you’re living it, you don’t truly understand the grip of this three-lettered beast which calls forth four-letter words from my lips.

My beautiful boy is in crisis and needs you.

We are battle-scarred, but we move on. Each day in our own ritual toward hope and healing. I count blessings. Tiny ones. Miniscule ones. I speak them over him at night. I tell him he is adored and cherished.

We seek therapy and take medicine and pray and cry and collapse…

…and we rise again to the strange new rhythm of our life.

To learn more about OCD in children and  find help, please visit the International OCD Foundation’s OCD in Kids website.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Photo Series Offers Glimpse at the Private Lives of People With OCD

Photographer Dan Fenstermacher has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and after spending a great deal of time with other individuals living with the mental illness, he produced a photo series titled, “Overcoming Challenges Daily.” “I’ve had a lifelong experience with OCD ranging from skin picking, anxiety, depression, lock checking and repetitive hand gestures and motor tics,” Fenstermacher, who lives [...]

People With OCD Share Their Most Intrusive Compulsions

Obsessive compulsive disorder is an illness with a range of severity. From debilitating compulsions that keep people inside their homes, to intrusive thoughts and obsessions that can be more easily managed with treatment, it affects people in different ways and with different symptoms. What it’s not is a “quirk,” preference or something to be dismissed as [...]

15 New Year’s Resolutions From People With OCD

For those who live with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the illness can be a moment stealer. Whether it’s from performing compulsions or managing intrusive thoughts, completing tasks or staying in the moment can be difficult. But there’s hope for people who live with OCD, and the new year is a great time to talk about just that. [...]

All I Want for Christmas as Someone With OCD

I gave my mom a list of gifts I want (expect) for Christmas. It’s atypically short this year. I think that’s because what I actually want can be neither bought nor wrapped. Here’s what I actually want for Christmas this year: 1. To no longer be called lazy. I want you to know how hard [...]