themighty logo

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

4:10 a.m.

The incessant, irritating, heartbreaking rhythm of obsessive compulsive disorderĀ (OCD)Ā 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 OCDĀ 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 Ā find help, please visit the International OCD Foundation’s OCD in Kids website.

If you or someone you know needs help,Ā please visit theĀ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach theĀ Crisis Text LineĀ by texting ā€œSTARTā€ to 741-741.Ā Head hereĀ 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 informationĀ here.