What Living With OCD Is Like, in the Words of My 9-Year-Old Son


“I am 9 years old and I have OCD. It’s really hard for me to go to school because I’m afraid I will do something weird, like swear or spit my food on the ground and then put it back in my mouth. I don’t want to do that, but the OCD in my brain tries to make me do it, so I am always stressed out. When I get home, the same things happen. At night, I want to swear or do something that will get me scared — like look under my bed for monsters. If I have a cut or bruise, I want to hurt it worse. So, every day, all the time, I’m stressed out or in a bad mood.”

Those are the words of my son. He is an amazing kid: creative, energetic, friendly, kind and so many good things. But he is lonely. He is stressed. He feels like no one understands him. Last night, he told me he just wants a regular life, not ruled by OCD. My heart breaks for him because he feels helpless and that fighting OCD is too hard.

My son describes his school day like this:

9:00 a.m. — “Morning meeting: It’s fun but stressful because I’m afraid I will swear out loud or do something embarrassing in front of the class.”

9:30 a.m. — “Math: Stressful. I worry that I will make loud noises or write something inappropriate on the Smart Board or swear.”

10:30 a.m. — “Reading: More stress about swearing or making loud noises in the quiet classroom.”

11:10 a.m. — “Recess and lunch: I usually like recess, but sometimes I have urges to hurt myself. It’s good that it has been warm because my tongue won’t stick anymore if I put it on the metal poles. At the beginning of the school year, I couldn’t stop myself from looking directly at the sun. At lunch, I eat everything in bites of three and sometimes I ‘on purpose’ drop food on the floor and then feel the urge to eat it.”

12:00 — “Writing: This class is the worst. I like the teacher a lot, but the classroom is quiet and I’m still revved up from recess. I am stressed a lot because I have urges to swear or make loud noises or do other weird things, like tear up my paper.”

12:30 — “Specialists: Once a week, this is gym, and that is good. Sometimes I have urges to do weird things in gym, but not usually. The other classes — art, music and Spanish are stressful like the rest of the day.”

1:35 p.m. — “Social Studies and Science: Some days are OK, like when we are busy doing experiments or other tasks. Other days, when we have to work with partners or the room is quiet, I am really stressed about making loud noises or urges to drop things on the floor or do other weird things.”

2:30 p.m. — “Free Choice Time: This is the one time of day I feel relaxed. I can read or play, and the room isn’t so quiet so I don’t worry that other people will hear me or be watching me.”

3:30 p.m. — “The bus is OK, as long as I am not sitting by the emergency alarm. If I am, I have urges to pull it, so I have to try really hard not to.”

He added, “Also, whenever I walk down the hall, I have to touch my knees to the floor in counts of threes (right knee down, left knee down, right knee down). There are lots of other things, too — like urges to scribble on my paper, take things that aren’t mine or hurt myself. I got a bad bruise on my leg this week, and sometimes I feel like hitting it with a hammer. I know it will hurt, and I don’t want to do it, but my OCD brain tells me I should. I feel urges to do other things that are wrong or embarrassing, so it is really hard to tell people about it.”

My son wants me to share this because he wants other people to understand. He is exhausted with trying to beat OCD, but living in constant fear of being discovered makes it worse. He feels alone and wants to believe that, even with OCD, he is “OK.”

For those of you who understand OCD from your own experience, could you do my son a favor? Would you be willing to comment with encouraging words to let him know he is not alone, that there is hope and that his life does not have to be defined by OCD?

For those of you who don’t have OCD — thank you for reading this. No one without OCD can truly know how hard it is to fight an OCD urge or what it is like to hear a constant OCD voice and worry about acting on it. But if my son’s words give you a deeper understanding and empathy for those who live with it, will you let him know he has helped?

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