What I Wish You Knew About My Son With OCD


Every few months, a post along the lines of “You Know You Have OCD If…” makes its way around Facebook. The mention things like: If you don’t like an off center bathroom tile. If a crooked picture bothers you. If leaving 17 seconds on the microwave timer at work upsets you.

My son has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and it is nothing like that. OCD is not all about hand-washing and counting (although it can be). My son has a type of OCD that is obsession-based, rather than compulsion-based.

Here’s what I wish you knew about him:

1. He is not throwing a tantrum because he can’t get his way; he can’t handle his emotions when his thoughts don’t match reality.

2. He is not touching everything in the checkout line to be annoying; he is over-stimulated by the sounds and sights and is grounding himself to calm his mind.

3. He asks the same questions over and over not because he forgets the answer; he wants to be reassured that nothing has changed.

4. He’s not covering his ears to ignore you; he can’t handle loud noises that deregulate him.

5. He apologizes repeatedly so he can truly believe that you’re not mad at him.

6. He paces, sometimes, when he’s overwhelmed.

7. If something on his body doesn’t feel right, he can’t “just calm down” about it.  If his body feels badly, then so does his mind.

8. He won’t turn in his homework unless he’s sure it’s perfect. He can’t abide mistakes.

9. He likes having scripts. He likes having the same answers given to the same questions.

10. He can’t control his thoughts sometimes. He gets intrusive ideas or images that upset him so much that he doesn’t like talking about them.

11. He thinks about violence or blood or bad things that might happen. He doesn’t understand that a thought is just a thought.

12. But more than any of these things, I want you to know that he’s funny and kind and smart and sensitive and happy. He is happy. He loves to play and he loves his sister and he loves “Star Wars” and exploring nature.

Just like any of us, his illness does not define him. It never will. It creates challenges for him that, as his mother, I wish I could take away. I will never stop wanting his world to be just a little bit easier. But I would never change who he is.

When I hear people throw around the term OCD as if it’s a joke, it hurts me. It hurts my family. It’s not a persnickety personality or a hyper-organized person. It’s a mental illness and we should talk about it as such.

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Unsplash photo via Jordan Whitt


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