When my husband and I first became parents over 21 years ago, we felt incredibly blessed to have a happy, healthy, cherubic baby with 10 toes and 10 fingers and a very hearty wail. From all aspects, our child appeared to be "normal." (Please be advised that I use the word "normal" in the most sensitive way possible.) However, parenting is fraught full of surprises and unexpected twists. One of the scariest and darkest twists for us as parents was when our daughter was medically diagnosed with OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
In retrospect, the warning signs were apparent when our daughter was nine years old; however, it wasn't until she was 15 and a sophomore in high school that our happy, clever, and artistic daughter had an alarming downward spiral. Literally overnight her grades plummeted from A's to F's. She began to exhibit moody and rigidly stubborn behavior that was more pronounced than her norm. Her hands were chapped and raw from constant washing. She shut herself off from her two younger sisters and would stay in her room except to eat. Mentally she was shutting down, severely depressed, and unable to control her thoughts and behavior. My husband and I were scared, puzzled, and frustrated. What was happening to our beautiful daughter?
Fortunately, I had a hunch. It was based on my own realization that I used to have obsessive and compulsive tendencies as a child. I used to worry about being picked up on time after school or that my father wouldn't come home safe and sound from work unless I performed certain rituals every day. Somehow I worked through those tendencies and my obsessive worry soon relented. Perhaps my over-worrying wasn't true OCD but rather normal human behavior that many people have resulting in a persistent, nagging feeling similar to where you think you left the iron on or the front door unlocked before leaving the house causing you to turn around and double check.
But OCD is different. It is a true physical and mental disorder of the brain. In a nutshell, OCD is caused when the person's serotonin level is imbalanced. Serotonin is a neurochemical in the brain that is responsible for carrying messages from one neuron to another via the synapses. People with OCD have lower levels of serotonin than those without. OCD is paralyzing and can manifest itself in varying degrees of anxiety, compulsion, and depression. For instance someone with OCD wouldn't just go back and check once if the iron was left on; they would repeatedly go back home multiple times, even though they knew the iron was shut off and unplugged. They are physically unable to stop those irrational thoughts.
OCD is not a condition that is rational or logical. It defies common sense. For families who have a member with OCD, it can become a huge source of contention because it's hard to relate to, especially for practical-minded people. There are no associated physical characteristics that give it credence like someone who has Parkinson's disease or Multiple Sclerosis, and yet, it is a real physical disorder perceptible only in 'abnormal' behavior and at the microscopic level.
As parents, my husband and I struggled for answers and treatment after my daughter was diagnosed. We felt isolated, because OCD carries such a negative weight like depression or bi-polar disorders. But our daughter's depression was agonizing. We sought help from numerous psychologists, eventually walking away from each one because they all lacked for answers or cures. Finally in a desperate measure, we decided to see a psychiatrist. Unlike most psychologists who have a PhD, psychiatrists are MDs and can prescribe medication. Our daughter was falling deeper into depression, behavioral therapy wasn't working, and her symptoms were getting worse. But would medication have side affects or become addicting?
Together with our new doctor, we carefully mapped out a course of action and decided to try a low dose of a medication that increases the activity and levels of specific chemicals in the brain. Within days it was working; our daughter's brain synapses were back in business. She's been highly functioning ever since.
It's been over six years since our OCD journey began. The OCD is always perceptible to my maternal-trained eye. But after a deeply dark time, I am thrilled to say the silver lining illuminates on our talented daughter who is an honor student in college, born with a gift in music and art. Today she is well on her path in her chosen field in Illustration & Animation.
Recently, my family saw the movie "Silver Linings Playbook" directed by David O. Russell. It took a page straight out of our own playbook with OCD. Speaking as a family who has lived with OCD for six years, we want to be sure our experience can help others living with this condition. We know that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel and sometimes that light is even brighter than you can ever imagine.
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Tina Case is part of the Yahoo! Shine Parenting Guru team that writes about their personal parenting experiences. You can find more from Tina on her personal blogs at Parent Grapevine and Moms Who Click.