One of the main reasons I write about my family’s experiences is to get the word out that obsessive-compulsive disorder, no matter how severe, is treatable. Stories of recovery can give hope to those with OCD and their families.
But what exactly does recovery mean? Obviously the answer to this question will vary from person to person. To us and our son Dan it meant not having to compromise the hopes and dreams he had before OCD took over his life. In other words, not letting OCD be in charge.
This was no easy task, and there were plenty of obstacles along the road to recovery. Because Dan’s almost life-long dream was to become an animator, we chose an intensive residential program for him to attend during the summer. That way, we were assured, Dan would be well enough to return to college that fall, and he could continue to pursue his dream.
But things didn’t happen quite as planned at the residential program. Though Dan was doing a great job fighting his OCD, thanks to his commitment to exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the staff at the program felt that the intense courses and stressful career path Dan had chosen was not a good option. Rather they thought he would be better off becoming an art teacher. And while there is nothing wrong with being an art teacher, it is a field that Dan had never shown even the slightest interest in exploring. Surprisingly, instead of Dan resisting their suggestion, he decided it might be a good idea. They were the experts after all, and because Dan was still dealing with a good-sized case of OCD, maybe he wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of going back to school at this point.
The problem here was that the staff at this program didn’t really know Dan. They knew everything there was to know about OCD and how to treat it, but they did not know my son. Not really. Their interactions with him took place over the worst nine weeks of his life, at which time they felt compelled to encourage him to change his life’s course.
My husband and I knew our son and what pursuing his dream really meant to him when he was well. So we kept the bar high. We told him we thought he should at least try to go back to school. We told him that, because of his perseverance and his commitment to treatment, we had complete faith that he would recover enough to be able to make his dreams a reality. We convinced him to speak with his advisor at school, as well as his therapist outside of the residential program, and they also kept the bar high for Dan. Their message was loud and clear: “If this is something you really want, then you can achieve it.”
I know that having OCD changes people’s lives. And sometimes it might be necessary for those with the disorder to take stock of their situation and alter some of their life’s goals. I believe these decisions should be made with thoughtful consideration over time, and not when you are in the throes of severe OCD. Options should be discussed with those who know and love the person with OCD the most. And while being realistic is important, I feel we should keep the bar high whenever possible. Because like hope, having dreams to follow can be a powerful incentive for recovery.