I connect with a lot of people who are suffering from the effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder. And I’m not just talking about those who have OCD. I’m talking about the people who love and care about those with this brain disorder. I can tell you from personal experience that it can be heartbreaking to watch your loved one disappear into the clutches of OCD.

Is there anything those of us without OCD can do aside from helplessly standing on the sidelines? Well, yes. We can learn as much as possible about OCD, including how not to accommodate our loved ones. We can do our own research, help them find proper treatment and support services, and advocate for those we love with the disorder. We can offer them unconditional love and support in appropriate ways so they know we care.

But perhaps one of the most beneficial things we can do doesn’t actually involve doing anything. Rather, just reminding our loved ones who are suffering that we know who they truly are can be incredibly uplifting. While their OCD might be so entrenched that they feel as if they have lost their true selves, they can find comfort in knowing we have not forgotten who they really are.

Thinking back on my own family’s journey, I can’t help but focus on my son Dan’s stay at a residential treatment center, and how my husband and I felt left out of all aspects of his care there. This, of course, brought up a host of concerns, perhaps none more troubling than the fact that the staff there really didn’t know our son. How could they? They met him in the worst condition of his life, consumed by obsessive-compulsive disorder, a shell of who he really was. They certainly knew how to treat OCD, but they didn’t know Dan.

As his parents we knew who he was before OCD took over — his goals, dreams and values. We knew the essence of Dan better than anyone, even better than Dan knew himself at that point. And maybe most important, Dan knew we would not rest until we did everything in our power to help bring him back to himself.

I often hear comments such as these from others: “I don’t recognize my son.” “My daughter used to (insert all wonderful things here) and now all she does is (insert negative things here).” “My wife was an awesome mom and now she won’t even go near our daughter.”

It is so difficult to watch those we love turn into people we don’t know. But, really, that’s not what’s happening. Our children, our spouses, our parents, are all still themselves; they are just buried under the mess of OCD. We need to keep reminding ourselves of this fact, and more importantly, remind them of it as well. We need to let our loved ones with OCD know that we know who they truly are, and that with proper treatment, they will be back.

Girl comforting friend photo available from Shutterstock