Thursday, May 26, 2005

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

We've all heard stories about people with OCD. They're the ones who have to have EVERYTHING just so. They have to vacuum their carpet until it wears out prematurely, they go back into their homes 20 or 30 times to make SURE the coffee maker is unplugged, they repeatedly wash their hands until they bleed. They also have obsessive thoughts about germs, crime, the weather and many other things.

Z has co-morbid OCD. It's never really bothered us too much, mostly because we didn't realize that a lot of his quirky behaviors were a result of OCD. Z's obsession with tornadoes and thunderstorms seemed like a normal childish fear when it started. Now it's become a full blown obsession, that takes over his life every time the rain clouds roll in.

Another quirk, that started several years ago, was the state of Z's room. Z's always been a packrat and can't bear to part with ANYTHING he's ever owned! This includes packaging from toys, deflated balloons, and toys that he's had since he was 2. When he was younger, we used to sneak things out of his room and put them in a box in our shed. If he didn't miss any of these things after a few weeks; we could safely dispose of them. When he got older we made Z responsible for cleaning out his room. We'd send him in there to clean on weekends. His possessions would get rearranged, but nothing ever got cleared out. We didn't realize what a huge problem this was for him until last fall. His room had reached the point where you couldn't walk through it. We knew that we had to get some order in Z's life before school started. It took the 3 of us 2 weeks to clear out and organize Z's room! We set up a 4 bin system: one for garbage, one for items to be donated to charity, one for items to keep, and one for the few items he wanted to save for his future family. This turned out to be a real ordeal! If left to his own devices, Z would have put everything in the keep and save bins, even the garbage. I had to throw away a pair of outgrown Pokemon bedroom slippers 3 times! Z kept sneaking them out of the garbage and back into his room.

About this time, our daughter, S, saw a TV show on hoarders. She told us that it's an OCD behavior. Apparently it gives people like Z comfort to be surrounded by everything they've ever owned. Just our luck; we couldn't have a compulsively neat OCD kid. We had to have Mr. Mess!

Compulsive shopping was another biggie with Z. When he was a toddler we couldn't get out of the store without Z buying something, even if it was only a trinket out of one of the vending machines. He didn't have the normal bratty child behavior, where he would scream until he'd get what he wanted. He would have a panic attack and become extremely agitated. As he got older we started paying Z for chores and made him spend his own money. This system has worked very well. He still shops a lot, especially online. He has 4 pages of bookmarked "want to buys". Most of the time he'll buy the first thing that he has enough money for, whether he really wants it or not. But, occassionally, he'll save up for something that he actually uses. We hope that these "baby steps" will lead to the point where he can responsibly handle his financesm when he's grown up.

The only "clean" OCD behavior Z has, involves the kitchen table at mealtime. It revolts Z to have even 1 drop of food spilled on the table. Anything spilled MUST be cleaned up IMMEDIATELY with a clean napkin! He also has a fit if food goes past the eating surface of his silverware and touches the handle. Again, he has to have a clean napkin to clean the handle. Either that or the offending cutlery goes to the dishwasher and Z gets a clean fork or spoon out of the drawer. Finger licking, at the table, is a no-no at our house too.

In researching OCD, I learned that only 20% of the behaviors are cured with medication alone. Behavioral therapy using exposure and ritual prevention is what is most successful. Anxiety subsides if the person is overexposed long enough, to the object of their obsession AND prevented from doing the ritual associated with this obsession.

We have been implementing this method when Z exhibits his OCD behaviors and have been noticing improvements here and there. On our journey, we've learned not to expect overnight miracles. Just like any kid his age, Z has a lot of maturing to do. Overcoming a few minor handicaps just makes the journey a little rockier for him. We can handle this.


At 5/27/2005 1:59 PM, Blogger Miss Cow is a Cow said...

Hello via Michele's meet and greet!!!!

At 5/27/2005 2:20 PM, Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Good luck with this. I know a lot of kids with OCD lite and a few with it full-blown. (I used to
coach football and baseball and you really get to know kids through coaching).

At 5/27/2005 2:46 PM, Blogger tshsmom said...

Thanks man!
It can be overwhelming, at times, having to deal with all the other disorders that are rolled into TS. We're lucky that Z's behavior problems aren't too severe. We just deal with it, as it comes.

At 5/27/2005 3:42 PM, Blogger Shane said...

It's all interesting stuff. The 20% medication success stat re OCD doesn't surprise me. The context within which we recognise OCD as OCD is social, thus it stands to reason that the handling of this should be socially-rooted (or behavioural). That said, I am generally cynical and sceptical about what it is that such meds are actually acting on.

Wishing you all the very best.

At 5/27/2005 4:04 PM, Blogger Laura said...

Most of the OCD meds are anti-anxiety related meds. So they don't treat the disorder per-se, but they treat the person's ability to be able to control the anxiety caused by certain situations. Thus, paving the way to desensitize the person behaviorally to situations that cause the anxiety. Though I doubt most practitioners use a multi-pronged approach anymore. No psych disorder should be treated with meds alone. I've always been of the mind that something is only a "disorder" if it interferes with the persons quality of life. Sometimes OCD does, and sometimes it doesn't. Good luck though.

At 5/27/2005 4:52 PM, Anonymous ann said...

One of my brothers was recently diagnosed (at 44!) with OCD. When we were kids, we all knew that there something going on, but it's finally being properly treated. He says that therapy and medication is helping him, but I can still see that he struggles with it. I wish you my heartfelt best. Ann

At 5/27/2005 5:09 PM, Blogger tshsmom said...

Thanks Ann!
Isn't it amazing how we work our way around these weird little behaviors until that "lightbulb moment", when we realize what's actually causing them?

At 5/28/2005 2:26 AM, Anonymous Sagepaper said...

Z wouldn't take to one of my hobbies right-off. I am A SkyWarn Storm Spotter, certified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I do have an off-beat idea for his weather phobia, though. Perhaps he should take a NOAA spotting course. It would be a nice addition to his home schooling. Also, ignorance tends to foster fear. If he knew for sure which cloud formations to watch for, and what is and is not threatening weather, he might feel more at ease. He could use his local weather statistics and his training to step out, or look out, and assess for himself what the conditions are.

Of course, if he ever did see threatening weather, he might become alarmed. If, however, he knows what to do under those circumstances, he could be a real life-saver for your family. Storm spotters' warnings often come several minutes before radar warnings -- life-saving time. That is why the National Weather Service relies on professionally trained spotters.

I sympathize with his attachment to belongings. I grew to an age when it was no longer possible for me to keep everything. I was mostly limited to the top-drawer of my dresser for things that were too important to let go.

My choice of items would have made little sense to most people. For example, I kept a scrap of leather from some stranger's roller skate that I found in a parking lot. It was important because of its personality. Somehow, it belonged with me, or I would not have noticed it "calling out" to me.

To me, everything seems to have its own spirit and personality. Some things resonate strongly with me, others do not. When it is time for an object and me to part ways, I often spend a little time communing with it, sort of "talking" with it.

I can usually keep from hurting its feelings that way. In fact, I sometimes let go something I like because it seems anxious to leave. In that case, the farewell communion is more for my benefit than for the object's.

Perhaps allowing Z some ritual time with things he is sorting would help. It takes longer, but in the end there is greater peace of spirit, and less anger at others. Disregard all of this, of course, if it is incompatible with your family's beliefs. As an aside, I do not believe my view of objects constitutes idolatry. I don't worship things, but I respect them.

At 5/28/2005 6:50 AM, Blogger tshsmom said...

Thanks once again for your wonderful insight! You're really becoming Z's "guardian angel"! As Z is a teen AND a male, he often won't open up about how he actually feels about these issues. This makes it really hard to help him.
Your SkyWarn suggestion is excellent, and what we have been doing for several years. My Dad worked for NOAA for 40 yrs and he and I are BOTH official spotters. The NWS actually calls US when the weather is iffy. Z is very knowledgeable about weather patterns and what cloud formations to look for. The only problem is, he constantly watches the sky on EVERY cloudy day! Grandpa and I are now trying to get Z to see the beauty in bad weather, by taking him outside to revel in it. So far he just thinks we're crazy. We're also trying to show him that the statistics are against a tornado hitting exactly where Z is. We're hoping with age, Z will realize that the statistics are with him.
I will have Z read your comments on possessions. Even if his feelings aren't exactly the same, maybe this will prompt him to "open up" about his feelings on this subject. This definitely would explain his attachment to his Pokemon slippers! Right now we have to negotiate over EVERY item we try to weed out of his room, so your way actually wouldn't take any more time than this.
Thanks so much for sharing your time with us. We really appreciate it!!

At 5/28/2005 8:51 PM, Blogger SME said...

I'm not much better. You should see the videos I've saved because "I already know it by heart, but I may want to watch it again when I'm elderly."

At 5/30/2005 1:13 AM, Anonymous Sagepaper said...

Was your Dad a Commissioned Officer? I'm one of few people who knows that NOAA is one of the seven uniformed services. I know that because my Dad is a retired 06 from the US Public Health Service. I was a service brat, but of a different sort from most military brats.

At 5/30/2005 9:03 AM, Blogger tshsmom said...

My Dad worked for the NWS, which is a part of NOAA. He started working for the NWS while he was in the Army. He got out of the Army when I was 2, so I wasn't a "service brat" for long.


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