Our younger son, James, had always been a happy, confident youngster with an extrovert personality. His birthsign is Taurus and, true to form, he used to charge headfirst into things with tremendous exuberance!
After leaving college he went into a full-time job in the IT department of a large book wholesaler/distributor and my husband and I both assumed he was happy. How wrong can you be!
It turned out that not only was he worried about coping with the responsibility but also, the fact that he had failed his theory driving test twice by about three or four marks had left him feeling both depressed and cheated. One evening about four years ago, I went up to James' room as I hadn't seen him since his evening meal and on asking him if something was wrong, completely out of the blue he burst into tears. Coming from a 21 year old this was more than a little alarming. All his fears came tumbling out - his head felt as if it was going to explode, he thought he was going mad, he was scared of touching things in case he picked up germs or gave germs to someone else, a whole mix of emotions and worries.
We sat on my bed and talked for a long time (an hour or more I think) and I did my best to reassure him that he was NOT going mad, that he was far from being the only one with these thoughts and that he had in fact taken the first step to recovery by confiding in me. He listened to me but I knew that he needed to hear these things from a professional, someone whom he knew was not just trying to comfort him and someone whom he knew was speaking with real authority on the subject. I rang NHS Direct (a 24hour healthline available in the UK) and, fortunately, somebody agreed to speak to James and confirm everything I had said, but they obviously told him that he needed to speak to his own doctor the following day. This we did (together) and, to cut a very long story short, James eventually got the help he needed. We managed to obtain a place for him at a specialist residential unit in London where he received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on a regular basis over a period of nine weeks (it was originally a 6 week course, but his grandmother sadly died in the middle of his treatment (which did not help, of course) and luckily for us they extended the period of treatment.
James is still on medication even after all this time (albeit on a reduced dosage) and still has days when he appears mentally frail and vulnerable, but on the whole he is making progress. He has managed to do a part-time job in a shop for the past two years but works in the stock room, away from the general public, as he feels more comfortable in this scenario.
With hindsight, my husband and I should have realised that his habits were changing at the time he first became unwell - he stopped socialising as much as he used to and started spending more and more time in his room. He seemed to be spending far longer in the bathroom each time he went in there and that, of course, is when the repeated handwashing started, but we didn't know that at the time. His room was much untidier than it had ever been and THAT was when his phobia of bins began.
My message to parents is to watch out for all these signs that something is wrong - changes in behaviour, change in appetite, change in attitude to you, change in appearance, moodiness, complaints about headaches, unexplained lengthy washing sessions, depression. James' OCD crept up on us insidiously and it is a tremendous shock to suddenly realise how unhappy your son or daughter must have been for weeks or months. The most important thing in my experience as a parent of an OCD sufferer is to reassure them that they are NOT going mad, they are NOT alone, they WILL either get completely better or learn to cope with or control their condition and that you will help them every step of the way. Listen to them whenever they need you to, tell them you love them, congratulate them for each step they take towards control of their OCD and be prepared to fight for the help they need - in the UK it is notoriously difficult to get CBT (or at least it was when James needed it). Above all, DON'T PANIC! Attitudes towards mental health issues are slowly changing (not before time) and hopefully everyone will soon be able to access all types of medical help and find what suits them best.
Mrs Judith Wilson
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