If I must boast , I will boast in the things that show my weakness (2 Corinthians 11: 30)
I like to look for the gift attached to every disability and limitation, believing it will be a path to holiness. I’ve never liked professional labels because the reaction is often, “Oh, that explains everything”. Finding a diagnosis seems to say, “Now we can pinpoint a dysfunction, we can give the medication needed to make it seemingly go away”. However, labels do not get to the root of the problem. In fact, we all have limitations and our dysfunction are not only a difficulty but also a source of blessing
My Son Was Too Easy To Care For
When my middle child was born he was so much easier to care for than expected. He slept through the night even at the hospital. For his first two years nothing at all disturbed him. He never cried, nursed like a champ, slept peacefully for every nap, and always awoke with a smile. He began to speak a bit late but was always trying to sing. On one occasion a woman followed us all through the grocery store until she could catch up to the sound of his delightful little voice which had been chanting the same tune over and over again.
After the age of two, it became apparent that he really never cared to make friends. Being completely content on his own and very focused on running in the breeze with the sun on his face seemed enough for him. When he went to pre-school, his teacher never made him sit with the other kids when in a group. The problem they said was in his speech, and they began a series of testing along with a new speech therapist every couple of months. None of them helped but we did learn he was very good at memorization and his art was advanced for his age.
Frustrated with his Education
Frustrated with his education and realizing that a teacher with 25 students just didn’t have the time to hone in on my son prompted me to start homeschooling. This was a blessing. I was able to pick good books with wonderful illustrations which would attract the artist in him and encourage reading skills. Another perk was allowing him to draw on his school work. The harder the math lesson, the more visual the graphics between each problem.
Attempting to broaden my skills in coping with his struggles, I picked up a book by Thomas G. West titled, ‘In the Minds Eye: Creative Visual Thinkers, Gifted Dyslexics, and the Rise of Visual Technologies.’ As I read about amazing people in history who were very bright and gifted, I also learned about their hardships and the connection between the ‘label’ and the gift.
Applying this knowledge to our son’s education, we encouraged him to communicate through his artwork. The strategy worked for many years but came to a screeching halt last year. It was time to speak about the label in a way I had been avoiding for so very long.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
About a year ago I began to notice a few online articles about OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Reading these articles intrigued me. Beginning to find parallels in the symptoms described in my son and even with my own life was both scary and hopeful. Having OCD is like having a thought on a race track with no off-ramp. It wasn’t until one night a year ago, when our son came to us, frightened by his own thoughts, that we knew it was more than we could handle on our own.
A quickly scheduled doctors appointment confirmed the OCD but neither we nor our son was willing to just medicate the symptoms away. A blood panel told us that he scored very low on vitamin D. This is not surprising as his artwork kept him inside more than the typical teen. Low levels of this vitamin can also bring on depression and exacerbate the problem. With this in mind, we opted for taking vitamins and also key minerals that are often out of balance for sufferers of OCD.
This did ease the symptoms but only to the point of feeling he was no longer drowning. Within six weeks it was time to consider a low dose medication. The combination of the supplements and meds became a really great balance. But are these the only solutions to how our minds work? The real answers will help him flourish physically, psychologically, and spiritually as well.
Many people who suffer from OCD become scrupulous, especially when their faith is of utmost importance to them. Finding good spiritual direction is a must and good confessors who realize the compulsion to go to the Sacrament of Penance every day (sometimes twice in a day) is very real and restraint needs to be encouraged. Great counselling is also a must but secular services cannot properly treat the soul that is suffering.
Our prayers on this front were answered through a counselling service called Pastoral Solutions Institute. This service has Catholic counselors from all over the states that work with you over the phone, making it much easier for those of us who want to find a truly good service that adheres to our faith and the magisterium. There are other similar services that are as good, and finding what fits for you or your child is most important.
The Gift of OCD
What of the joys of OCD? As we’ve learned to find that ‘off-ramp’ for the repeating thoughts and let them coast away, we’ve been able to see clearly the fruits of being so focused on what is good, beautiful, and holy. Having learned about myself in the process, I know I learn new music easily as it plays over and over again in mind, even while sleeping. My son’s questions about life: what is mercy, or friendship, have come to life in his filmmaking and editing. In addition to film, he also has plenty of hands-on projects that keep his mind busy. Nothing in the house is safe. His recent project has been to study and create his own chain mail utilizing leather scraps, mixing bowls, and sheet metal. Every link turned, cut, and linked by hand.
Knowing even good stress can make our OCD peak helps to deal with irrational fears and grow through the process. God is with us and hasn’t abandoned us to the dysfunction; if we allow Him, He will make us holy through the struggle.
Recently, our son flew to Oxford, England to film for a documentary on J.R.R. Tolkien, focusing on the topic of authentic friendship. He overcame much on the trip, including laying down on Tolkien’s grave an item of importance to him. It was a St. Benedict crucifix which he has carried in his pocket for about 1/2 a year, maybe more, when the OCD was still strong. The cross gave him comfort in anxious moments, and yet there, at the gravesite our son was able to lay down a bit of his burden.
Then, on his last day in England, he missed his flight due to an illness and spent a night alone in his hotel, thinking of all that could go wrong. As he awoke for his flight, knowing he’d need to navigate his way there, through customs and all on his own, I told him that NOW was a good time for his OCD to kick in. Now it was okay to make sure again and again that he was in the right taxi, dropped at the correct airline, and checked in on the right plane.
It’s easy to want to protect our loved ones who suffer from OCD. Yet we must help them through the struggle or they will be captive of their own minds, not knowing what is true, and never knowing the potential God wants to unleash. This is my son’s and the whole family’s path to holiness. I pray for any problem we may encounter to be something we go through with the Lord at our side, to come out the end of the tunnel and into the light.
Below is an example of my son’s film work, filmed when he was just 16-17 years old. This documentary (his first film) aired on EWTN this past January. Did we pray for this thorn in the side to be taken from us? I admit we did, but seeing the beauty of what can be, by going through the struggle, is something for which I am eternally grateful. His grace truly is sufficient.