Enabling, The Invisible Fence, Germaphobia

Caring for a child who has a severe mental illness is exceptionally difficult. Conducting daily life with a child suffering from OCD, who appears perfectly normal to the outside world but is plagued by behaviors which are illogical and debilitating, seen only by those closest, is nothing short of a seemingly hopeless task. The reality is, along with the child afflicted with OCD, it is the entire family, or the single parent, who gets mired up into the child’s irrational world. When it comes to different levels of enabling; where do you draw the line between maintaining any semblance of peace verses total chaos? What degree of enabling is acceptable?

My daughter of 12 has severe OCD with exceptionally debilitating germaphobia. Among other issues, as with many childhood OCD sufferers, she is morbidly germaphobic of her school. The rituals to rid herself of the germs supposedly obtained at school are simply horrid. She believes she and all related must be decontaminated after school every day. These rituals are seemingly endless, take hours to complete and cause her physical and emotional pain. However, any deviation from these rituals catapults her into a ostensibly eternal, stress induced frenzy. Having dealt with the myriad of her OCD symptoms since before the age of 4, I’ve learned the hard way that there are no simple answers to the “enabling” question. To add insult to injury she also has recovery avoidance which literally leaves me alone to fend for our lives. I am continuously seeking solutions for her recovery. The bottom line, however, is that I’m on my own, everyday, to make the “fence” decisions in an effort to grapple with her monstrous malady.

When is any level of enabling acceptable? Dealing with OCD is hard enough but doing so within the multifaceted phases involved with childhood and puberty can be an exceptionally discouraging endeavor. Childhood OCD is certainly unique in many ways from adult OCD. The invisible fence the adult must teeter, between whether to enable or not, is infinitesimally thin. However, my experience has proven, one side of this phantom fence allows for some modicum of enabling and the other side allows for none. I must say that I enable her the very least I feel possible at the particular time. However, my experience has proven if all enabling ceases, her grades plummet from A’s to F’s and inpatient psychiatric wards may well, again, be part of her immediate future. Conversely, while the other side of this illusive fence professes to not allow any accommodation to the OCD as it shall certainly propel the disease yet further into the deep chasm of the OCD inferno. The conundrum is simply that the middle of the fence seems to get more & more miniscule, and at times, appears non-existent.

Therefore, one must ask, is there a middle ground to enabling or is it simply an invisible fence I must teeter upon minute by minute?



Foremost, I am an OCD awareness, treatment and long-term recovery: advocate, spokesperson, consultant, supporter, and educator. I am the mother and sole provider of care for an amazingly smart, witty, charismatic, 13 year old daughter, Alexandra, who was severely debilitated by OCD. The apex of Alexandra’s journey to simply be like ‘normal’ people is marked by her recent, astonishing ascent from the subterranean bowels of OCD Hell she has inhabited for as long as she can remember, to becoming freed to, once again, walk alongside and among the “land of the living.” Over these past nine years and all the realizations I’ve made regarding the mental health system, its profession and providers, society’s stigmas, discrimination, accusations, insurance debacles and all else involved, I’ve been making belief, someone, someday will help my progressively declining child who’s Y-BOCS consistently remained between 34 and 40 for the past 6 whole years! Until this past April, she and I have been on an endless quest for proper treatment which would help to alleviate and, ultimately, release her from the incomprehensibly horrific, all-consuming, self-harming, isolated purgatory from which she was ever-increasingly, perpetually trapped by her obsessions and rituals. Earlier this year, our seemingly last hope for help was to be an extended stay at Rogers Memorial but after months of fighting with her 2 insurance companies over denying coverage for admittance, I was at my wits end, again! Having immersed myself into the global OCD community for many years seeking help, advice, guidance, etc., I came across a post seeking beta study participants using an app for ERP. Immediately, I applied for my daughter. The director/doctor was very hesitant as Alex’s OCD was so extreme. However, with a lot of persuasion, a remarkably wise and kind doctor, as well as, an enormous ‘leap of faith,’ we began using the app from LiveOCDFree. She has been diligently working with the Live OCD Free app for the past 3 months. During this short time, with much hard work and determination, she has achieved remarkable progress against her, previously omnipresent, OCD symptoms! Her OCD had forced her into seclusion, isolation, and painful 4+ hour ritualistic decontamination showers and had even left her unable to touch or breathe the air of those she loves. Remarkably, Alexandra can now walk anywhere and touch almost everything freely. She can hug and spend time with loved-ones and friends without decontaminating. Ali’s showers are now only 25-minutes and do not involve any painful rituals. She continues to work to conquer her remaining OCD issues and anticipates, in time, a full recovery from the OCD which has plagued her since the age of four. Alexandra, and I, want nothing more than to lead a revolution against this insidious, debilitating monster we call OCD! To help others see how much hope there is with proper treatment, she and I are documenting her OCD recovery process and history through Facebook.com/ LiveOCDFree, Twitter: LiveOCDFree, YouTube.com/LiveOCDFree, OCDKids.wordpress.com and LiveOCDFree.com. Please, join and /or follow her journey so you can be aware of OCD, too. View all posts by LISA DOUGLAS

2 responses to “Enabling, The Invisible Fence, Germaphobia

  • ocdtalk

    You ask some excellent questions and there are certainly no easy answers, especially when you are dealing with a child who has RA also. I realize now how much “easier” we had it, when our son Dan would actually let us know when we were inadvertently enabling him. As you say, you know your child, and you know what her limits are……thanks for a great post!

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