My 9-year-old has never tried to hide the fact that she has obsessive-compulsive disorder — and I’m not going to either. She was 7 years old when she started having terrifying intrusive thoughts. Then, one summer afternoon, she came to me with tears in her eyes and confessed that she was poking herself with push pins because she hated herself.
My daughter was experiencing sudden-onset pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder.
According to the International OCD Foundation, about 1 in every 200 kids has the disorder, which is roughly the same number of children who have diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control reports that as many as one in five kids have a mental illness.
There is a mantle of shame that comes with a diagnosis like my daughter’s. We’re conditioned to believe people who suffer from diseases like hers are defective, bad, crazy.
The stigma is real. It is a heavy burden and I won’t shut up about how my kid has OCD because I refuse to let her get painted with the crazy brush. My child is not crazy. My child has a brain that works differently than yours or mine, and my husband and I are forced to work within a broken medical system to get her the treatment that she needs.
The ability to find and get good treatment for mental illness is difficult enough if you are an affluent adult and have easy access to excellent facilities. My family has crappy medical insurance, one income and we live in a small, rural city in the Midwest. When our daughter started suffering from OCD, we had very few options for help. Psychiatrists who specialize in treating kids are few and far between.
That’s why I will never shut up about how my kid has OCD. If I don’t talk about it, if I don’t teach her how to talk about it, the shame and the stigma will never go away and the system will never, ever get fixed.
As a writer with a public forum, it is my responsibility to tell you that kids who have mental illnesses need help, and so do their families. Don’t think I haven’t shared this with my daughter — she and I talk regularly about how we want to make it easier for other kids like her to navigate the world.
Last year, she wrote this for a school essay assignment, which she titled “Monsters.”
“Are you afraid of monsters? I have one of my own. My monster is OCD. But I can shrink him and here are the steps. I breathe deeply. Then I find out what’s making me worry. Afterwards I deny the reason. Finally, I tell my mom and it makes me feel better. My monster is not gone, but it got a lot better. And I hope other people with OCD succeed in shrinking it, too.”
I was never more proud of her than I was at that moment. She understands that it’s right and good to share this part of her with the world, and I will never tell her to stop doing it.
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Updated by Bethany Ramos on 4/13/2016