WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Commentary: 2,3,4…

Nov 1, 2019

I learned the word "comorbid" when my oldest son was evaluated at the SIU behavioral health center in Springfield. I was told by the mental health professional that, "The brain is a complicated thing with no black and white borders, and there is almost always more than one medical condition existing independently."  Comorbidity.  My oldest son's primary diagnosis is Tourette's Syndrome, and it is accompanied by OCD -- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

A typical day in the parent pick-up line sounded like this:

“Two three four,” blink blink blink the right eye, blink blink on the left, tap tap tap tap the big toe, Relax…

The next day… “here it comes, here it comes, here it comes!”

“Two three four,” blink blink blink the right eye, blink blink on the left tap tap tap tap the big toe, Relax…

The next day….”here it comes, here it comes, here it comes!”

“Two three four,” blink blink blink the right eye blink blink on the left, tap tap tap tap the big toe, Relax…

That’s what happened in the car as my son would read the time off the digital clock at 2:34 in the afternoon when I picked him up from school.

Every day. Because of his OCD.

One day, I admit it,  I was cruel… I covered up the clock with my thumb. His little brother was wide-eyed in the back seat, leaning over, waiting, just waiting to see what would happen next.  My oldest son got in the car and immediately saw what I was up to. He tried to pry my thumb out of the way of the digital clock. We both struggled. He’d gotten big, but I was still able to hold my thumb on the clock.  I reached with my other hand and tried to tickle him, to distract him,  we both started giggling, and the minute passed. He didn’t get to say it.

He found out he was ok, that we were ok. We had a good laugh about it and drove away.

Later, in that same day, after running some errands, we are in the fast food lane of the McDonalds, patiently waiting our turn, bored. I look around at my oldest son who is staring intently at the dashboard, and in a moment I realize what he is so focused on, and before I can do anything, he says, “four five six,” and everyone else in the car screams, “AHHHH!”

Over the years there have been some very interesting compulsions we have had to help my oldest son change because they were detrimental to his health. He had a compulsion to stare at bright lights, including the sun, because it made him sneeze and he liked that sensation. At one time he tapped his toes so much in his shoes, his shoes became a bloody mess, and it caused him to be on antibiotics for almost a year to avoid infections.

Today my son is a scientist, and literally travels around the world for his work. I’ve often wondered how the passengers seated next to him on the long flights to places like Vietnam cope with him and his constant fidgeting. His body never stops. 

One of the many obsessions to come from his OCD is his hobby of drumming.  He drums all over his body almost all his waking hours. He not only writes drum music, but he sometimes teaches drums to local high school students where he lives. I love to hear his stories of kids he teaches that have special needs, like his. It makes me very proud.

I wanted to share my son’s story because I have noticed when being around other women, especially in the workplace, they love to say they have OCD. It’s something that I find disturbing. I feel I could write a stand-up routine about how women love to talk about their OCD tendencies.

“I’m so OCD.  My OCD is so bad that I have to separate all the paper plates out of the package ‘cause it drives me crazy that they stick together.”

“You do that too! Oh, that’s one of my pet peeves.  Or how ‘bout when people let their dogs poop in public and don’t pick it up, oh, that drives me nuts, I just have to go pick it up, walk over and hand it to them and say, ‘You forgot something.’”

Ok, I know those are exaggerations, but I bet you know what I’m talking about.

I’ve wondered what people get out of saying they’re OCD. I’ve also wondered if it’s akin to male machismo, but for women. Sometimes when I’ve heard women say, “I’m sorry, I have to fix that, I’m so OCD, ” it sounds like a brag.  It’s like they’re apologizing for being Mary Poppins… practically perfect in every way. And they “Just can’t help it.”

I have seen women use the OCD cliché to control situations and subtly bully the other women in the room.  Just watch the non-verbal communication in a room the next time you hear someone announce they have OCD, and they have to change something to their comfort.  “Beware plebeians, I see disorder and imperfection in the world and in others around me, and I will point it out and I will  fix it.”

So I cringe every time I hear someone say, "I'm so OCD.” And not just because my oldest child has a diagnosis, but because I suspect it is being used as passive aggression.  Also, I don’t think it’s normal to casually state that you have a serious medical disorder.

Could you imagine people saying routinely, “I am so psychotic, the voices in my head are telling me to me to cross the t’s and dot the i’s when other people forget?”

Now that’s not mentally healthy.

Gayle Richardson is a Macomb mom.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio. 

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.