Linda's story
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Linda’s story

When Linda’s daughter—Adriana—was seven, she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorder. Adriana suddenly became very serious, and the playful, giggling girl stopped existing. It was especially hard for Linda and her husband, who could see that their precious daughter was struggling, but couldn’t give her a hug because she was afraid to be touched.

When psychiatrists weren’t able to help, Linda knew it was up to her to find a solution. She did her research and started her own form of behavioural therapy. Linda started out small by encouraging her daughter to poke her to see that nothing bad would happen, and after a while, Adriana did it and found that she was fine. This exercise built trust that allowed Linda to continue to work with her daughter and help her overcome her fears.

Today Adriana still pokes Linda once in a while, but not because she can’t hug her. There are plenty of hugs to go around, but now it’s a special thing between the two of them; a reminder of where she’s been and how far she’s come.

Q&A
How did you discover that Adriana had OCD?

When Adriana was seven-years-old, I noticed that she was washing her hands a lot and wetting her clothes. I asked her to wash her hands only at the appropriate times, and then noticed that she started licking her hands like a cat. That’s when the light bulb went on in my head. I asked her if she was licking her hands because mommy had asked her to stop washing her hands so much, and she said yes.

She was officially diagnosed with OCD and anxiety disorder a few months later by a child psychiatrist.

How did it affect your family life?

Everyone in the family was affected; even our dog stopped getting pats and cuddles from Adriana and learned not to go around her because it upset her. We all had to slow down–it took more time to get ready, she had to quadruple check her school bag, washing took her longer, she had to build up the courage to go out to door, if she could go out at all. My husband and I spent a lot of time helping her through the compulsive thoughts and worries. Her little brother learned to be less carefree around her so he didn’t trigger her fears. We cut labels off paint cans if we were painting because the poison sign would trigger an attack for her.

There were a lot of late night conversations, panic attacks, crying, and sleep deprivation. Going to school was brutal–she cried every day when I dropped her off, terrified of the dangers she thought were there and I cried after dropping her off.

Little things like going to birthday parties and sleepovers, or just hanging with friends didn’t happen because she was too afraid. Some of our extended family didn’t understand, and we visited less because they would continue to do things that would trigger compulsions. It was tough.

How did you and your family support your daughter?

No one was able to help us, so I knew that it was going to be up to me to figure this out. I did extensive research and began a homemade form of behavioural therapy.

Adriana couldn’t even touch me, so I started by working her up to touching me with one finger, a little poke in the arm. I told her that if something happened that made her feel even a little bit sick after she poked me, I would take her to the hospital right away.

After a long time, she was brave enough to poke me, and she found out she was fine.  So we had pokes instead of hugs. That first step developed trust. Trust that helped her try walking on the floor with bare feet, trust that she didn’t have to wet her clothes to wash off the germs around her, to go to school without panicking. When I say it took time, I mean it took years, but one by one, she faced her fears.

We made sure she knew that OCD was the same as any other illness and she was never to feel bad about it, but to keep working at getting better. When she was ready, we encouraged her to talk about it, because that would make her stronger and help others understand too.

How is Adriana managing now?

Adriana is now 23-years-old. She still has OCD and anxiety, but has learned coping skills to deal with them. Unless you know her story, you would never guess what she has been through or still deals with. She lives on her own and just finished her second year of college. She is a very talented artist.

Sometimes she feels an obsessive thought trigger and she is able to talk herself out of her fear. If that doesn’t work, she talks to me or other trusted friends.

Overcoming OCD and anxiety has given Adriana strength and self-acceptance that is beautiful to see. It’s been an amazingly hard journey, but she was never alone in it. She is still cautious about some things, but if it’s important, she faces her fear and goes for it.

Why do you think it’s important to share your story?

I think it’s important to share our story because we are not alone, but we felt like we were at the time.  Even our families didn’t really understand the repercussions of OCD. No one really gets the true nature of what you are going through as a family and what your child is going through personally.

Sharing helps people know they are not alone, and maybe something that helped our daughter could help their child. We live in a society that appreciates normality, but no one is really “normal”. Everyone has their own stories and challenges, this just happened to be Adriana’s and ours. Sharing it makes everyone stronger.

What advice would you give to parents whose children are dealing with mental health issues?

Don’t blame yourself, because it’s not your fault.

If you have other children, take time out for just them; they need you too (that time meant the world to my son).

Get support and talk about it.

Take care of yourself first.

Work with your child’s teachers and school. Be very clear about what it takes to help your child; most teachers really do want to help.

It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks; do what is right for you and your family, and don’t be embarrassed by what’s happening.

Be patient. Things may not get better in a day or even two; it takes time.

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