McLean Hospital 115 Mill Street Belmont, MA 02478
Lynette Peck is mother of a former patient at McLean’s OCD Institute.
Tomorrow morning I will move my son into his new dorm room. Already today he and I have packed the car, driven 550 miles, eaten at two restaurants, used a number of public restrooms, chatted, laughed, and listened to countless hours of music and podcasts. In other words, we have gone about the activities of daily life—things most people do without thinking—with the exception, perhaps, of the 550-mile drive! As I reflect on this marvelous list, I realize that I have begun to take such activities for granted again. I have begun to take possibility for granted. There was a long period of time when I could not have imagined either my son or I standing on this side of OCD—and yet here we are. I’d like to share some thoughts about how we got here.
My son reached bottom in winter. Most days he couldn’t make it across the floor without a herculean struggle. He couldn’t button his pants, put on a shirt, eat, stand up, sit down, talk, or read. Every day. I am aware as I write that word, “couldn’t,” that, in the context of OCD, it is vexed. I remember one February night in particular. We received a foot of snow and we’d been invited out to dinner. But my son couldn’t stand up. He had been in the same chair since 2:30 that afternoon. He kept saying, “soon, soon.” The rest of the family went on to dinner without us. At 7pm I sat next to him and said, “It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you won’t.” I didn’t say this out of anger. I was struggling to grasp some truth about OCD and the things it was trying to make him believe. Still, I worried that I was asking too much of him. I was afraid for him—afraid to my bones. Guilt and fear: two of the unwanted companions on the road through OCD.
There is a third companion, perhaps the most challenging of all: uncertainty. Out of that difficult moment I began to see that my son and I were both on a journey, and that in an unexpected way our paths mirrored one another. As OCD took hold of my son and his relationship with certainty crashed, so did mine. I couldn’t see ahead nor could I see behind. I found myself questioning my interpretations of the life we’d had together as a family: how had this happened? When had it begun? What future could I safely hope for since I could not imagine that my son would ever manage a life outside of OCD? We were both stuck. OCD had made a prison of isolation and uncertainty around each of us.
It is difficult to see outside of hardship when you’re living it. It is difficult to think about the future and about what goals to aim for. I am not a fan of the idea that hardship makes us better, stronger human beings. Even if that’s so I wouldn’t wish it, especially OCD, on anyone. The end does not justify the means. Still, I can’t ignore all that I’ve learned on this journey and I feel quite certain that my son would say the same. There’s no question that the road to recovery is an incredibly difficult one to navigate. Living it is hard; being in treatment is equally hard. There were many times, while my son was at the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute (OCDI) at McLean and even after he left, that I felt hopeless. OCD seemed so huge and powerful. I would read about the importance of being “in the moment” yet it seemed to me that all we were was in one long horrible moment. I wanted nothing more than to move OUT of that moment.
I began to understand that through treatment my son was slowly building skills just like he would build muscle. Gradually, day by consistent day, those skills were getting stronger. He was getting stronger, gaining confidence. The challenges shifted, but the shifting itself seemed to signal movement, change, progress. He continuously became better at navigating the hard moments.
I don’t want to suggest that his road has been straight; in fact, far from it. There were many days when my son seemed to be falling backwards. But even when OCD had the upper hand, those skills, for which he had worked so hard without knowing where he’d end up, were waiting, ready to be called on. My son’s days are not without struggle, but I think he would readily agree that all the effort has led him to a good place. He is where he wants to be. What more could either of us hope for?