A Letter to Addie, a Child Fighting OCD

This is an open letter to a girl named Addie. She is fighting OCD and the anxiety that goes with it, and her mom has been blogging about it. I suggest you read her blog. Meantime, I want to share some experiences with Addie…

Mood music:

Hi, Addie,

My name’s Bill, and I know a thing or two about what you are going through. It’s gonna be rough at times, but let me tell you why everything will be fine — better than fine.

Anxiety is a nasty thing to live with. I spent the better part of my 20s and early 30s hunkered down in my house because of it. I saw guys looking for a fight around every corner.

Whenever I had to get on a plane, I’d have visions of the plane going down in flames. If I had to make a stand or take a test in school or turn in a big project at work, my mind would spin violently with every negative thought one could have. I would fear for the worst, but never hold out hope for the best.

I worked myself into a stupor over the safety of my wife and children. I had an obsession with cleanliness, which was interesting since depression always meant my personal hygiene took a dive. I was terrified of world events.

Yet I got through each one of those moments.

One day I woke up and realized the fear and anxiety had to go. It took a long time, but through good therapy, medication and a deepening faith in God, those things did go away.

The first thing to remember is that you have a mom and dad who love you and will do anything for you. They will be your biggest allies. There will be others who will help you through it. Many, many others. Their support is much, much bigger than the things your anxiety has made you fear.

When my children were younger, they watched a show called “Veggie Tales.” One episode focused on a boy afraid of the boogie man. He learned a song called “God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man” and that made his fear much smaller. In time, it went away. God is bigger than anxiety, too. The fears you get from the anxiety are over things that aren’t real. The only thing that is real is the here and now, and what you do with it.

You ever watch Mister Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS? After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he did a wonderful show about getting through bad times. He said:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.

Mr. Rogers learned a powerful lesson from his mother. I wish I had it in my head to focus on the helpers growing up. In hindsight, they were always there:

–The doctors and nurses who saved me from brutal bouts of Crohn’s Disease.

–The therapists who guided me through a diagnosis of OCD and showed me how to manage it.

–My family, especially my wife, and also my father and even my mother. My relations with the latter are in mothballs right now, but I think she tried to do her best for me. The help Erin has been to me is way too big to be measured here.

–My friends, who have always helped me make sense of things, made me laugh and done all the other things a person needs to get through the day.

–Many of the people in my faith community, who showed me how to accept God’s Grace, even if I still suck at returning the favor.

So that’s one of the big lessons: Always look for the helpers. You will always find them.

The other piece of advice is to never, ever let yourself believe that you can’t live life to the fullest because you have OCD.

Have you ever heard of Winston Churchill? He was Prime Minister of Britain during the darkest days of World War II. He often suffered from depression — he called it his Black Dog — and yet he led his country to victory over evil. He had a saying that I think of every day when the going gets tough: “Some people see a calamity in every opportunity. Others see an opportunity in every calamity.”

Do you like music? I find that music — rock and roll, specifically — soothes my soul in times of difficulty and gives me the strength to press on. There’s a band called Def Leppard that has an inspiring story of success despite bad things that could have stopped them cold. The drummer, Rick Allen, had an arm ripped off in a car wreck. A lot of people thought his career was over. Twenty-six years later, he’s still drumming. The example applies to people like us. OCD can only defeat us if we let it.

I’m not about to let that happen. I’ll bet you feel the same way.

I have a final and important piece of advice for you:

Even if you get rid of your anxiety — and I know you will — you will still have plenty of OCD moments. I still check my laptop bag several times to make sure I didn’t forget my computer. I still go on a cleaning tear through my house if too many things are out of order.

That’s perfectly OK. As long as you learn to beat down the part where your mind spins with worry about things beyond your control, the other habits are fine. Since I’m open about my OCD, people don’t look at me funny when I have those “OCD moments.” They’ve learned to see beyond the habits and see me for who I am.

And sometimes, the OCD moment can be put to good use. If you have a big project, the OCD can push you to get it done and done right. It may seem strange, but if you learn to manage it, it can be very useful.

Some of our repetitive motions do look silly at times. Don’t worry about it. Learn to laugh at it instead.

Life is tough. But it’s supposed to be. It’s how we discover who we are and what we are capable of. I bet you are capable of a lot.

Take care of yourself, and keep the faith.

Yours truly,

Bill Brenner

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8 thoughts on “A Letter to Addie, a Child Fighting OCD

  1. Pingback: Operation Global Blackout Would Save Me A Lot Of Trouble | THE OCD DIARIES

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  5. Wow, Bill, I just read this post – I only just now realized this letter was written to “our” Abbie – the daughter of my business partner Clay. This is amazing support for her (and for others!)

    Your blog is doing such a great deal of good. I thank you for it. For the record, it was one of the couple of big triggers that helped me reach the decision to quit eating flour or sugar on Dec. 24 of last year. Duh! My health is much better for it. Your experience showed that it could be done and that the effort is worth it. As I read about your experiences I’ve been pointing a number of my fitness friends this way, not aware before now just how many of them are struggling with big issues and are using their continuous workout plans as mechanisms to undo the damage of the addictive nutrition and eating habits that can actually be within their control. Several of them are now following your blog to learn more about your experiences with OA as well.

    Thanks for all you do, and I am very, very excited to see you next Wednesday about business and security topics again!

    I’m so happy that you are writing this blog.

    Cheryl

  6. Thanks for your post, Bill. I feel like I learn something new from every story/experience I hear regarding OCD and anxiety. I knew that it was something she’d be struggling with for the rest of her life but you’ve given new insight on things that might be a struggle I’d never considered. I really love the idea of looking for “The Helpers” and I think that as Addie gets older, and she really starts learning about these horrendous natural disasters, that will be the thing we focus on with her. I do hope that she is able to put her OCD to good work and I know that she will be stronger because of this struggle.

    Thank you again, for your post to my sweet Addie. Also, thank you for helping others see that it is not just something adults struggle with- it’s kids too and as parents, it’s our job to help them get through it and to provide them with the ability and the resources to do that. We cannot do that if there is not awareness of it.

  7. That’s exactly what an OCD sufferer wants and needs to hear. People who never had OCD don’t know how it really feels like, and I find it difficult to explain to other people why (for example) I don’t want them to use chemical products like detergents near me or why I triple-check whether I forgot or lost something. Even if I recovered from OCD, I too have those “OCD moments” but I realized that when I put my obsessive-compulsiveness to good use, my work is very appreciated! I’ve been told I’m meticulous and detail-oriented.

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