This is rather long.  It is a letter I wrote my parents when they were both still living. 

 

 Dear Mom and Dad,

 

            This is my OCD letter.  OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Most people know it as the “hand washing” or “hoarding” disease. 

 

            I mentioned to you that I have OCD.  I was diagnosed with OCD about eight years ago, but I was extremely allergic to every known medication that helps abate the symptoms.

 

            I don’t know if you remember, but three years ago I was reading a book called Brain Lock.  It is about a doctor at UCLA who has devised a 4-step behavioral response to OCD.  I started practicing the steps and the more I did the more I found it helpful.  It took about two years, but over those two years I became from 60 to 80 % better.  In other words, it helped a lot (80%), but sometimes I have my bad days (60% days). 

 

            A year ago I made a proposal to our church to lead a support group for OCD.  It took a year, but last month we had our first meeting.  There are nine in the group.

 

            Supposedly, OCD is inherited through an inherited recessive gene.  That means it can lie dormant in a family for several generations, and then appear randomly.  I realize that I have had OCD since I was young,  and it helps to explain a lot.

 

            For example, do you remember when: 

 

            Fort Lauderdale, FL., summer of ’56:  I was obsessed with witnessing to everyone, so much so that I asked the manager of a grocery story if I could use the microphone to witness to everyone in the store about the Lord.  It was not because I wanted to.  It was because I felt I had to try, and if I didn’t try I felt miserable.

 

            Port St. Joe, FL.: Again, at the end of my senior year I felt I had to witness to people on the beach, but didn’t.  I went into a state of depression that lasted for some time.

 

            College Life:   I made an absolute idiot of myself as freshman class chairman, because I felt that any magazine that had any sexually suggestive pictures (e.g., Life Magazine) should not be on the library shelves of a Christian College.  I tried to start a campaign to remove these magazines from the shelves.

 

            For some reason, I did not think that Chaplain Welsh was a Christian.  I don’t know where that thought came from, but it was an obsession and I shared that with him.  He handled that graciously, but very firmly.             

 

            I became obsessed with my devotional life—1.5 hrs. devotions in the morning, ½ hr. at noon, and 1 hour in the evening, no matter what, always.  Even through the most extensive exam periods.

 

            My trips to Mexico with Operation Mobilization were more occasions for my OCD to manifest itself.  I gave everything I knew to give, even my precious stamp collection.  Remember the time you had to ask me to stop praying at the top of my voice in the back yard for the $300 I needed to go to Mexico?  You gave me the money.  Again,

 

            I made a disaster of my marriage, obsessing about Sarah’s expressing herself, her beautiful Southern accent, the catch in her voice when she laughed, and even what she wears.  What can I say? 

 

            Where do you think my struggle with eating came from?   My OCD.  Small noises, or any number of things could turn my stomach into knots and make it so that the food would strangle in my throat.  There was a period of time when I tried to eat my lunch at the office but couldn’t because of the noise of people walking above me.  So I would go out to a park nearby, but the noise of passing cars and airplanes obsessed me.  Once I drove thirty miles southwest to get away from the sound of passing planes from the airport.  I literally spent hours sometimes just to eat a meal.

 

            That, my dear parents, is OCD.           

 

            But it could have been a lot worse.  If not for my severe allergic reaction, I may have settled for staying on medication.  As it was, OCD backed me into a corner, so to speak, and I had to find something else to help address my problem.  Whatever medications may have done for me, I don’t think they would have been nearly as effective as the results of the behavioral work I have learned to do.  The pay off with self-directed therapy is enormous;  the results of medications are questionable, at best, for many people.

 

I also have other factors that contributed to keeping my OCD in check. One, I have a highly structured business that forces me to meet schedules whether I am ready or not.  For example, if I have a student due at 2 P.M., I must find some way to eat, or skip lunch.  Two, I have a wife that suffered my craziness only so far and then drew the boundaries and said, “No further.”  But then you know Sarah.  What an asset and treasure I have in her strength and wisdom.  Three, I’ve always been a fighter.  Is it a part of my Dutch heritage?  I have always pushed the envelope.  I don’t look back on my life with any regrets about not trying to pursue my dreams, with God’s help and Sarah working with me.

 

            I wonder, though, if my OCD and my absorption with the business didn’t prevent me from giving to John when he needed me most—those critical years in middle school and high school when I should have made him my top priority.  Another loss is our vacations.  It was always convenient to say the business didn’t permit us both to be away at the same time, but there were times that I could have been down in Georgia with the family and wasn’t because I chose not to—to avoid situations that would aggravate my OCD symptoms.  There were times that Sarah could have come to see you in Arkansas, and wanted to, but didn’t because of my OCD.  As a result, Mom, she never saw your beautiful new house in Arkansas.

 

            Well, not again.  She will join me on my trip to see you this Labor Day Weekend.  We’ll come down Friday and stay until Sunday after dinner.  Then go see her sister Sunday afternoon and catch the plane back from Jacksonville, Monday noon.

 

            The book Brain Lock has been my second “Bible” in helping me alter my OCD behaviors.  Here is a summary of the four steps that have been of such help to me.  #1:  RELABEL:  This is a reality check.  These are not legitimate feelings.  They are a condition totally unrelated to reality.  #2:  REATRIBUTE:  This takes care of guilt and shame.  These thoughts and compulsions are a caused by a chemical imbalance that causes natural impulses to lock up and remain as a lasting focus of the brain.  #3: REFOCUS:  Here is the genius of the whole system.  Instead of focusing on the obsessive thought or compulsion, or instead of just trying to ignore it, you focus on doing something that preoccupies your mind.  This step takes a great deal of work and experimentation.  It took me two years to begin to find significant relief from this step.  #4:  REVALUE:  This step is the highest level behavioral change—all three step come together almost as one.  After much practice and pushing the envelope, you reach a place when sometimes all three previous steps blend into one and you say, “Oh, that’s just OCD.  I’ll just disregard it and go on.”   And it works.  That’s on my 80% good days.

 

            And it works.  Above me at one end of the building is a  dance studio with wooden floors and ballet dancers that sometimes tap dance.  At the other end of the building is a party store where as many as 15 children will come in and hold their pottery making parties, scraping their wooden chairs over wooden floors.  And I rarely find myself having to find another place to eat.  Not if I practice my four steps.  And how is it with Sarah and me?  Much better, though we have had to agree that when I have my obsessive thoughts that we may have to part company for a while.  Sometimes we can’t and I just bear the pain (acceptance is part of the process) and over time the pain and obsession usually subside. 

 

            I know what you might be saying at this time.  “But, Leo, you didn’t develop these symptoms until after you came to know the Lord at the end of your sophomore year.”

 

            Not so.  I can remember in grade school at Central School, becoming obsessed with the way my roommate’s hand looked when he picked up a set of stones in the game, Mancala.  I don’t think I ever said anything, because the feeling was so bizarre, but it really bothered me.  That was OCD, even if only apparent on a very limited basis.  It seems that from the research I have done and the contacts I have had, that OCD becomes more pronounced in teen age years.  That coincides with my first severe onset of OCD. 

           

Several years ago I worked with the sweetest 8th grade girl.  Her parents brought her to The Reading Tree to see if we could teach her some techniques that would help her study more effectively.  She got good grades—mostly all As—but she stayed up to all hours of the night to do her work.  As I worked with her I realized she had a full blown case of OCD.  She could never be good enough.  In fact, her mother told me that the previous year when school was out she got over her academic OCD, but when they went to Disney World she sat in the hotel room by herself trying to make a perfect circle freehand. 

            I gave her a copy of Brain Lock and tried to encourage her to practice the steps, but she really didn’t indicate much interest.  Man’s primary instinct is to alleviate pain, so OCD people will perform the compulsion to ease the pain.  The problem is that OCD is a bully: the more you give in to it the more it encroaches into your life.  You have to be willing to take a stand.  Some people have an amazing tolerance for putting up with the absolutely bizarre in their lives, even after they find out that there are behavioral changes that will help change their brain chemistry. 

 

            In fact, my next research project is to reread Brain Lock and read the accounts of people to find out how far they had to go before they decided they had had enough and were going to do something about it.

 

            Oh, by the way, since I started this letter, we had our July 25th meeting, and almost everyone was there.

 

            That’s all.

 

Love,

 

Leonard

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