Reclaiming Our Stolen Child From The OCD Monster (Part 1)

Reclaiming Our Stolen Child From The OCD Monster (Part 1)

Posted on September 28 by Laurie Gough
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Dear Dr. Jabour,

My husband and I are desperate for help. Our ten-year-old son has developed severe obsessive compulsive disorder. It began mildly in the spring but in the past couple of months it has ramped up alarmingly. He can no longer function at school, or even get to school since he can no longer walk or ride his bike there without getting stuck on the way. He is continually falling into trances where we can’t reach him and is obsessed with the notion that his dead grandpa will come back to life. He performs ever-changing rituals that he believes will bring his grandpa back, despite how many times we’ve told him that nobody returns from the dead. A short time ago, he was a regular, bright, happy-go-lucky kid who climbed trees, rode a unicycle, played soccer, got A’s in school, and loved discussing cars. Now he wants to die. This is a child so wracked with anxiety and strange behaviour that we barely recognize him. We want our son back. Can you help us? We live in Quebec but are willing to come to Los Angeles for treatment.

When I wrote that letter back in 2013, my husband Rob and I felt so hollowed out with despair we were like ghosts you could see through. Our only child, crushed by the death of his grandpa, had transformed from an everyday kid into a faint memory of the boy he was, his every baffling behaviour designed to bring his grandpa back to life. Magical thinking had cast a spell over our household. We also called this invisible force the “OCD Monster” and we felt powerless to stop it from enslaving our son.

That is, until I started learning about the power of cognitive behaviour therapy (or a branch of it for OCD sufferers called ERP — exposure response prevention), along with some community healing power.

One day, early on, when Quinn’s mournful why-is-Grandpa-gone crying had subsided but seemed to have morphed into something else, we were driving from our village of Wakefield to Montreal. Quinn kept rolling down his window, putting his face out into the wind, his hand on his heart, and saying: please come back, please come back, I love you, please come back. At the beginning of the drive, I kept turning around to say something encouraging about how I knew he could boss back his OCD monster.


“I know. I’m trying! Just one more time,” he’d say, then roll down the window to do it all over again. Clearly, fighting the OCD monster wasn’t easy. Sometimes, I’d wake up in the dead of night, when the truth of how things really are never wears a mask or pretends, and I’d feel gripped by a cold fear, wondering if my son would ever be himself again. 

“Let’s try some of those exercises,” I said, trying to smile. “We’ll time you to see how long you can go without having to roll down the window.”

Delaying a compulsion was an exposure exercise I’d read about. Every second that goes by without obeying the compulsion is excruciating, but as time passes, the anxiety gradually diminishes as the brain adapts to the feeling of not following the compulsion. With ERP, you expose yourself to your fears. A child who is afraid of germs, a common type of OCD, makes herself drink from a public drinking fountain which she believes is full of deadly germs. As she drinks, the anxiety level initially spikes, but gradually decreases as she realizes nothing catastrophic occurred. She’s habituating herself to the anxiety, literally re-circuiting her brain. The next time, she can try doing it longer. Eventually, the compulsion loses all appeal. But of course, this is all easier said than done. All the person is thinking about is how much they have to obey the compulsion, how not obeying the compulsion means never seeing your grandpa again. There’s no logic involved in OCD.


Part 2 tells of how Laurie Gough’s family confronted the OCD Monster, read it when it goes live October 12, 2016.

Or Order a copy of Stolen Child below.

Laurie Gough

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 22, 2015

Laurie Gough

Laurie Gough is the author of Kiss the Sunset Pig: An American Road Trip with Exotic Detours, and Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman’s Travel Odyssey, shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in the U.K., and silver medal winner of ForeWord Magazine’s Travel Book of the Year in the U.S.