Kendal is 14. Kendal is pretty and smart. Kendal loves the outdoors and basketball and horses. Kendal has OCD. When writing this, Kendal requested to have that bit of info (the OCD part) listed last because, as everyone who works or struggles with OCD knows, Kendal is not "OCD". It's not an adjective...just like we would never say "Oh, Betty is SO cancer" or "Tom is a little diabetes, don't you think?". Kendal's family first noticed quirky behavior, as they defined it, around the age of 7. These quirks included demanding to have items in certain places, avoiding objects that are red, and refusing to talk about death....even being triggered by a dead bug splatting on the windshield while her parents drove.
At age 9, things had become significantly worse and her world became more and more restricted. The family sought out therapy with someone in their hometown that their insurance company suggested they see because they were the closest. After an initial visit, the therapist suggested that they create a behavior modification plan of rewards and consequences for her compulsions and assured the parents that these behaviors "were part of childhood and she'll grow out of them". Luckily, Kendal's parents, having read up on OCD, knew that punishing Kendal for her behavior could not be a good plan. After looking at the IOCDF website they read about Exposure and Response Prevention and were determined to get Kendal connected with a therapist with this expertise. They circled back to their insurance with this request, but unfortunately there was no one available.
At age 12, still without effective care, Kendal was missing 3 out of 5 days of school each week. She could not be in class when others were wearing red, and couldn't tolerate hearing the war stories talked about in class. Teachers suggested getting her evaluated for ADHD since Kendal was continually distracted and could not attend to the information. Still, her wise and persistent parents knew ADHD was certainly not the cause for her struggles.
At age 13, Kendal and I were connected. It's a long story, but it boils down to her parents being unwilling to take "no" for an answer. Why should their daughter not be able to access effective care simply because no one "in-network" ( a very small network at that) specializes in ERP? They appealed, spoke to the medical director, and eventually got a family friend who happened to be an attorney involved. Eventually, they were approved to see someone out of network.
Kendal was naturally very hesitant about ERP.....but by our 4th sessions she was motivated and ready to do the hard work. Kendal tells me after her 5th or 6th session she realized "this is working". Kendal, picking up steam, worked diligently at her planned exposures and every other aspect of treatment. She began to attend school more often and eventually completing her first full month without absence earlier this year. Kendal is not "OCD-free" but has fought back long and hard to regain the life she enjoys. She still has intrusive thoughts but chooses to allow them to pass her by like a train, not reacting or responding to them. Last month she experienced a significant lapse which prompted us to write this story of hope together. Kendal says that fighting back against OCD is much like learning to ride her beloved horses. At first, she may fall off. Eventually, she will learn to stay on longer and improve her skills, one day feeling as though she is in control of the ride. Does this mean she'll never get bucked off again? Of course not....but now, she says, she will always have the courage to get back on.
Stories of Hope is a 6 week series featuring children and adults who have all struggled with OCD. Kendal (name has been changed) chose to stay anonymous.