Smiling Buddha

My teenage daughter and I come from a long line of nervous smilers, appalled smilers, and many other smile-related coping mechanisms. My Charismatic Christian grandmother even tried to pray a demon of mockery out of my sister due to her nervous giggling. Of course, that’s a whole other post, perhaps titled, “Nonsense Be Thy Name,” but I digress.

My daughter often asks me questions I can’t answer. I’m instructed not to answer by her therapist as they are reassurance-seeking questions fueled by her OCD; thus, my answers would be enabling.

They often start with, “So, I know this might be an OCD question but…”

That’s my cue. The point where I know immediately that I can listen and offer support, but I am not supposed to reassure and become part of her OCD ritual. As many who’ve suffered OCD—especially harm, morality, checking OCD and the like—know, reassurance is an abyss that can never be filled. “Are you sure I’m not a bad person? Are you sure I’m not a murderer? A weirdo? Someone who doesn’t deserve to live because I have these thoughts?” The list goes on.

“You know I can’t answer that,” I reply.

“Arr,” she moans, almost comically, as she scrunches her face and gives that little smile that helps her deal with the crushing anxiety that OCD brings. I call it the “Smiling Buddha.” It’s a wonderful counterbalance that keeps this thing from crushing her. I don’t believe Smiling Buddha is avoidance or minimizing. It is a grace. It doesn’t fix everything or banish the beast, but while the OCD beast thrashes around demanding attention, ritual, and blind obedience, Smiling Buddha tames the tyrant with a quiet, unexpected power.

We know Harm OCD is a big problem that demands big solutions, tough solutions. In fact, we feel that we are damn near broken as we implement these solutions. The ERP therapy itself is painful and demanding. There’s nothing easy about lying in the floor in absolute terror that you might be a murderer and being told to do nothing to reassure yourself. The harsh reality is pretty much what Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell keep on going.”

Here’s to the Smiling Buddha–the little graces that are so unobtrusive, modest, humble, and unassuming, that we almost overlook them. In hindsight, they are irreplaceable anchors in a stormy sea.

There is nothing weak about this bundle of fear, nerves, and sorrow I see before me seeking reassurance, this lovely soul that is my daughter. I don’t reassure. I just listen, as Smiling Buddha sits across from me, quietly accepting, unmoving in the torment that is very much still there.

Grace in the flames.

A Mother’s Perspective

It’s one thing to suffer from OCD and the even darker beast of Harm OCD, but seeing your child suffer is, as they say, a whole new ballgame. I suffered with OCD and, more specifically, Harm OCD as a child and into adulthood, but seeing my daughter so distressed by the terrifying intrusive thoughts of Harm OCD that she lay on the bathroom floor dry heaving, went far beyond any mental anguish I’d dealt with personally. I’m her mother. I’m supposed to be able to fix this. But the truth is, I can’t. When her hands were cracking from the obsessive hand washing–as horrible as that was–I could put ointment on them, but there is no ointment for this. Yes, I can find her an Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) practicing therapist, provide her with the right books and resources, but I can’t crawl into her brain and fix it. Only she can put in the hard work that ERP demands. I can only stand by, encourage, and hope.

But as someone who’s been both the OCD experiencer and mom, I can say to other parents, I get it. I can offer the perspective of a parent who can only stand by and deal with not being able to bandage their child’s wound, perhaps for the first time feeling helpless as a mother or father. I can address the hopeless feeling that this brings– the sense, however false, that this illness might mean we are failing as parents. I can also say to the parent who hasn’t experienced Harm OCD, that this doesn’t make their children bad or dangerous.

OCD does much to isolate the sufferer; however we must not let it isolate us from each other at a time we when we need the most understanding, support, and strength. I invite you to leave comments, ask questions, and make use of the resources on my website. You may take comfort in the knowledge that, as difficult as this disorder is, you are not alone.

And while you’re at it, remember to be kind to yourself.

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