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Lawrence says that he has never seen this movie. This will have to be remedied.

So, life feels a little like this right now. As you all know, Jo has always been a very anxious kid. For the most part, though, her anxiety has been centered on rather rational fears and concerns, like, "Will mommy be able to take care of herself?" and "I want a dog SO BADLY, I HAVE TO HAVE A DOG, WHEN ARE WE GETTING A DOG?"  Kid concerns. Perfectly normal, but for the intensity and duration of the fear, and consonant with standard old, garden variety anxiety. But over the past months we've seen a shift in the content of her fears and the intensity of the accompanying panic that is frightening. First, a few months ago while on Youtube, she saw a chain letter someone had pasted into a comment that said that if the reader didn't pass along its message immediately, then in 266 days, the reader's mother would die. Jo became extremely anxious and couldn't stop thinking about this chain letter and its supposed consequences. She said that the intrusive thoughts happened constantly, but over the course of two to three weeks, she seemed to let go and be happy Jo again.  At the time I was very concerned about OCD, but the psychologist assured me that because there was no compulsive behavior accompanying these obsessive thoughts of her mother dying as a result of a chain letter, her fears could be chalked up to simple anxiety. And honestly, excepting its intensity, I saw Jo's fear as being completely normal for a kid her age.

But on Thanksgiving she said that she was scared L and I were really aliens, and since this Friday night especially, the intense fears have come fast and furious. Frighteningly, they are increasingly less age appropriate and more OCD-like. "Ellyn, I'm afraid that you and Daddy are aliens and the real you was abducted, and I'm scared because I'll lose you," and "I'm worried that my food is poisoned," are her latest fears. At first I tried telling myself that maybe Shasta told her that she's trying for additional custody and maybe that was so unsettling to Jo that she's expressing her fear, but since she can't really handle the idea that she's scared of being with her own mother more often, the fear is coming out in this very freaky, "aliens abducted you and replaced you with other aliens who look just like you" way. It would kind of make sense. But then she started with being afraid to eat her food and offering it to us to taste it for her (thank you, Jo, for using us as your tasters -- sigh). That is just pure OCD, right. there.

So we're calling the psychotherapist (not the psychologist, who didn't think this was OCD) tomorrow and hopefully we can get Jo the care she needs without Shasta blocking us.

Part of me feels very calm about all of this. OCD is very treatable. We have a dear friend who has it, and I just learned from a work colleague that his wife has OCD. These are two successful, smart, lovely and loving women, and while the condition plagues them more rather than less at times, they both cope well, and it's certainly not the end of their ability to function happily and well in the world. Honestly, if I could choose someone for Jo to be like, I'd happily choose our friend with OCD. I know that once we all get over our hesitation to put Jo on appropriate medication (L, Shasta and I were ALL very hesitant to start Jo on an SSRI for her simple anxiety disorder alone), Jo will be just fine with a combined CBT and SSRI approach.

The other part of me is deeply upset. Jo comes to me to tell me all of these fears, and she tells them to me for hours at a time. She knows they're bizarre but she can't be reassured at all. As I told L, I'm VERY glad she comes to me with her terrors and tells me about them -- it would be horrible for her if she hid them from us, and we'd never be able to get her the help she needs unless she did tell us. But it's also very triggering for me, and my own anxiety (which often has me feeling quite irrational) is through the roof. I'm scared for her. I'm scared for us. And her fears are so dark and strange for an 11 year old girl that it seems like reality is bending. When she tells me these things, I feel like I'm falling through a swirling vortex, entering the Twilight Zone, where dolls tell you they're going to kill you, or little girls get lost in other dimensions behind walls and floorboards. Honestly, I am terrified of the things she tells me, though I certainly won't stop her and I will continue to encourage her to tell us when ANYTHING is bothering her. Because over the past few days even very simple differences in day-to-day things will trigger her (she became terrified that L had been replaced with an alien two nights ago because he'd been smiling -- we had just snuck in a quickie while the kids were downstairs, and then just as we finished, there was Jo knocking on the door, and he had a post-coitus look, so boom, alien fears) I'm afraid to do anything different at all, lest it trigger her fears.

And I'm ashamed to admit it: I flinch inwardly every time she comes looking for me, because her thoughts upset me so deeply, and just as she talks about wolves or animating in her Aspie way, which is to say on and on for hours if allowed, and without understanding when other people can't take it anymore, she goes on about us being aliens to the degree I want to run away. But of course I don't: she needs me to talk to about it, and I need her to tell me what's going on in that head of hers if we're going to get her the right treatment and know it's working. But this unsettles me so badly. I don't want her to have OCD. I want her to have a nice, happy, uncomplicated life. This is all frightening and unfair, and insofar as it dovetails with my own deep-seated terrors about my own anxiety getting out of control, it's incredibly nervous-making. I also am just beside myself at how kids ALWAYS seem to reserve illness -- even mental illness -- for holidays and weekends. It's been a terribly long weekend. Right now she's acting as calm as can be, zooming all over the house in her way, making very beautiful things with the sewing kit I got her for Hanukkah. Why this now? Why Jo?

Sorry for the sad post, guys. Everything else is really, really good. My work is great -- more on that later. Henry is his own happy self, and Adam got admitted to his two safety schools, and we're just waiting to hear on Texas at Austin, Berkeley and UC Davis while he preps his applications for Case Western, Wisconsin at Madison, and Michigan. Just, right now, Jo's thoughts are towering over everything else and things feel a bit dark. 

Date: 2013-12-09 02:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*all the hugs* You're an amazing parent. This has got to be rough, and you are handling it just right - including venting here about how hard it is on you personally. I have high hopes that therapy and medication will help, and then you'll be hearing a lot less about aliens.

Also, it is extremely selfish of me, but I am super hopeful that Adam gets into and is interested to attend UW Madison, because heeeeeey, guess who lives in Madison... ;)

Date: 2013-12-09 02:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*hugs back* You are such an amazing friend, and I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear that you still think I'm an amazing parent after I admit to flinching inwardly when I hear Jo coming my way. :(

You know, it did occur to me that you live in Madison and he should go meet you! :D :D :D

Date: 2013-12-09 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Flinching inwardly doesn't make you a bad parent! It makes you HUMAN! It's a helluva lot to deal with, and you really are handling it with grace - I know it probably doesn't feel like that, but take it from an outside observer.

And as for visits in Madison, I think that would be pretty darn awesome. :) Madison is a super nice place to live, and if he or you want to hear more about it from someone who lives here, I'm happy to oblige. Does Adam have ideas about what major he might like to pursue (with the usual caveats that it is totally ok and even encouraged to change his mind)?

Date: 2013-12-09 02:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Your work is great? That's huge!

I have nothing helpful to say re: Jo's situation, but *hugs* and I hope you have a clear path to something helpful and good very soon.

Date: 2013-12-09 02:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks, Jen. *hugs* -- your hugs always mean a lot! :)

Date: 2013-12-09 02:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
jesus christ. that is terrifying. i'm so sorry, dude--what a hard place to be in. and once again, thank god jo has you.

are illogical fears part of OCD? i did not know this. i thought i had it for pretty much all of my 20s and i never read that. (i didn't read a ton about it, to be fair.) weird/interesting.

Date: 2013-12-09 03:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, it's one of the main features of OCD. It turns out a focus on keeping things extraordinarily neat and orderly is actually a feature of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, or OCPD. People with OCD have bizarre (or non-bizarre) thoughts that "get stuck" in their minds and they cannot get rid of them. The way our friend explained it to us is that the brain misfires and has intense panic moments for no apparent reason, and seamlessly, the brain searches for some reason it's having this strong panic reaction. When there's no rational reason, hey, those cool supernatural things that everyone's fascinated with will do! Or hey, death! Some OCD sufferers get stuck on the idea that they're actually pedophiles or rapists when they're absolutely no such thing. Our friend told us that at this point, people start doing various rituals to get rid of the thoughts, and when they naturally and eventually come down from the panic, then they misattribute the end of the panic to the given ritual's effectiveness. So every time they panic, they do the ritual, and if that one doesn't seem to work, they find another one, and that strengthens the panic-response cycle, and around and around we go. And then also apparently people with OCD attach a great deal of significance to things too, resulting in hoarding.

It's just terrifying to me to hear these things coming out of her little mouth. It's really like entering the Twilight Zone. And it's weird too, for me, because my dad DEFINITELY has OCD. He has dozens of little rituals he performs daily, he hoards, he has to ask the same question somewhere about 5-6 times to calm his anxiety over any new situation... but I only ever experienced my dad's OCD from the outside, where I observed the behavior and understood his need to perform his rituals. It was always just Dad being Dad and it was fine, even endearing, that he had to have the same red, plastic cup in the same place by the sink every day, and he had to fill it with soda exactly half-way and take exactly 14 sips every time. But he never, ever shared the thoughts that drove him to do these things. Which I really appreciate right now.

Date: 2013-12-09 09:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You are only as happy as your most unhappy child, they say. Your concern is legitimate; it makes a parent sad when the life they envisioned for a child isn't turning out to be the life that child is living.

That said, your daughter is on the cusp of many hormonal changes and this passage from 11 to 18 is a bumpy ride due to that. What you are seeing today is not predictive of the adult Jo, although it is not easy to see beyond what you are witnessing right now.

I remember when my younger child, Camille, went through an anxious stage where she thought I might not be her "real" mother, but a substitute who was wearing a mask that just looked like me. (She has been watching far too much television at that point in her life.) So we made up a secret password that only her real mother would know (Peanut Butter, it was) and when she needed to check in regarding my true identity, she'd have me say the secret password.

This was a helpful way to deal with her fear, as it acknowledged that her fear was real (I didn't just poo-poo it away as "stupid") and gave her a tool--the secret word--to use when she felt this particular anxiety come up.

Her passage from 11 to (now) 16 was tremendously stressful for me, but I have to say (and I hope this gives you hope) that today she is just like any other 16 year old. She no longer experiences what one might call irrational fears, no more panic attacks (that was a big challenge last year, and had her in weekly therapy). What did remain were all the funny quirky things that make her Camille...a hilarious sense of humor and a kind, sensitive and loving child.

Date: 2013-12-09 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is enormously comforting and helpful. I love the secret password trick!

Date: 2013-12-09 04:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you :)

Date: 2013-12-10 03:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Shelby, I've spent the past day trying to think how to express my gratitude for your response, but I'm unable to find the words. This is so deeply helpful, and it's wonderful to know that Camille is doing so well. Thank you for sharing that with us. xxoo

Date: 2013-12-10 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, thank you for this comment. I'm glad it helped.


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