As a teenager with OCD , he'd open and close the fridge door incessantly - or stand frozen in the bathroom for hours on end. It almost tore his family apart. Here's their story: WorldMentalHealthDay
SINGAPORE: He stood frozen in the toilet for up to five hours at a go, often walked an overhead bridge backwards and found comfort opening and ...
These are the memories that Evelyn Chng and Tony Kee have of their son’s childhood.
A nice story of triumph over seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Evelyn and Tony first noticed something was amiss in 2011, when they received a memo from their eldest child, *Bruce’s (not his real name) Mathematics teacher about him not handing in eight weeks of homework.
For the next two years or so, the Kees watched as their usually happy-go-lucky and active child became increasingly reticent and withdrawn. Bruce, who used to place in the top 10 per cent of his cohort, started to become untidy and fall behind in school.
Just months before he was due to sit for his O-Level examinations, he was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
While there is not much data on OCD in Singapore youth, Ms Raj estimates it could affect up to 4 per cent of youths here, which is almost double the global prevalence of 2 to 3 per cent. From 2014 to 2018, the IMH Child Guidance Clinics saw an average of about 130 children and adolescents aged between 6 to 18 years old with OCD.
“We thought OCD could be fully recovered from – with everything reset back to normal,” Tony said.
Both parents recall having to wait hours in the school’s carpark as their teenage son flitted in and out of his empty classroom in a deserted school. Because they had no access to the school’s facilities, they sometimes had to enlist the help of a security guard to escort their son down.
At home, Bruce would spend several hours in the toilet after a shower, standing in one spot as if frozen in time.
This daily occurrence meant having to switch off all the lights and gas and wait around, even if the family happened to be preparing dinner at the time.
“It was so bizarre that we could not even try to understand. We were trying to see what we could do to help him because … he had just changed into another person,” Evelyn said.
Back then, she was acting as caregiver to her mother with dementia as well.
He also targeted his younger sister whom he couldn’t stand the sight of, once going so far as to impede her from going to the toilet for several hours when their parents were out.
“When he got tired, he would ask me to complete the ritual and I had to do exactly as instructed. He would beg me saying ‘Please mummy, last time, last time’ when I refused. He would also shout and yell.”
“He would try to stop me from leaving – which stopped him (doing his rituals) … and sometimes, I would end up dozing off because I had to sit there for one to two hours while waiting for him to calm down,” she said, grimacing.
“In some of these cases, all they can explain is that this just ‘feels right’, leading to much parental frustration. In some cases when sufferers are unable to obtain relief from overwhelming anxiety and discomfort, they may even end up with rage attacks which can be misunderstood as misconduct by family members,” added Dr Loh.
“The police have come (to the house) so many times that we can apply to be VIP members,” joked Tony.
Said Tony: “It’s like … as a man, in the office, you can solve an issue. But you can’t even bring your child from the toilet to the bedroom. It’s just a short distance but you can’t do it, you know? The frustration was just too much,” he said.
We even thought of ending our lives that time. We couldn’t take it, because we were actually feeding his OCD. He was also refusing to seek continuous treatment with the psychologist so we were at a loss because we didn’t know how to manage.
Not even extended family were privy to the situation and the Kees suffered in silence as both parents feared the stigma young Bruce would face if people found out he had a mental condition.
Oftentimes, when he was coming home, Bruce would stop just shy of his front door to perform a mental ritual that would have him wait outside for one to two hours while his family waited inside, unable to leave.
“When I heard her saying it like that, I told myself I need to make some changes, otherwise one day, even your own cousin will not come and help you anymore,” he said.
Around the same time, Bruce was accepted by IMH for treatment and his parents picked up skills on how to reinforce those messages at home.
“After that, he started to change and we could empathise with what he was going through. We were no longer fighting,” she added with a smile.
In class, caregivers marvelled at the pair’s experience dealing with their son’s OCD and Evelyn’s mother’s dementia.
Encouraged by the results, Evelyn left her job in retail pharmacy to join CAL as a caregiver support specialist.
Looking back, Tony admits he wouldn’t have considered volunteering if not for years of struggle with Bruce and his mother-in-law’s situation. “I took it as a lesson that I needed to go through to learn from it.”
“On the first day, he was five minutes late, but from the second day onwards, he was half an hour early and even volunteered to leave the house early,” Tony said.
She was overjoyed when Bruce told her: “Mummy, I am happy you know”, when he came back home after work.
“Of course, now he may be coping well, but in the future we don’t know. It’s still a lot of uncertainty, but we can only be hopeful and be positive,” said Evelyn.
CNA spoke to Bruce about his experience with OCD and this is what he shared with us:
Bruce: Then I will feel like very stressed out, because I had already planned out everything nicely in my head. I’m very aware of how people view me. Even if people aren’t judging me, I have that feeling that people are judging me.
Your parents said after you come out of the shower, the surroundings have to be the same.
What I do now is mostly keep myself engaged … like do things. Even if I’m at home, I’ll be surfing the Net, or finding something to do to keep my mind occupied to distract myself. Because if I don’t do anything, I tend to think a lot. Because my normal state is picking on all the details where I am very aware, I’m hyper-aware.
Yes, when I started work, I did. Because working needed me to go back to work the next day. But now it is more controlled - I can sort of resist it even though I still had the urge to do (the rituals). I try to distract myself, mostly.
I think it’s a good thing because they help others. It’s because of my mum taking part in this caregiver thing that she made me go for the sessions and that made me more aware that I wanted to help people also. After I went for the sessions then I started to want to help out with peer support. I was inspired when I saw my parents teaching others.
I feel like it’s a good thing, even though it may not seem like a good job in the eyes of the public. I feel like it makes me able to do things. It is meaningful and it’s something that I want to wake up and do. It’s not like some jobs where you have to drag yourself to work because this environment is quite good I feel. The people are nice and I feel very at ease. I work with a multi-disciplinary OCD team where I’m the only PSS.
Have you met any patients who are in the same place that you once were?
What is one piece of advice you would give a youth who has OCD?
For me, I also thought that way. I thought: “I’m normal, what. OCD is just some doctor’s label”. Spending 4 hours in the toilet … To me, it was not illogical in my point of view. I just thought that it was my way of doing things. It didn’t occur to me that it was OCD. I just thought it was my personality.Read more: CNA
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