obsessive-compulsive since age seven

My OCD struck at age seven.  Strep-throat-gone-to-hell and all of the sudden curse words were running through my head as if I were some foul-mouthed sailor, when the truth of the matter was that I was a shy (Yes, really!  Hard to believe now!) girl from a conservative home, who would have never DARED to utter those phrases outloud.

I began to worry that I would lie if I gave my opinion, so for a while, my answer to everything was “I don’t know.”  Favorite color?

I don’t know.

Did I like my teacher?

I don’t know.

Should we do this or that?

I don’t know.

Ridiculous.

I have this image in my head of running to find my mom under the clothesline, smacking my fist against my forehead, and confessing.  My poor mom.

I wish we’d known then.  It would be another fifteen years before my OCD would even be named, but I’ve wondered what life would have been like had we caught it back in the summer of 1989.  Drat you, internet, for coming along too late!

Every once in a while I google things like “my daughter is attacked by bad thoughts” or “my daughter has bad thoughts” or “my daughter keeps confessing” to see how quickly the trail leads to OCD.

My heart breaks for the obsessive-compulsive children out there, wild minds racing, hearts terrified, robbed of childhood.

Parents can look for the following possible signs of OCD:

  • repetitive confession
  • constantly seeking reassurance
  • raw, chapped hands from constant washing
  • unusually high rate of soap or paper towel usage
  • high, unexplained utility bills
  • a sudden drop in test grades
  • unproductive hours spent doing homework
  • holes erased through test papers and homework
  • requests for family members to repeat strange phrases or keep answering the same question
  • a persistent fear of illness
  • a dramatic increase in laundry
  • an exceptionally long amount of time spent getting ready for bed
  • a continual fear that something terrible will happen to someone
  • constant checks of the health of family members
  • reluctance to leave the house at the same time as other family members

I waited fifteen years to be diagnosed.  Just take your kiddo to the psychiatrist.*

*I’m not mad at you, Momma. 🙂  How could we have known?  You’re my favorite.

PANDAS

The PANDAS that I’m talking about has nothing to do with these guys …

 

 

 

 

 

… and everything to do with childhood strep throat.

PANDAS = Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections

Say what???

PANDAS describes a set of children in whom an ordinary bacterial strep infection can turn into a neuropsychiatric disorder.  The strep seems to cause the body’s immune system to build up antibodies that – who knows why – turn traitor and attack the basal ganglia in the brain.

In other words, a simple case of strep throat gone to hell.

Sometimes a child gets strep throat, and the body gets confused– instead of fighting off the bacteria, it attacks the basal ganglia … which leads to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The first time I had an intake with a psychiatrist, she asked about my past medical issues.  “Ummm … I broke my elbow twice,” I said, thinking how a broken bone had nothing to do with my head issues.  I reached: “And I’ve had strep throat like a million times.”  I felt a little stupid and way too thorough.  Keep it to related issues, I thought to myself.  Duh.

But my psychiatrist perked up.  “Did you know there’s a strong connection between strep throat and OCD?” the doctor asked me.

Apparently, this is a little controversial, and some doctors aren’t convinced.  But come on– how many cases of strep-followed-by-rapid-onset-of-OCD do you have to see before you raise an eyebrow at the connection?

My doctor– Dr. Suck-Won Kim, the absolutely brilliant OCD expert at the University of Minnesota– believes there is a strong correlation, and I’m in his court.

A scene cut from my book:

“You have heard of PANDAS?” he asked.

            “I have,” I said, although I couldn’t remember at the moment what it stood for.  “It’s when kids get strep throat and then OCD.  Or something like that.”  I realized that I probably sounded stupid, explaining PANDAS to an OCD expert.

            “So many PANDAS studies … it has to be solved because far more OCD cases are strep-linked than people know.”

            “Yes, I had strep a lot as a kid.”

“YOU DID? YOU SEE?!”  Dr. Lee became animated as if a moment ago I’d said no such link between strep and OCD existed but now he was proving me wrong.

“The first time I met with a psychiatrist, she asked about my medical history.  I didn’t have a lot to share, but I happened to throw it out there that I’d had strep throat a lot, and she said it was probably connected.”

“She knew that?” asked Dr. Lee, impressed.  “That is uncommon.  Most doctors have no clue.” 

For more information on PANDAS, feel free to check out

I think I had strep throat nine times as a child.  Can anyone beat that?  Leave a comment!