After reading I Can’t Stop! A Story About Tourette Syndrome by author Holly L. Niner, I was more than excited to get my hands on another book she wrote, Mr. Worry: A Story About OCD. And I wasn’t disappointed. Written about the neurological disorder her son was diagnosed with, Niner gives one of the most simplistic, accurate descriptions of true Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I’ve ever read. It’s a book that can make OCD understandable to both children and adults.
Before Niner begins the story, she provides a page’s description of her own son’s personal experience with begin diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and what it felt like to be the parent who felt frustrated and unsure of how to help him. While her description of OCD is geared toward children, the symptoms will sound very familiar with adults with the disorder as well. The treatment featured in the story is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) combined with medication.
The story begins with Kevin, a boy who constantly worries. Before bed, he must check his closet to make sure nothing is inside of it. He pushes the door to make sure it’s closed (twice), pushes his chair into his desk correctly, lines up his cars and books, and asks his mother if he did his homework, even though he has completed it. He voices worries about getting a tumor, and leaving stuff outside of his backpack. And after his mother finishes tucking him in, he makes sure there aren’t any lights under his bed, despite his bed having drawers beneath it. (He’s afraid to tell his parents about this part of his checklist.)
Kevin struggles with his worries at school as well. He asks his teacher the same questions about classroom procedures repeatedly. He knows it bothers his teachers, just as he knows his behavior isn’t normal, but he still can’t seem to help himself. He just knows his mind works differently from other people’s minds.
Just as Kevin worries about the impossible light beneath his bed, he worries about other impossibilities as well. One of these worries stems from a scary alien he saw on a TV show, and he finds himself wondering over and over again if his mother is an alien, even though he knows it’s impossible. This is the impossible worry that finally brings Kevin to tell his mother about his deeper struggles. Instead of getting angry or embarrassing him about his worries, his parents decide to bring him to talk to a counselor, one people talk to about their worries.
Dr. Fraser, Kevin’s counselor, talks to Kevin and helps him understand what’s going on in his brain. She lets him know that many other people have OCD, that he’s not the only one. Dr. Fraser uses the analogy of a phone call. She encourages Kevin to treat his worry “calls” like wrong number and to hang up on those calls. Although Kevin isn’t convinced he can do this, Dr. Fraser encourages him, telling him that with the help of medicine, she thinks it is possible.
It takes a few weeks before Kevin notices any big differences. He meets with Dr. Fraser every week; he starts to practice hanging up on the OCD. He even names it, Mr. Worry. Kevin finally begins to cut back on his habit of checking things, trying to take away one habit a week. When he pushes himself too fast, however, he experiences a little bit of backpedaling. He also discovers that watching scary movies isn’t a good idea, either.
Still, with hard work, encouragement from his parents, medication, and the CBT, Kevin begins to take control of his thoughts again. He realizes he’s getting good at hanging up on Mr. Worry. Mr. Worry’s not in charge; he is.
- I love that Niner includes small notes of what it was like for her son to be diagnosed with this disorder, as well as what it feels like to be the parent of a child with OCD.
- Kevin’s fears of impossible events, such as a light under his bed or his mother turning into an alien, might sound ridiculous, but for people with OCD, they’re always there. Unfortunately, instead of sharing the worry with people who might be able to help, those suffering from these obsessive thoughts are often too concerned about the shame to share what they’re feeling, and instead, will keep them bottled up.
- I love how the approach to managing Kevin’s OCD isn’t one dimensional. Rather, they use a combination of medications and Cognitive Behavior Therapy to help him learn to take control. I also like how the book ends realistically. Kevin hasn’t had a miracle cure, the kind most people with OCD wish for but can’t find. Instead, while Kevin still feels the effects of his OCD, he feels much more in control. He’s learned how to face his challenges effectively in a way that works specifically for him.
- Kevin’s support network – Kevin’s parents are aware that Kevin struggles with worry, and instead of making fun of him or telling him to get a grip, they seek out help from a wonderful counselor who is in tune with Kevin’s needs. And while Kevin’s teacher seems frustrated with him in the beginning of the story, the story indicates later on that they’re made aware of Kevin’s struggles, as they give reports noting his progress in the classroom.
- I really can’t find any. This book is simplistic, and yet it shows multiple parts of OCD, a disorder that can be difficult to describe since it has so many symptoms. This book was able to capture how certain parts of the disorder can be more overwhelming, while others are just side notes. All in all, it’s a book I wish adults would read, as well as children. It would take away much of the stigma associated with the disorder.
If your child, or someone your child knows has OCD, this book is a great way to help them understand what it feels like to worry, and that life with OCD can still be a happy, fulfilling one. I also recommend this book for friends or relatives who don’t understand the diagnosis, but want to. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be a stigmatized disorder, but the more adults and children understand it, the more support individuals with OCD will have. And more than anything, support is what they need.
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