Beginning around August 2014, Jakob began experiencing symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). These symptoms began at the age of 12 after a series of stressful events in seventh grade. When the symptoms started, Jakob's mother Lisa explains, "It was overnight, like someone kidnapped my child and replaced him with a different person. One day there was nothing, and then the next day he was experiencing all of these symptoms."
For Jakob, the symptoms were completely preoccupying. Everything had to be even, and he had to touch things in a particular way in order to be comfortable and avoid feelings of uneasiness. He had one particularly disruptive ritual every time he saw a clock. When this occurred, he would have to recite the month, day, and time. Jakob says his symptoms "…took over everything." His symptoms made doing homework very challenging, and he had significant trouble paying attention in class. For Lisa, "It was very hard to see Jakob letting OCD take away his happiness and freedom."
Finding Answers at Mount Sinai
Jakob's mother took him to see several doctors, many of which had limited knowledge of OCD and treatment of OCD. Through online searching for a support group for children with OCD, Lisa stumbled upon the 12-week Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Group Program for Children at Mount Sinai, run by Ariz Rojas, PhD, of the Mount Sinai Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders Program. The group seemed like a good fit and they decided Jakob would participate.
At the beginning of the group, Jakob was instructed to write a list of everything he could not do because of OCD. In the first couple of weeks, group participants learned about OCD, and in the third or fourth week they started exposures. Exposures involve engaging in the activity that causes anxiety, without completing the ensuing ritual subconsciously designed to assuage that anxiety. After repeated exposures, participants realize these activities will not harm them. Jakob said, "Exposures make you do more than usual, so when you go back to normal it's much easier." He added, "My first exposure was probably with the clock. At first I had to wait five minutes until I could do the clock ritual. Then during the next group, I had to wait ten minutes, and then twenty, until I no longer did the ritual."
Jakob and his mother found his participation in this group to be life changing. He enjoyed the group setting, as it helped him to see he was going through a shared experience and was not alone.
A Bright Future
Throughout the group Dr. Rojas saw how much Jakob improved, and she invited him to come to the next round of the group as a captain and act as a role model for children going through the group for the first time. He helps participants with exposures, and he goes through the activities alongside the participants to provide moral support. After Dr. Rojas invited Jakob to be a group captain, he was extraordinarily excited and thought for the first time that he may want to become a psychologist.
At the beginning of his time as a group captain, Jakob reviewed his original list of exposure exercises and was proud to report that he can now do them all without any anxiety.
Prior to treatment, school caused extreme anxiety for Jakob. Now recovered and armed with the right tools, Jakob was eager to begin this academic year as an eighth grader. When asked what Jakob would like to share with people his age who may be struggling with OCD, he said, "You're not the only person who has this, and it will get easier. Be open to what other people say you should do to help yourself, and you have to have the mindset that you can be helped."