Epilogue: Mom’s view
Web-only article from "Cannabis" issue of Visions Journal, 5(4)
All those cliché sentiments about high school being the “best years of your life”—well, the opposite has been true for my son. Imagine navigating high school while coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). That has been Matt’s journey.
Matt was always a cheerful, active, well-liked boy with an easy infectious laugh. He liked skateboarding, swimming and hanging out with his friends. But by August 2005, he was beginning to worry excessively. When, just a couple of weeks into his grade eight year he told me he was afraid the computers at school would ‘get him in the temple,’ I knew we were in trouble.
By December, Matt didn’t laugh or talk much. He was a complete slave to obsessions and intrusive thoughts, which showed up as rituals and compulsions. He’d repeat an everyday activity like pulling on pants 50 times until he got it right. He couldn’t go through a doorway until he thought the right thought while going through. Most nights it was 3 a.m. before he would collapse into his bed, if he could make it through his doorway.
About 10 months later, Matt became engrossed in all things cannabis. I wasn’t strictly opposed (I’d smoked some pot when I was a youth). Of course, there are always concerns because it’s an illegal drug. But I was happy that Matt was having some social interaction. The whole cannabis culture was a link to his friends—many of them buddies from kindergarten days. Matt didn’t go anywhere, but at least friends were coming over to our house.
For over two years, I witnessed as he observed and vicariously explored the drug world; as he did exhaustive research on the Internet. THC contents and strains of marijuana—he could name 200 of them—became his passion. He talked about organic cannabis and vaporizers, and ways to ingest. He became an expert.
I began to realize it wasn’t a matter of if Matt would try cannabis, but when. Our open dialogue was in my favour. His friends were adept at concealing their dime bags, rolling papers and paraphernalia from parents, but at least I could monitor Matt’s use.
When he wanted to try marijuana to help his anxiety and neck discomfort, I thought, maybe, it might help. But I also worried about it working too well. If a person has obsessive tendencies, might they also lean towards addictive tendencies?
One day last summer, it happened: “Mom, I smoked pot.” He tried it, then actually went to a movie. Matt had stood up to fears around going to theatres—even eating some popcorn! This was a big deal. And he was excited to report that his neck issues were greatly improved. It was a success, he thought.
A subsequent attempt that summer produced a very different result. Matt went into a full-blown, panic-filled episode: he couldn’t seem to find reality, and his loose hold on staying oriented to time or place lasted for hours, until he finally slept.
I did see him not too long after this happened, but it never occurred to me he might be having a psychotic break. Perhaps it was because I had managed Matt’s care during many full-blown OCD episodes (I have a nursing background) that I didn’t call the crisis response team. In hindsight, however, I should have. I’ve no doubt now that it was a psychotic episode. It may have shortened his recovery time if we had gotten help sooner.
As you know, this marijuana experience devastated Matt and shifted his illness to a whole other level. Electronic phobia became drug phobia to the nth degree. But what I also saw was a whole lot more loss. He lost this thing—cannabis—that had been his passion. And he lost a lot more of his life—a year of school; couldn’t see his friends; couldn’t go to Mexico with his dad, sister and brother; he barely left the house. With loss there’s grief. As his mother, I don’t stop grieving for his losses.
I could go on and on about how this illness has impacted our family. We sometimes feel angry towards the OCD and work at keeping that separate from our feelings for Matt. After all, our frustrations pale beside the things he’s been dealing with.
I wanted to cry when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday last fall and his answer was: “A box of latex gloves and you to not nag me about how long my showers are.” It’s sad to see the joy and life go out of your child and stand helplessly by.
And I can’t help wondering if we should have been aware of some red flag about smoking pot—or doing any recreational drugs—if you have OCD, or any mental illness.
Right now Matt is doing much, much better. Meds plus therapy have given drastic improvements in a relatively short time. He seems ready for talk therapy now. There’s a hierarchy of things Matt is exposing himself to. I’m hopeful we’ll even progress to getting an MRI done for further assessment of his neck. But, really, I stay out of the therapy. It’s his. The clinician picks him up at our door, and they go to Starbucks—like buddies. Matt loves that.
Lately, Matt has acquired a fairly sophisticated understanding of computer operating systems. He has a plan to take the Computing Technology Industry Association certification courses. This is very exciting to us, because after losing his grade 11 year, returning to complete secondary school is questionable. I feel sad that he likely won’t graduate with his peers. But this Comp TIA training will open up career opportunities.
I would venture to say that the programming is becoming a new passion.
I would go as far to say that all this computer stuff has only happened because Matt agreed to go back on meds. When he does, it frees up many streams of thought in his mind to do things other than obsess and worry.
My gauge of how Matt is doing at any given time has always been whether he is laughing or not. Lately, he laughs out loud with his brother and sister every day. That makes a mother’s heart smile.
To read Matt's story, click here.
About the author
Gina* is the mother of three teenagers, including Matt. She has a background in pediatric nursing, but has been a full-time mom for many years