by Harvey Widroe, M.D.
American Reporter Correspondent
December 10, 2007
DROPPING THE BABY
ORINDA, Calif. -- Hank, now 8 years old, had had one of the most exciting days of his life. It was his first train ride. Hank's father and a business partner had taken him by train from Baltimore to New York City. And the strange swirl of activity of New York, a huge city, far larger than anything he could have imagined, had been like stepping onto another world.
While his father conducted business, Hank spent much of the day in waiting rooms of office buildings. Lunch had been eaten in a bustling cafeteria. But it was walking around the noisy, crowded streets flanked by mountainous buildings that most impressed Hank. He was glad his father was there, just to be sure he didn't get lost in the herds of people he felt crowding in upon him. He was sure no one really wanted to kidnap an 8-year-old boy, yet he took comfort in being flanked by his two bodyguards.
Hank felt a happy fatigue on the train ride back to Baltimore. He quietly stared out the window at the factories, the houses, the scenery, the cars and trucks waiting to cross the tracks. But it was the billboards that captured most of his attention. One for a stomach medicine. One for a new car. And one for Camel cigarettes.
Yet the one that struck him most urged him to buy a variety of macaroni and cheese. The bill board message "Megaroni!" whizzed past him. It sounded odd when he repeated it in his mind, "Megaroni." And he said it to himself and saw the billboard image in his mind again, and then again.
How funny that the visual image of the word and the sound of the word kept popping into his mind. He tried to look out the window at other things that might distract him from the thought center stage in his mind, but to his surprise nothing seemed to interest him anymore except to silently or quietly repeat the word, "Megaroni." It had seemed odd, almost funny at first.
But when he couldn't stop thinking, seeing and hearing in his mind the now peculiar sounding word, he didn't like it at all. It was too weird to complain about to his father. His Dad probably would have laughed at him anyway. And when he got home, he couldn't tell his mother, either, even though she invariably had a sympathetic ear for his problems.
That night he lay in bed quietly crying - the sound of "Megaroni" now a non-stop thunderous chorus in his head. The next day he went to school, recalling only what a marvelous time he'd had the day before, and eager to tell his friends about it. "Megaroni" remained an occasional word in the corner of his mind that faded away as the day went on.
Twenty years later Henry, now a happily married new dad, stood staring at his infant daughter, contentedly nestled in his arms. As he walked from one room to another, it had vaguely occurred to him to be extra careful not to drop the baby. He reassured himself that the baby was safe. Then the thought struck him more forcefully that he was actually going to drop the baby. But he knew better. He loved the baby and would do anything he could to protect her. Yet to his amazement, the thought returned, now as a kind of command, "DROP THE BABY!"
To assure himself that nothing bad was going to happen, he handed the baby over to his wife. But the thought didn't go away. There it was, that awful thought telling him, repeatedly, that he was going to drop the baby. He became frightened and told his wife about his bizarre thinking. Her shocked response was to forbid him to have anything to do with the baby until he had seen a doctor. She wondered if he really was going to harm the baby? He had always seemed so gentle. Now she was scared stiff.
Henry kept struggling with the thought that he was going to drop the baby. He felt frightened and guilty, as though he even harbored the wish to harm his new daughter. Yes, once early in his wife's pregnancy, he had envisioned playing ball with a son, thereby fulfilling the frustrated wish for his too-often-absent father to come home to play with him. But he was crazy with love for his little daughter. He knew they had lots of good times in their future together, yet could he ever be trusted to take care of the baby when he had such horrible thoughts? He couldn't sleep at all that night, half wondering if he was going insane.
The fears of dropping the baby continued the next day, and the next, controlling his mind, making it impossible to focus on his work or much of anything else. By the end of a week he felt very depressed. He did a few things to help his wife take care of the baby, but he now felt more distant, and afraid to touch his daughter lest he somehow damage her.
Henry suffers from a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In this illness, the victim suffers from the totally involuntary insertion of thoughts or fears into his mind. He isn't becoming psychotic, but most sufferers become so distraught that they feel they are going mad. Most important he is not really a menace to his daughter or to anyone else. He is depressed and agitated because he feels trapped and helpless to do anything about his intrusive, repetitive thoughts.
The prospect for Henry achieving relief is excellent.
In psychotherapy, we typically reassure the patient that he isn't really going crazy, isn't really in danger of doing what he fears he might do. We often teach patients a series of mental exercises to help them distract their minds from the intrusive thoughts.
For example, Henry might be taught that whenever he has thoughts about dropping the baby, instead he can conjures up the image of laughing babies flying safely around the room. Only after the patient is much more comfortable, with far fewer symptoms, can we turn to those issues or stressors that had something to do with the outbreak of the obsessive compulsive symptoms.
For example, Henry might need to examine his fears about becoming a father. Medication, especially SSRI antidepressants like Zoloft or Paxil in high dosages, commonly helps achieve significant or even total relief from obsessive compulsive symptoms. The baby will not be dropped, and Henry will have control of his mind once again.
Harvey Widroe M.D., is a longtime practicing psychiatrist and. with Ron Kenner, the author of the recently published, "The Smart Dieter's Cheating Guide: Eat and Watch Pounds Melt Away" (Outskirts Press).