"Some words started to bother me, and I started washing my hands a lot. And then it kept getting worse and worse, with more words and 40-minute showers."
An interview with Sophie, 10, who was treated by Dr. Jerry Bubrick for OCD. During the interview, Sophie occasionally reads from a book she wrote and illustrated about her OCD, and the work she did to overcome it.
How old were you when your trouble with OCD started?
Sophie: I think I was maybe seven.
How did it begin?
Sophie: Some words started to bother me, and I started washing my hands a lot. And then it kept getting worse and worse, with more words and 40-minute showers.
Can you read some of the words and sounds that bothered you?
Sophie: Honey, beautiful, gorgeous, warm, smooth, cream, shh, breathing, rubbing, amazing, love, crossed legs, kissing, “kiss” the word, and cool. But now all those words are off my list. And they can’t come back!
What happened when you heard those words?
Sophie: I got really mad. But then I overcame them.
What did you do when people said these words?
Sophie: I would scream at them. And I would make them apologize to me. And they did. My OCD was telling me: “You have to say that, otherwise you’re going to have a terrible day.” And really I was in control, and I didn’t really have to say that. But I really didn’t know that. And Dr. Bubrick taught me to realize that.
“I called him Leaf because he’s in the part of the basal ganglia in my head. So he’s kind of like leaf and ivy. I drew pictures of Leaf, and why he’s bad: Leaf makes me feel sick, makes me feel angry. Makes me feel like I want to die.”
And how long did this go on for?
Sophie: Like a few months. My mom started to worry because I think she already knew what OCD was. My older sister started worrying about me, and she told me something really special that I’d like to share. There’s a song called “Lean on Me” and she said, “Sophie, now that you have OCD I want you to lean on me when you’re upset and you can’t handle anything.” She’s 12.
What happened when you first started to see Dr. Bubrick?
Sophie: At first we would talk a lot. And then we would start coloring, because he knows I like to color a lot. And so he wanted to make it fun for me. And I made a book which has over thirty, like forty pages, and it’s kind of like the story of my OCD. I illustrated it and I wrote it.
Sophie: Leaf is what I call my OCD. Jerry didn’t want to call it OCD. So I called him Leaf because he’s in the part of the basal ganglia in my head. So he’s kind of like leaf and ivy. I drew pictures of Leaf, and why he’s bad: Leaf makes me feel sick, makes me feel angry. Makes me feel like I want to die.
Leaf makes me sad and hurt, and he’s really bossy. He’s the big cheese. And he has lots of rules.
Here’s a picture of my team of people who are helping me—the Leaf poisoners’ team: My mommy, my daddy, my sisters, and my doctors, and my grandma and grandpa. This is my grandma’s dream: When Leaf got a one-way ticket to the moon.
This is a page that says: Leaf lies. And Leaf says to be mad if somebody doesn’t say, “sorry,” Leaf says that I will get dirty if I don’t wash my hands, and Leaf says, “you can’t handle anything.”
And things I will do to fight Leaf: holding my reaction in, being calm, doing exposures, stuff like that. I fought Leaf, and I wrote, “I beat Leaf.”
“It was really hard the first few times. I kept storming out because he was saying words. But after a few weeks of it I started to get the hang of it. We started having amazing sessions.”
Can you tell us about how exposures work?
Sophie: Well, Dr. Bubrick says the words. Usually, Leaf wakes up and I get mad. But I have to hold my reaction in. Just totally.
And how did that work the first time you tried it?
Sophie: I stormed out. And I yelled at him. It was really hard the first few times. I kept storming out because he was saying words. But after a few weeks of it I started to get the hang of it. We started having amazing sessions. And then we had even better sessions, and then we started going out together, like we took walks around Grand Central, and we went to silly stores, and it was really fun. There’s this store called Pylons. I’m not even going to tell you the silliest thing. I can’t tell you. It was a book about farts. And they had a tissue box, it was like a cover, and it was a kid’s face with a pig nose and the tissue was coming out of the pig’s nostril.
What was the idea of these walks?
Sophie: We would watch people cross their legs, and uncross. And we would like, we would just have fun.
Are you getting along better with your friends?
Sophie: Especially my best friend. We kept fighting because she said my OCD was not important to her, and she didn’t need to be careful about it. And then when Leaf was small, like with only the one thorn on it, our friendship got a lot better. And now we’re best friends again. And my relationship with my mommy got a lot better. When I was fighting the OCD she really came through for me.
Sophie: Dr. Bubrick said to me, “Sophie, what would be the best thing that you could get after your OCD was gone?” And I said, “Well, Jerry, I really want a puppy.” He said, “We’ve got to work real hard, and we’ve got to keep fighting OCD until we win.” And I think we’ve come a long way.
So one day I had a really good session, and my mom and I found my puppy. It’s a Cavapoo, a mix of a Cavalier and a King Charles Spaniel and a poodle. And I already picked out the name and I visited him four times. They’re saving him for me.
Click here to read an interview with Sophie’s mom Laura.