Today, October 10th is World Mental Health Day. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of mental health issues.
I am not a therapist and nothing here can/should be construed as therapy but I wanted to write a bit about OCD and the way it is often trivialized.
Any time someone starts a sentence with "Oh, I'm so OCD..." I start to cringe, waiting to hear what kind of organizational practice they prefer. OCD is very often used to describe people who prefer things a certain way. What I have come to understand about OCD is the rituals those with OCD perform are not done because of a preference, it is done to ensure no harm befalls themselves and those they love, they are used to avoid pain, to try and stave off intense anxiety.
OCD is an extremely disruptive and painful process for those who live with it. It can cause issues with those they live with as the rituals interrupt day-to-day life.
I recently spoke with someone who experiences OCD and was able to ask some questions.
What do you wish people knew about OCD?
It's way more than just needing things in order, you can have OCD and still be a messy, unorganized person. At the core of it is always safety-seeking and a futile effort of trying to find 100% assurance in the world. You know it can't be done, but you still try. OCD is often called "the doubting disease", no amount of reassurance is ever enough. It makes the world feel like a very unsafe place.
OCD impacts every aspect of your life. It's much more serious than many people think it is. It's difficult to see how all consuming OCD really is, at it's height, it becomes the only thing in your life which means it consumes those around you as well. Even when you can see how much it hurts the ones you love, you can't just turn it off and you're never doing this to them on purpose. You know in those moments that you're being unreasonable but you know you still need to go through the rituals to keep everyone safe. It's really hard to know you're making life for those around you difficult but you can't stop it. To everyone else, it seems like something you should just be able to "knock off" but you can't. Those with OCD very often also experience anxiety and depression as well.
Do you have any suggestions for those who think they may have OCD?
If you've never been to therapy for it, do that, get some tools to start working with it. Eat well, sleep properly, and if you really want things to be better don't drink, use drugs, limit caffeine, exercise, and meditate. The biggest help, accept it, don't try to wish it away. The more you push it away, the stronger it can be. Therapy can also help you uncover the root of why OCD has manifested, what triggers it, and provide tools to manage the experience. The key is to take the best care you can of yourself and be open to adjusting your life. My therapist once told me "you have to be as relentless against it as it is against you."
OCD has forced me to take better care of my health. It has allowed me to be much more in tune with myself and my feelings. It has made me feel like a stronger person in a lot of ways too.
How can those who love a person with OCD be more helpful?
Try to remember, even if it doesn't make sense at all to you, it is till very real for the person experiencing it.
Express your frustration but do it from a place of service, and ask how can you better support that person. Don't mask your feelings but don't just place blame or hurt.
Don't tell them to knock it off, if they could, they would
Try to be patient. We know it isn't easy. Being open and honest while remaining kind is an important part of the support process
Understand that as difficult as it is for you, they are the ones actually experiencing the fear
Remember that all they are trying to do is feel safe in the world and keep the world safe for those they love
If you have someone in your life with OCD or you yourself experience it, I hope you found something helpful in this blog.
To learn more about OCD visit the International OCD Foundation.