6 Things Someone With OCD Wants You to Know
As a therapist working with individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I have compiled and paraphrased a brief summary of what they would want non-sufferers to know most.
1.) Saying "I'm so OCD" really, really bothers me
"I'm not sure where this phrase originated, but pleeeease stop using it. OCD is a debilitating condition, not a laughable phrase to communicate how you loved color-coding your closet last weekend. A glimpse into my mind would show a web of intrusive thoughts (and images!) that sky rocket my anxiety, followed by a nagging voice compelling me to perform an endless number of compulsions to feel better. I feel like a slave to this cycle, and you would never see me laughing about it - crying, yes. It took me one hour to put my clothes on yesterday - one hour - starting and restarting every time an unwanted thought came to mind. Imagine waking up at least an hour earlier every morning just to accomplish this seemingly simple task. And that doesn't take into account how long it takes me to shower and prepare my lunch. By 8:00am, I'm exhausted, frustrated, and ashamed, and still have the rest of the day ahead of me. So when I hear others speak of this condition in a joking manner, it hurts."
2.) OCD comes in many forms, and compulsions are not always visible
"There are many, many individuals out there whose compulsions are invisible, but equally as debilitating. The person next to me would never know I'm silently repeating 'good' phrases, neutralizing bad thoughts with good ones, counting, praying, and mentally replaying events over and over and over again. While you may think of someone with OCD as the person who repeatedly washes their hands, contamination OCD is only one manifestation, and no subtype is easier than another."
For a description of less-commonly talked about symptoms of OCD, click here.
3.) If I could "just stop" doing my rituals, I would
"Believe me, I know that my compulsions are illogical. I recognize that turning my lights on and off exactly three times will not determine whether my mother dies in a fatal car accident on her way to work. That's the frustrating part about OCD. Even though it makes no sense, and I truly, truly, want to stop, it feels like I can't. The intense anxiety and discomfort I feel is overwhelming. I know you mean well and only want to help, but telling me to "stop obsessing," or reassuring me that my fears will not come true, is not helpful. I already reason with myself all. day. long, trying to desperately reassure myself that something bad won't happen after I couldn't go back to tap an item one extra time; it doesn't work. You simply cannot reason an OCD thought away, or tell yourself to just think about something else. Even if my fears have never come true, and the chances of them coming true in the future are so incredibly small, my mind still whispers, 'but what if? and I feel compelled to ritualize 'just in case.'"
4.) Please don't pressure me into facing certain fears, saying "It'll be good for you!"
"Yes, I know it'll be good for me, and I will get there, in time. Working on smaller fears first is what is best for me right now, and gives me the motivation to continue fighting this monster. Going too fast only makes me feel angry, resentful, and takes away from our time spent together. Remember, I am more than my OCD."
5.) OCD is a life-long journey
"There is no cure. While I may be highly successful in treatment, that does not mean I won't have a bad moment, day, or even week. When this happens, it hurts even more to have family members and friends look down on me, as if I'm not trying hard enough. Instead of blaming, it is more helpful to have support and encouragement. Trust me, I already feel bad enough for slipping. Hurtful comments only intensity my feelings of defeat."
6.) Please Don't Police my OCD
"When I've opened up to family and friends about my symptoms, it felt like they began taking a microscope to every move I made - pointing out any moment they thought I was ritualizing. I understand those closest to me want to help, but it is unrealistic for me to stop my compulsions cold turkey. Pointing out every moment is frustrating, and often makes me feel like you're more interested in my OCD than me. The best way to help is for us to come up with a plan, together, as to when, how, and if, I want your help catching my rituals. While it may be easy to spot all the moments I am ritualizing, what you are not seeing are all the moments I am refraining."
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