This week is OCD Awareness Week, a week during which many wonderful charities work together to focus their efforts on raising awareness and changing perceptions about the impact Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can have on those that suffer.
So, I thought I would do my bit, too, by sharing some information about OCD; I would be incredibly grateful if you could take just five minutes of your time to read this information, and learn a little bit about the illness.*
‘Every time I hear someone say they are “so OCD” because they frantically cleaned their kitchen that morning, I feel a surge of disappointment in my stomach. […] At its worst, my OCD was a terrible, debilitating condition that reduced me to tears and even made me question my own life. I felt like I wasn’t living, merely existing, consumed by terrible thoughts and tiresome rituals.’ – Hattie Gladwell
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
OCD goes far beyond the all too common perception that OCD is merely hand washing, straightening objects or checking light switches.
O – Obsessive. Obsessions are unwanted, reoccurring intrusive thoughts, images or urges plaguing those afflicted 24/7, triggering intense feelings of distress.
C – Compulsive. Compulsions are behaviours or ‘rituals’ an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease their mental distress.
D – Disorder. The meaning a sufferer then attaches to an unwanted thought turns it into an obsession, thus differentiating them from those without OCD. It’s important to remember that OCD is NOT a choice. It’s a genuine, devastating Disorder.
This obsession, in turn, causes a sufferer to carry out rituals/compulsions. These compulsive rituals and compulsions are usually performed by sufferers because they inexplicably feel that they have to, in order to prevent a dreaded event from occurring, whereas others act compulsively to alleviate the anxiety that stems from particular obsessive thoughts, though they are aware that their behaviour is not at all rational.
Unbeknown to the majority, these rituals only momentarily reduce the sufferer’s anxiety, which in turn causes them to feel more anguish, as the frequency at which they perform the rituals increases. It’s a vicious circle, which often can not be broken without help from others. Reduction in distress reinforces the compulsion, thereby making it more likely to occur again. The cycle continues.
Typically a person’s OCD will fall into one of the five main categories, with themes often overlapping between categories too:
- Contamination / Mental Contamination
- Ruminations / Intrusive Thoughts
- Symmetry and Ordering
More information on these categories can be found here.
Over the years, I’ve been trying to find ways to describe OCD to those closest to me. A few videos published by sufferers have been immensely useful when I have felt unable to articulate what is going on. Here are tress I’ve found which, for me, most accurately depict life with OCD:
- Claire Gellard released a video ‘Locked’; to this day it’s one of the most accurate depictions of OCD I have found online.
- The Mighty also published a video ‘I Have OCD. This Is What It’s Like to Be in My Mind for 3 Minutes’ back in 2015 and I highly recommend a watch.
- And for those with a bit more time on their hands, Claire Watkinson published a documentary, ‘Living With Me And My OCD’, in which she spoke with many of those living with OCD.
What OCD is NOT:
– A choice. For a person with OCD, they can’t just “snap out of it.” Research has shown that the brain of a person with OCD actually functions differently in this situation, essentially getting “stuck” on a thought.
– A quirk. For someone with OCD, there is no obvious “problem solved” moment. Once triggered, their OCD would necessitate doing an elaborate ritual to undo the mistake that was made. These “rituals” aren’t indulgences. A person with OCD doesn’t clean their hands with bleach causing serious chemical burns, check their appliances several hundred times a day, or follow other rituals because they want to — they do it because they are terrified about what will happen if they don’t. OCD isn’t about logic — it’s about anxiety.
– A synonym for anal-retentive, neatnik, clean freak, etc., etc. This is how the term OCD is often misused in pop culture. It has somehow become a synonym for uptight. OCD can be just as devastating to a person and their family as cancer — it interrupts lives, derails plans, and in extreme cases can lead to a person taking their own life.
– A joke. Despite the severity of OCD and other mental disorders, many people do not get help. Why? Because of stigma. This needs to change; it’s time to change.
Without the help of others, OCD can be so horrific it drives some people to the brink, on occasions to attempted/completed suicide.
To sufferers and non-sufferers alike, the thoughts and fears related to some forms of OCD often seem profoundly horrific and shocking, so shocking the sufferer that it can prevent people seeking help and treatment, which then leads to years of living with what someone once described as a ‘daytime nightmares’. It must be stressed however, that they are just thoughts – not fantasies or impulses which will be acted upon.
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be suffering with OCD, please talk to them about it, or visit your GP as soon as possible – you really could save a life.
And remember, OCD does not define who you are; you are not your OCD!!!
*I will not go into detail about the specifies of my OCD. It’s intimate and scary and something I’m not ready to share with the world.
Beating the blues provides free computerised CBT with a referral from a GP. beatingtheblues.co.uk