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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD and the Road to Recovery

For many people suffering from significant and debilitating illnesses, their illnesses are chronic. An illness is chronic when it lasts for a significant amount of time and may have to be dealt with for the majority of one’s life. Examples of chronic illnesses include cancer, dementia, and diabetes (MedicinePlus, 2018). But physical illnesses aren’t the only ones that are chronic. Many people who suffer from mental disorders have to cope with their disorder for the rest of their life.

Therefore, what exactly does it mean to recover from OCD? Firstly, it’s important to understand that a lot of people suffering from OCD don’t seek diagnosis and treatment until the illness has dominated nearly every facet of their life. This is largely because of its invisibility. People often don’t want to admit that they’re struggling, or can’t even name exactly what they’re struggling with. Many OCD sufferers also suffer from something known as recovery avoidance, in which they actively avoid seeking help and receiving treatment, because they are fearful of what it means to attempt recovery. Though OCD is a disorder that causes many people to surrender control over their own actions because their intrusive thoughts and fears are so all-encompassing, many sufferers experience a paradoxical sense of control when they are able to perform the compulsions that rid them of their feelings of fear and lack of control over their environment (Singer, 2018).

Something else that may contribute to someone not seeking recovery for OCD is something known as incentive deficits. When a person doesn’t have a strong enough incentive to do something, they’re not going to act. Many people who suffer from OCD experience a lack of incentive to recover, and “a person will not seek recovery unless the incentive to get better is stronger than the fear of getting better” (Singer 2018). What’s unique about mental illnesses is that they can become so intrinsically linked with  a person’s sense of identity. When a mental illness affects every facet of someone’s behaviors and the way that they go about life, it can be difficult to imagine any other way of existing, and difficult to imagine who they can become without their mental illness.

Therefore, it’s important for people with OCD to have support systems made up of people who understand the challenges of the illness and who will help them have incentives to recover. When OCD is all a person’s ever known, it can be difficult to rip themselves free of that and learn to live a life that’s not dominated by the illness. It can be even more difficult to face recovery, because many treatments for OCD will force them to face their fears head-on. A popular treatment for OCD is something known as Exposure and Response Prevention, in which a person with OCD is exposed to situations that trigger their anxiety and their compulsions, and then force themselves (or are forced by a therapist) not to perform their compulsions (International OCD Foundation). This is important because, as the process continues, their brain will begin to understand that their fear is irrational and unfounded, and the fear will lessen over time, loosening the grip that OCD has over their thoughts and behaviors.

While OCD is a chronic illness, and people suffering with OCD may suffer with it for many years of their life, there are ways to combat it and lessen its significance in one’s life. But in order to recover from an illness, one must always take the first step and decide to get the help that they need. As OCD becomes more widely understood and less stigmatized through the years, more and more people will better understand what they’re going through and seek the help that they deserve. They just need to take that very first step.

References

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/ocd-treatment/erp/

Living with a chronic illness – reaching out to others: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000602.htm

Singer, J. (2018, October 8). Understanding Recovery Avoidance in OCD. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/understanding-recovery-avoidance-in-ocd/

Stages of Recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.recoveryanswers.org/resource/stages-of-recovery/

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

A Numbers Game: Counting OCD

Numbers can so often hold a special meaning in all of our lives. Numbers can signify anniversaries, birthdays, or holidays. You can have a number you find lucky or a number you think means bad luck for you. Clearly, numbers are meaningful and important in everyday life. However, for many people with OCD, numbers are important for entirely different reasons. For example, a common symptom of OCD is something known as compulsive counting. This may include counting the number of steps that they take, the number of tiles on the floor, or the number of specific items they have (New England OCD Institute, 2018). But what’s the reasoning behind this, and why is it a big deal for people with OCD?

Oftentimes, those with OCD who experience counting compulsions often do so because of “a strong need for things to be perfect or right” (Anxiety Canada, 2019). This need for exactness is often associated with a more stereotypical image of OCD: the person obsessed with cleanliness and neatness, organizing and reorganizing every inch of their house until it feels right to them.  Oftentimes, with OCD symptoms such as compulsive counting, there may not be a specific fear associated with these behaviors. They may just count until a specific number simply because of this need for a feeling of rightness. But what exactly does that mean? And this begs the question: if there’s no specific fear associated with their compulsions, why do they still feel compelled to perform them? OCD, at its core, is characterized by extreme and intense amounts of anxiety. Certain amounts of anxiety are a healthy part of everyday life. It’s natural to feel anxious about life changes or school presentations or upcoming tests, and these small doses of anxiety can be overcome fairly easily and painlessly. However, for those with OCD and other disorders characterized by anxiety, the anxiety becomes so debilitating and all-encompassing that it feels impossible to ignore or overcome. Therefore, though there may be no specific fear that relates to counting until you reach a specific number, or doing things a certain number of times, the need for rightness and exactness creates a sense of anxiety that’s insurmountable until the person with OCD performs the behaviors that make them feel right.

These symptoms of OCD are so often associated with a stereotypical and negative image of the disorder because many people find it difficult to understand and sympathize with symptoms and  thinking patterns that are not easily explained. Because mental illnesses are invisible, and often only immediately and deeply affect the people suffering from these illnesses, it is easy for many people to dismiss, ignore, or make fun of something that they cannot see or understand. But certain numbers hold a special significance in everyone’s life, even though other people or cultures may not understand the significance of a certain number from the outside.

Overall, it’s important to be willing to become educated about the lives of others in order to better understand other people and what matters to them in life. And it’s just as important for us to no longer remain in ignorance about mental illness and how it impacts those around us. While it may seem easy for people not immediately impacted by OCD to dismiss the disorder as something quirky and silly in regards to a need for neatness, a willingness to become educated will help everyone to better understand what people with OCD really go through on a daily basis.

References

OCDTYPES. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ocdtypes.com/counting-ocd.php

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.anxietycanada.com/disorders/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/

What are Numbers? (2006, March 14). Retrieved from https://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/what-are-numbers

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD and Co-Existing Mental Disorders

Though mental health is openly acknowledged and being treated more than ever before, many people fail to realize that those who suffer from a mental illness tend to have more than one. Typically, an individual doesn’t just have depression–they have depression and anxiety and bipolar disorder and any number of other mental illnesses, which makes it so much more difficult to properly diagnose and treat them. But why exactly do mental illnesses tend to coincide?

Having multiple illnesses at the same time is actually known as comorbidity, and doesn’t just apply to mental illnesses. For example, comorbidity can entail having both heart disease and depression. It also indicates that your illnesses intersect in such a way that they negatively impact one another. Comorbidity is so common that about half of the people living with one disorder also exhibit symptoms of another disorder (Intrusive Thoughts).

A common disorder that coincides with OCD is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Many questions have been raised about the difference between generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. The DSM, which is the widely accepted guide for diagnosing mental illness, has historically classified OCD as an anxiety disorder. It wasn’t until the DSM-5 that the category of anxiety disorders was split into three distinct categories: anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and trauma and stressor-related disorders (MentalHelp.net). Due to the great commonalities between anxiety and OCD, it has often been difficult to distinguish between the two, especially if someone has both OCD and GAD. A crucial difference between the two however, is that OCD is characterized by persistent and repetitive fears that are not grounded in reality, whereas generalized anxiety disorder tends to be characterized by more realistic fears (Intrusive Thoughts). For example, someone with OCD may fear that failing to wash their hands a certain number of times a day will give them cancer, whereas someone with GAD may feel deeply unwilling to give a presentation in class, for fear of embarrassment. This explains why these disorders so often co-exist, because both are rooted in intense feelings of fear and doubt.

Another mental illness that typically co-exists with OCD is depression. About 60% of sufferers have experienced at least one depressive episode in their lives, and this depression often tends to be ongoing (Intrusive Thoughts). Additionally, many people with OCD and depression have these depressive symptoms because of their OCD, simply due to the all-encompassing nature of OCD in which many sufferers feel trapped by their condition (Intrusive Thoughts).

OCD has also been linked to eating disorders, particularly because of the prevalence of eating in our everyday lives, and how OCD impacts people’s everyday behaviors. For example, if you begin to fear that certain food you eat may be poisoned or may immediately harm you, this leads to a pattern of disordered eating that can develop into a full-blown eating disorder if not treated properly from the beginning.

The true prevalence of comorbidity is something that must be acknowledged in order for people to be properly diagnosed and treated for their mental illnesses. OCD, on its own, can be very debilitating and can become even more debilitating when combined with another mental illness that may go undiagnosed. The more informed we become about mental illnesses and their symptoms, the easier it will become for people to be properly diagnosed and treated for any mental illnesses they may be suffering from.

References

Home. (n.d.). OCD And Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.mirror-mirror.org/ocd.htm.

Intrusive Thoughts. (n.d.). OCD and Comorbidity. Retrieved from https://www.intrusivethoughts.org/?topic=comorbidity.

MentalHelp.net. (n.d.). The new DSM-5: Anxiety Disorders and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/anxiety/and-obsessive-compulsive-disorders-new-dsm-5/.

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD: When Does it Develop, and Why?

Maybe you’ve lived your whole life without any sort of anxiety, without any compulsive behaviors or any great amount of worry or fear. Suddenly, you can’t eat certain foods for fear that they’re poisoned, or you feel germs creeping up on your skin so often that you have to wash your hands until they’re bleeding, or you can’t leave the house without checking five times that the door has been properly locked. These are all examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but you’re an adult, and you’ve lived your whole life without any of these behaviors or fears–until now.

This brings us to the question: when exactly does OCD develop? Though OCD can develop at nearly any age, researchers agree that there are two distinct age ranges in which OCD typically occurs (Kelly, 2019). The first age range is 10 to 12, right before puberty, while the second age range is between 18 and 23. Those in the first age range are attributed with early-onset OCD, while those in the second range have late-onset OCD (Kelly, 2019).

So, what is the cause of OCD? While there is not a definitive consensus as to its specific cause, it is generally believed that OCD is likely developed because of a combination of environmental and genetic factors (Singer, 2018). Sometimes, it can develop with no warning or external reason at all. However, if someone experiences a genetic predisposition to OCD, a stress trigger or traumatic event in their lives may cause symptoms to develop (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). So, you’ve spent your whole life never struggling with obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, but then something traumatic happens, such as a loved one dying, and you become obsessively afraid of death or disease. You’re unable to even leave the house unless you perform compulsive behaviors that alleviate your anxiety. What this means is that, though it’s not always the case, you were likely already genetically predisposed to OCD, and this traumatic event served as a trigger for the neurobiological processes behind it.

This also means that, even if everyone else in your family suffers from OCD, you are not necessarily going to suffer from it yourself. Due to the multitude of factors contributing to OCD, it is impossible to perfectly predict whether someone will suffer from it, even if all signs in their life point toward it.

This idea of traumatic events contributing to OCD speaks to the nature behind this mental illness. Those suffering from OCD feel an immense sense of doubt, guilt, and responsibility in their everyday lives. They are grappling for a sense of control, and perform compulsive behaviors in order to regain this control and quell their anxiety. A traumatic event, which could cause a major life shift, would therefore serve as a symbol of a great loss of control, and those genetically predisposed to OCD are at a higher risk of having symptoms surface as a response.

Thus, it makes sense that OCD tends to occur earlier in life, particularly during the ages of puberty. Hormone levels are rapidly increasing, and children are much less emotionally equipped to handle traumatic events or stressors than adults are. While OCD can still occur with no traumatic trigger at all and at any point in life, it is important to ensure that individuals are adequately supported when traumatic events in life occur.

References

Anneclaire.loughman. (2015, December 2). What it’s like to live with OCD. Retrieved from https://www.psychologies.co.uk/what-its-live-ocd.

Kelly, O. (2019, June 12). How Symptoms and Treatment Can Be Different for Early-Onset OCD. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/early-versus-late-onset-ocd-2510673.

Singer, J. (2018, October 8). OCD and Trauma. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/ocd-and-trauma/.

What Does Not Cause OCD. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/what-doesnt-cause-ocd.

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Scrupulosity: More than Just Religious Duty

Maybe you grew up in a religious family. Maybe you were taught that certain behaviors were frowned upon or not allowed, while other behaviors were praised. Maybe you’re still religious or you follow moral guidelines based on a sense of religious duty. But when does this religious duty cross the line into harmful feelings of guilt and shame?

Those with religious obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) know this sense of guilt and shame all too well. These individuals “suffer from obsessive religious doubts and fears, unwanted blasphemous thoughts and images, as well as compulsive religious rituals, reassurance seeking, and avoidance” (Rosen, 2014). Where is the line drawn between simply being a devoutly religious person and having religious OCD?

Religious OCD is often known as scrupulosity, which comes from the late Middle English word “scruple,” meaning “a moral misgiving or pang of conscience” (Ehmke). For many people, religion provides a sense of comfort and peace. They often enjoy adhering to a sense of religious duty because they feel a sense of accomplishment and find solace in the idea that, so long as they abide by religious rules, they will be protected and cared for by their god(s). However, for those with religious OCD, their sense of religious duty directly stems from a deep sense of anxiety and intense fear of punishment over straying from religious or moral ideals.

The reason behind one’s religious duty is essential in understanding whether or not a person may have religious OCD. People with scrupulosity have unpleasant, irrational, and persistent thoughts about not being devout or moral enough, regardless of their actual piety (Krauth). Everyone who’s religious may have these doubts and worries from time to time. They may fear that they’re not devout enough, or that they’ve deviated too far from the moral guidelines of their religion. However, when this doubt and fear becomes so intense and pervasive that it becomes an obsession, one may be crossing the line from a typical sense of religious duty into religious OCD. In order to alleviate the anxiety caused by this obsession, people may perform compulsions such as praying, seeking penance, or repeating a religious phrase or act.

Religious OCD can be difficult to treat because the fears and anxieties associated with it are virtually impossible to address. For example, “If you believe you’ll go to Hell for thinking about sex with the Virgin Mary during Mass or not saying your prayers ‘perfectly,’ only death will provide you with the evidence” (Krauth). Therefore, it can be challenging to reassure someone that they will not be punished for these simple acts, especially since religion isn’t scientific and the potential consequences can’t be disproved.

This form of OCD is a prime example of why OCD can be so pervasive and difficult to deal with. If one’s obsessions present themselves in completely intangible ways, such as worrying that they’re a bad person because they don’t complete certain tasks, how can someone get rid of that thought? The intense amount of anxiety caused by the idea of perfect morality is somewhat relieved by certain compulsions, but this relief is short lived. Therefore, the obsessions and compulsions continue until the individual learns to dissociate the two and address the emotions behind the obsessions, often with the help of a professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often utilized to treat OCD. It encourages the individual to become more self-aware of their own negative thought patterns, in order to deal with them in a more effective and rational manner (Mayo Clinic, 2019). Once patients are able to better manage and overcome their feelings of guilt and fear, their obsessive thinking and compulsions will lessen.

References

Posted by Dr. Andrew Rosen, Rosen, D. A., Afzal, A., Aqeel, davis, D., Source, P. C. F., … Pascucci, J. (2014, July 14). What is Religious OCD? Retrieved from https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/what-is-religious-ocd/.

Ehmke, R., & Child Mind Institute. (n.d.). Understanding Religious OCD. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/understanding-religious-ocd/.

Scrupulosity: Blackmailed by OCD in the Name of God. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://beyondocd.org/expert-perspectives/articles/scrupulosity-blackmailed-by-ocd-in-the-name-of-god.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. (2019, March 16). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/about/pac-20384610.

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD in Pop Culture: Howie Mandel

It’s 2006, and Howie Mandel is on the Howard Stern show to discuss the game show he hosts, “Deal or No Deal.” Maybe you’ve heard of him, he is now a well-known judge on “America’s Got Talent.” Perhaps you know him as the guy who only ever bumps fists with contestants and never shakes hands. That’s because Howie Mandel has OCD, and publicly admitted it—by accident—during this interview with Howard Stern (Schulte, 2018).

 

The interview went well enough. But when it was over and Mandel went to leave, he was made fun of for not wanting to touch the doorknob. He became embarrassed and, without thinking, said, “Howard, I go to a psychiatrist and have obsessive compulsive disorder and you have to open the door or I’m going to pass out” (Schulte, 2018). What Howie hadn’t realized, however, was that the show was still on the air. Mandel had spent a long time keeping his battle with OCD private. In this moment, he felt that he’d just ruined his reputation and disappointed his family.

 

Imagine this for a second: a successful and well-known television personality, making millions of dollars, in a private battle with a debilitating disease, and in fear that his life will be ruined over simply acknowledging this battle publicly. If someone as successful as Howie Mandel was afraid to come forward and speak about his OCD, what does that mean for the millions of other people suffering from the same illness? And what does that say about the nature of the public perception of OCD? Despite the significant hindrance that OCD has on everyday life and social functioning, those with OCD take on average 7.5 years to seek the treatment that they need (Stewart, 2019). This speaks not only to the misinformation spread about OCD and a misaligned perception of which pattern of behaviors signify OCD, it also speaks to the deep sense of shame many OCD sufferers feel and inability to seek help because of these feelings of shame and inadequacy.

 

Though Howie felt that he’d made a grave error by revealing his OCD, moments after he’d left the building after the interview, he states that a man came up to him and “told him he had just heard him discussing his issues on the radio” (Schulte, 2018). Howie says that the man “whispered in my ear, ‘Me too’…I realized I wasn’t alone…and then I started getting mail and letters from people. So, it turned out to be a good thing and a great moment” (Schulte, 2018).

 

Howie had felt so alone in his struggles and so suffocated by his OCD that he lived in a silent hell, not allowing himself to speak up about it for fear of judgment. Yet, in that moment of absolute depression after he felt that he’d publicly embarrassed himself, he was met with the realization that he’d never really been alone after all. That there were other people suffering from the same condition, other people just as terrified as he was. Suddenly, his horrible moment wasn’t so horrible after all. 

 

Therefore, this moment serves as an example of the importance of speaking out and dismantling the stigma behind OCD. If this accidental reveal of his OCD was so valuable for Mandel and those who heard the interview, it can be so much more powerful if people actively work to properly inform people about OCD and destigmatize it by sharing their experiences and the actual, real-life experiences of those with OCD all around the world.

 

References

 

Childers, L., & Childers, L. (2019, June 18). Howie Mandel & Depression: No Laughing Matter – hopetocope.com: Hope To Cope With Anxiety & Depression. Retrieved from https://www.hopetocope.com/howie-mandel/.

 

Schulte, S. (2018, January 24). Howie Mandel opens up about Howard Stern, mental illness and why his comedy isn’t family-friendly. Retrieved from https://www.pe.com/2018/01/23/howie-mandel-opens-up-about-howard-stern-mental-illness-and-why-his-comedy-isnt-family-friendly/.

 

Stewart, E., Grunthal, B., Collins, L., & Coles, M. (2018, August 12). Public Recognition and Perceptions of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10597-018-0323-z.

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Magical Thinking OCD: Not the Fairytale You Were Hoping For

You’re walking down the sidewalk and you’re looking down at your feet and suddenly, like a lightning strike, the phrase hits you: “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” There’s lots of cracks in this sidewalk. It’s almost impossible not to step on one. And you know, logically, that stepping on a crack in the sidewalk would have no real connection to your mother’s back breaking . But, what if they were connected? What if your mother’s back breaks and it’s all your fault? What if all it would take to stop your mother’s back from breaking was to just avoid the cracks? Wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?

 

This line of thinking is a characteristic of a disorder known as magical thinking obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), in which people “feel like they have an expanded sense of responsibility to themselves and others” (Gateway Institute. 2019.).  This sense of responsibility is often compounded by the intense doubt felt by those who suffer from OCD. After all, OCD is often called the ‘doubting disease’; “Doubt is what fuels the fire for OCD, as sufferers feel the need to have total control over everything in their lives. There is no room for doubt or uncertainty” (Singer, J. 2018). 

 

OCD preys on that little voice in the back of your head saying, “What if I did leave the stove on and the house burns down and it’s all my fault?” Magical thinking OCD may seem completely irrational and mind-boggling to those who don’t suffer from it. At its core, however, it stems from that insignificant doubt and heightened sense of responsibility to others. Because of this, individuals with this disorder tend to make “strange and magical connections between things which logically don’t seem to connect in the real world” (Penzel, F. n,d.). Fulfilling actions that stem from the anxiety created by magical thinking makes those with OCD feel as if they have some semblance of control over a frightening—and often very uncontrollable—world.

 

“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back” is a commonly used phrase, but those with magical thinking OCD may suffer from specific superstitions, such as the belief that the “clothing you wore to a funeral can lead to more unhappiness if you wear it again,” or the idea that “thinking of the name of a disease will cause you or someone else to get that disease” (Penzel, F. n,d.).  A certain amount of superstition in life is common, but the superstition faced by those with this specific kind of OCD provides a remarkable hindrance to their ability to function in everyday life.

 

Have you ever seen one of those Facebook posts saying, “Repost in 20 seconds or your mom will die”? Or been forwarded a message saying, “Send to 10 people or you’ll die tonight”? You probably scroll past these posts or ignore these messages, without giving them a second thought, but someone with magical thinking OCD might see one of those posts and become riddled with anxiety, utterly disturbed and unable to convince themselves that they won’t suffer a terrible fate if they don’t follow the post’s instructions. Though this line of thinking may seem irrational or unexplainable, it stems from emotions and thought processes faced by everyone at one point or another.

 

References

 

Bolling, R. (2015, March 5). My Week of Magical Thinking

Retrieved from https://thenib.com/my-week-of-magical-thinking-87f59765995a.

Gateway Institute. (2019, April 16). Magical Thinking OCD – Symptoms and Treatment.

Retrieved from https://www.gatewayocd.com/magical-thinking-ocd-symptoms-and-treatment/.

Singer, J. (2018, October 8). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Uncertainty.

Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-and-uncertainty/.

Penzel, F. Excessive Superstition In Cases Of OCD. (n.d.).

Retrieved from http://beyondocd.org/expert-perspectives/articles/very-superstitious.

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Self-Love and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Your mother walks out of the bathroom; she just took a shower. You walk into the bathroom and notice the steam that settled onto the bathroom mirror; your reflection is foggy. You reach over clearing the mirror with the palms of your hands. Smiling you think, there you are. You don’t see yourself the same way you did a decade ago. Acne doesn’t bother you anymore; the pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads come and go. The weight you gained recently is in all the wrong places, but you’re well nourished, so does it really matter? Your hair is greasy and pulled into a messy bun, but you’ll wash it tomorrow; you don’t have to be put together all the time. With each passing day you’re growing into yourself and learning to love every aspect of the process. It isn’t easy, but you’re doing it.

Self-love, once associated with vanity has evolved over the last few decades. Today it’s associated with face masks, bubble baths, and anything that results from treating yourself. It’s more than a spa day however, it’s taking time for yourself when you truly need it and seeking healthy ways to grow. Self-love can be especially difficult for those with mental illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Individuals suffering from OCD experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts and find themselves engaging in “repetitive behaviors or thoughts that a person uses with the intention of neutralizing, counteracting, or making their obsessions go away” (International OCD Foundation, 2019).

Mitchell, a participant of an online forum, expressed his struggle with self-love asking, “how can I love myself if my own mind traps me in a constant state of chaos?” (Mitchell, 2018, para. 1). Physical aspects of self-love as previously mentioned can be completely meaningless if one does not take time to address the disarray that occurs within their mind. Mitchell shares his complex thinking:

“Thoughts like these flowed through my mind multiple times a day: What if I didn’t blow the candle out? What will happen to my dog? Does my boyfriend still love me? Do I still love him? What if the violent intrusive thoughts actually happened; what if I really hurt this person? What if I killed them? How will I survive in jail? How will I pay for a lawyer?” (Mitchell, 2018, para. 5)

Addressing everything that comes to mind can be difficult, particularly for an individual with OCD but, it is not impossible. The first steps involve accepting help when you need it. Psychotherapy can assist with organizing thoughts and unlearning maladaptive habits. Attending therapy alone, however, will not be enough. Individuals must commit to understanding themselves and fulfilling their needs. This includes simple tasks, such as eating enough or drinking enough water daily. Additionally, they must forgive themselves when they fall short of their standards. These are only a handful of instructions that assist with self-love; different methods work for different people (Khoshaba, 2012). Ultimately achieving a sense of self-love is a process anyone can achieve including those in struggle.

References

Davy, Karina. “THE OCD MIND.” How to Love Yourself Authentically and Sincerely, 25 Jan. 2016, theocdmind.blogspot.com/2016/01/how-to-love-yourself-authentically and.html

Khoshaba, Deborah. “A Seven-Step Prescription for Self-Love.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 Mar. 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/get-hardy/201203/seven-step-prescription-self-love

Mitchell. “Loving Yourself When Your Mind Is the Enemy.” International OCD Foundation, 4 June 2018, iocdf.org/blog/2018/06/04/loving-yourself-when-your-mind-is-the-enemy/

“What Is OCD?” International OCD Foundation, iocdf.org/about-ocd/

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Mind Your Words: OCD Stigmatization From Normalization

Take one: Sitting at one of the lunch tables, I noticed a group of girls building a house of cards. They’re almost done with it when it topples. The cards scattered across the table and floor creating a sea of jacks, queens, hearts and spades. Mimicking the cards, the girls’ smiles began to fall except for one, who laughed and said, “Oh no, my OCD is kicking in.” As she moved her hair out of her face and proceeded to pick up the scattered cards, they all laughed along, without a second thought.

Take two: While talking to one of my friends in the hallway, waiting in line for class to begin, I noticed this boy standing in front of me. Well, no. Actually, I noticed that his tag was out and my first instinct was to tuck it in for him. After doing so, he turned around and smiled saying, “Thanks. Are you OCD about that?” Puzzled, I forced a smile and turned away.

Take three: Before taking a test, I placed my pencil on the desk and waited for the papers to be distributed. The boy next to me placed his three pencils parallel to one another with equal distance between them. I thought, it looks cooler that way. This girl passing by his desk noticed it as well. Shaking her head she said, “You’re so OCD”. He furrowed his eyebrows and turned to me, as if I could offer an explanation. I shrugged.

Many people may be able to relate to the aforementioned conversations and perhaps have found themselves in similar situations because an odd trend has developed: people use mental illnesses as adjectives in their everyday life. However, this behavior only contributes to the stigma surrounding mental illness. Individuals that adopt mental illness vocabulary in a colloquial manner are usually only vaguely familiar with the mental illnesses that they have chosen to help communicate their thoughts. With obsessive-compulsive disorder individuals commonly perceive it as simply partaking in the compulsive or physical aspects of the illness rather than the psychological aspects. Many times people reference stereotypes of individuals diagnosed with OCD because it is all that they are exposed to. Consequently, they align the attention of small details or little annoyances to the illness, which promotes misunderstandings between those who have OCD and those who do not.

Oftentimes, mental illnesses are utilized for comedic effect on popular television shows. This inconsiderate utilization of mental illnesses is especially common pertaining to OCD due to the compulsions associated with the illness. In the audience’s eyes, the efforts of the character with OCD seem futile. For example, there is “the classic comic gag of the barber trimming a customer’s mustache, and repeatedly finding that one side is longer than the other” (Weg, 2011). This ultimately leads to the mustache being completely trimmed off, however the audience fails to recognize that these efforts are caused by intense anxiety, which affect the individual on a daily basis. Another example is, “where the featured character is depicted as constantly rearranging misaligned items in a comical manner” (Beyond OCD, 2018). It is imperative to recognize, however, that this is only amusing to an outsider; the individual with OCD is not amused at all.

The portrayal of individuals with mental illness is evolving over time. As more characters are considerately shown as having a mental illness and coping with it, people gain a broader understanding and knowledge of the illness, thereby reducing stigma. For example, the popular television show Monk, stars a main character who has OCD. While the show is a comedy and consequently pokes fun at the main character, it “managed to entertain without making fun of Monk and others with OCD” (Health24, 2006). In other words, Monk’s mental illness was not the punchline to every joke and therefore didn’t hurt individuals with OCD. As a result, “the viewer develops empathy for Monk and gets some idea as to the devastating impact such a disorder can have on a person’s life” (Health24, 2006).

The bottom line is that many people are vaguely familiar with OCD but usually remain unaware of all aspects of the mental illness. Their fragmented understanding and  bit of exposure, however, does not give such individuals the authority to cling to certain mental illnesses as a means of effectively describing their thoughts or justifying their actions. Using mental illnesses as adjectives, creates a barrier to communicating effectively because those words are interpreted differently among those who have and have not been diagnosed with OCD. Using mental illnesses, such as OCD, as adjectives discredits the experience of an individual that has OCD. In our individualistic and low-context society many of us typically fail to empathize with or simply reject those with mental illnesses. However, caution, consideration and a minor change in language can help to propel the de-stigmatization of mental illnesses. Therefore, I urge you to mind your words.

References

Beyond OCD. (n.d.) Extreme Need for Symmetry or Exactness Retrieved from http://beyondocd.org/information-for-individuals/symptoms/extreme-need-for-symmetry-or-exactness

Health 24. (2006 August 28). Monk’s OCD: Fact or fiction?  Retrieved from https://www.health24.com/Mental-Health/Disorders/Monks-OCD-Fact-or-fiction-20120721

Weg, A. H. (2011 July 16). The Many Flavors of OCD. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-ocd/201107/the-many-flavors-ocd

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD: More Than A Hand-Washing Disease

The running water. The soap and the suds. The porcelain sink and the metal faucet. They all greet you, as you wash your hands, whether that is after using the bathroom or before having a meal. It is ingrained into our minds to wash our hands, in order to prevent spreading germs, which may ultimately lead to an illness. It is nothing out of the ordinary. Now, add unrelenting fear and anxiety to the equation. These factors are not tangible like the aforementioned objects, however they do shift the situation in a certain direction. Those who make grand efforts to escape germs tend to have a fear of contamination, either with contaminating themselves or others. As a result of this fear, individuals with washing obsessive-compulsive disorder wash their hands so often that it goes beyond physical cleanliness.

This very common form of OCD involves obsessions, which are mental processes, as well as compulsions, which are physical processes. It is difficult to detect one’s obsessions unless it is communicated to another person or reflected through the compulsions of the individual. In this case of washing OCD, “obsessions have to do with becoming contaminated or in some way dirty from sources such as bodily fluids or chemicals” (Weg, 2011). This worry can result in ritualistic behavior that relieves the anxiety caused by the obsession. These behaviors can include avoiding someone or something, in addition to compulsive washing. However, this form of OCD can present itself in an alternative way.  For example, someone “may be perceived as contaminated, not because of the sweat, urine, or microbes that might be on that person, but because that person is just who they are” (Weg 2011). It is very reminiscent of mothers refusing to allow their children to have certain friends, fearing that their behavior will rub off on their own children, or in other words contaminate them. The idea holds true with OCD, although it is much more extreme, due to the fear that consumes the individual on a daily basis.

Furthermore, those with washing OCD can be categorized into two groups. The first is concerned with harm in addition to contamination, while the second only feels discomfort due to contamination (New England OCD Institute, 2018). The first group is worried about harming themselves and others, as a result of having illnesses and potentially spreading them. It is as though they feel a sense of responsibility for those around them. “Washing rituals are performed in an attempt to prevent this perceived danger” (New England OCD Institute, 2018). These washing rituals can extend beyond the hands and into the entire body with shower rituals and rituals involving brushing one’s teeth; it is not restricted to hands only. The second group however, “tend to have fewer identifiable obsessions and engage in cleaning compulsions merely to relieve the discomfort associated with feeling dirty” (New England OCD Institute, 2018). In both cases, their fear seems to be rooted in their lack of control and their compulsions create a momentary sense of control, although it is not effective most of the time.

Melanie, the participant of an online forum speaks on her experience with OCD. She said, “we decided to fly to London and Gran Canaria instead and it was pure horror for me. I couldn’t enjoy one second of our trip. I was constantly counting or crying and I feared everything and everyone” (Carafa, 2015). Melanie’s mental illness ruined this experience for her. The trip was supposed to be a vacation, however Melanie could not escape her fear and anxiety. After some time though, she found a psychologist that was able to help her reduce her compulsions. Washing OCD, as well as other forms of OCD, can easily be overlooked because their symptoms are not entirely physical. This statement holds true for most, if not all, mental illnesses. The idea behind this however, is invalid because the individual still suffers from these symptoms, regardless of whether others can see it or not. Therefore, it is imperative that awareness be raised in order to reduce stigmas and to ensure that individuals no longer suffer silently with these unseen illnesses.

References

Carafa, M. (n.d.). OCD and Emetophobia: Gaining My Life Back. Retrieved from https://theocdstories.com/contamination-ocd/ocd-and-emetophobia-gaining-my-life-back/

OCD Types. (2018). About OCD. Retrieved from http://www.ocdtypes.com/washing-ocd.php

Weg, A. H. (2011, July 16 ). The Many Flavors of OCD. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-ocd/201107/the-many-flavors-ocd