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.
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/