Demystifying and Destigmatizing OCD
There’s an unfortunate image of OCD that is sustained by the mainstream media and popular culture: it’s either a silly little quirk (“I’m so organized, it must be my OCD!”) or it’s someone who can’t stop cleaning.
The reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is much different, and as a sufferer, I’m here to tell you a little bit about it and what you can do.
My OCD has nothing to do with cleaning.
My OCD is actually more covert: my compulsions (repetitive rituals designed to alleviate anxiety) are usually inside my head. Say if I’m obsessing about my weight, I’ll try to remember a body positive affirmation. But sometimes, if I’m obsessing about my weight, I’ll weigh myself. My scale is in the basement, so every time I go downstairs to get a drink or a snack, I’ll weigh myself. I could do this up to twelve times a day.
OCD also involves ego-dystonic (as in, against what you believe is right or wrong) intrusive thoughts, and they can be very frightening.
I have an intrusive thought while driving. YOU’RE DRIVING TOO CLOSE TO THE CAR IN FRONT OF YOU, YOU SHOULD RAM IT.
My rational mind: That makes no sense, I won’t listen.
Understanding intrusive thoughts
OCD can also involve doubting everything. You might have heard someone say something, and even though you’re pretty sure you heard right, you’ll ask again.
OCD can involve being very rigid with your daily routine (“I have to eat lunch between noon and one or else I’ll be too hungry”) or your personal morals (“I can never do this or else it will make me a terrible person”).
It’s important to realize that your thoughts do not make you a bad person. If you have a thought about hurting someone, or think something sexually inappropriate, but do not follow this thought with an action, then there’s nothing wrong. My therapist recently said to me, “The fear of doing something keeps you from doing it. People who harm others have no fear.”
Your fear and anxiety associated with these thoughts can be very crippling. To try and not be so afraid, you do your rituals.
It’s also important to realize the distinction the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has between obsessive compulsive behavior and disorder. If you have these behaviors, but they’re not negatively impacting your life or causing you distress, you do not have OCD. However, if they impede your daily functioning and are very upsetting to you, then you very likely do have OCD.
So now let’s talk about what you can do.
I actually did a research paper in my Masters in Social Work program for my own investigative purposes. My research revealed that while Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) are the most effective treatments, they do not work as well for some forms of OCD, such as those with aggressive compulsions or religious obsessions. You need to be a bit of a mini expert and not necessarily trust everything you read. You know yourself the best.
You have OCD, now what?
Once you find a good therapist, you might also consider medication. I take Paxil, which seems to work for me, and any other Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SRIs) might work for you. These medicines are classified as anxiolytics. Please don’t take my advice without consulting a doctor. These types of medications have a tendency to make you drowsy and tired, and should never be combined with alcohol.
Learn about meds
I will close with a warning.
There are two groups making their rounds right now on social media who are trying their best to silence the voices of those who speak out about mental illness.
One of whom, referred to as Pill Shamers, responded to #MedicatedAndMighty with anti-psychiatry misinformation, harassed users posting selfies posing with their med bottles, and some even claimed that mental illness itself does not exist. Anyone who stood up to them was “a plant by the pharmaceutical industry.” If you encounter these users upon Twitter, please block and report them. Do not let their propaganda convince people that these potentially life-saving medications are harmful when the “studies” they cite for their claims are clearly biased.
Another group is vehemently against self-diagnosis. As a social work professional, I can kind of see where they are coming from, and yet from first-hand experience, I realize that it can be difficult to get an official diagnosis. Psych evaluations are expensive and sometimes hard to access. Certain minority or marginalized groups (such as African Americans and/or transgender individuals) have been historically exploited by the medical industry and are thus distrustful of it. Finally, physical ability (either from disabilities or chronic illness) can prevent access to psychological or psychiatric care. For all these reasons I list above, I am not against self-diagnosis. It can be a person’s only option for figuring themselves out and getting care.
- OCD is not a disorder if you’re only experiencing obsessive-compulsive behaviors. It becomes a disorder when it negatively impacts your life.
- OCD can involve chronic doubt, intrusive thoughts, can have covert (invisible) compulsions, and can take many forms.
- OCD is treated through a combination of therapy and medication. Investigate thoroughly to find out what’s right for you.
- Don’t push anti-med or anti-self-diagnosis beliefs onto anyone experiencing mental illness, and if you encounter these people, don’t listen to them.