Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
What is obsessive compulsive disorder?
Clinically speaking, obsessive compulsive disorder is a disorder based in the brain that controls behavior. This disorder is known to cause severe to extreme anxiety which greatly affects the amount of obsessions and compulsions that are present. These obsessions and compulsions can vary from person to person, and they typically take a large amount of time out of a person's daily life and can get in the way of day to day living by affecting various activities, hobbies, the way one interacts with family and friends, jobs, etc.
So what does this mean? It is easy to read a medical journal and assume that you understand what OCD is and how it affects people, but it is another thing to live with OCD and struggle to maintain a feeling of normalcy and adhere to society's standards for "normal" although normal does not exist.
Living with OCD
Hello, my name is Michelle and I have OCD. It has taken me 32 years to realize and admit that I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I was fully diagnosed one year ago, and now I am open about my disorder and I no longer have to hide my symptoms. Having OCD can seem like a burden, especially depending on the severity. My OCD is not as severe as a chronic handwasher or a person that cannot step on lines, but it is fairly severe.
My day starts off just like any other person, I wake up, brush my teeth, do Yoga, eat breakfast, the "normal" stuff. The only difference is, I have OCD and it changes how I do these things. For instance, if I am cutting fruit for breakfast, I count how many times I cut it. This doesn't sound that bad, I know, what's so bad about counting things? I'll tell you. I count how many times I cut food, how many times I chew, how many steps I take, how many times a phone rings, and sometimes I just count because I am obsessed with numbers. This counting all started when I was five years old and lived with my biological mother and abusive step-father. I was a latchkey kid pretty much from the time I could walk and talk. The television was my babysitter, and it was "My Bloody Valentine" that kept me company (the 1980's version). My obsession with counting started when I watched this movie, I would count how many times the killer stabbed his victims. This spread out to other horror movies, and since then I feel as if I have to count how many times victims are stabbed and shot in horror movies. Eventually, I just stopped watching because I didn't want to count these horrible actions anymore. Over time, other things have popped up like jiggling my door knob five times to make sure it is locked and if I miscount or feel as if I have miscounted I have to start over. I have to make sure my stove is off, all major items are unplugged, windows locked, etc. before leaving my house and then my stomach will hurt because I feel like I forgot to count or check something. I do not hug or touch anyone, except for my husband due to a fear of getting sick. If I am exercising and both arms or legs are needed to move together and I stop moving one for a few counts, I then have to do the same for the other arm, then both together and then resume the exercise or completely start over. While some individuals with OCD wash their hands a dozen times throughout the day, I do not. We do not have the same obsessions and compulsions. For me, it is all about chapstick and germ x. I cannot stand for my lips to be dry, and I have to have a tube of chapstick in my purse and in each room of my house or I cannot function. I apply chapstick constantly throughout the day, I will tell you that it is in the 100's. I use germ x constantly as well. Anytime I touch a surface, an animal, a person, anything I use germ x. Everything in my house has a place it makes me sick when things are not in order. I feel as if I need structure and order or I cannot function. When I go to a store, I spend the majority of the time organizing and cleaning every aisle that I visit. I am basically a free employee for every retail shop in town.
While this is only a short description of my life with OCD (there are so many obsessions and compulsions I could write a book) I think you get the point. Living with OCD can be extremely tiring for you and all parties involved. People joke about being OCD because their house is clean and tidy, but that is not exactly OCD. OCD will take you and control you, and it can be difficult to get past the way it forces you to live; but you can beat it with help.
How can you beat OCD?
If you have OCD and you are reading this, you might think that it is impossible to escape the tight grasp of your disorder, but you can diminish OCD's effects on you.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Know your triggers and face them
- Group therapy
- Medication (which is not always the best option)
With OCD, maladaptive behaviors such as seeking, reassurance, avoidance and escape start to control you and make you feel like you are safe when you partake in your rituals. The key is to replace these maladaptive behaviors (harmful behaviors) with adaptive behaviors (good behaviors). When you avoid or run from anxiety or triggers you are not facing the problem, you are hiding and this is counteractive and will only exacerbate the OCD. If you know that you color code your candy before you eat it, don't stop eating that candy just "baby step" your way to eating the candy out of the bag and not pouring it into a bowl and color coding it. When you start to feel anxious, face the anxiety do not turn to your rituals this will hurt you psychologically in the long run. Also, constantly asking those around you specific questions in order to comfort yourself (reassurance) is unhealthy for you and will eventually place a divide between you and your loved ones, I speak from experience here.
In order to truly defeat OCD you have to face it and you cannot let it control you. This is very difficult, I know, I am in the same boat. For some, counseling will work and I highly recommend trying some form of counseling. It can be uncomfortable at first but when you find the right therapist you will know it. It took me a long time, but I finally found one and I am on the path to recovery. I do not count as much as I once did, as well as the other obsessions and compulsions that I have. I will beat this, and you can too. For me, painting really seems to help but I am a big fan of art therapy, it might not work for you but your answer is out there.It also helps to have a strong support group, and if you feel that you cannot discuss OCD with friends and family, or if your friends and family are not supportive you can visit online sites like 7cupsoftea.com and speak to a "listener" for free, sometimes just getting it all out helps.
There are several resources available, but you have to be ready to let it all go and to be at a level to accept change. You can change, you can change right now you just have to be ready and willing to work for it. I'm not going to lie, change is simple but it is a difficult thing to do. In the end, no one can force you to change and let go, it is your choice and your decision to make.
Have you beaten OCD, if so how did you do it?
How do you know if you have OCD?
I should let you know that I am not a licensed counselor. I have an Associate degree in criminal justice specializing in psychology and I am currently working on a B.S. in counseling with an emphasis in substance abuse and chemical dependency. I am not a counselor, I am a volunteer listener at 7cupsoftea.com, but I am not a licensed professional. I can however give you examples of OCD and if you suggest that if you notice that you have one or more, you should seek therapy so you can defeat OCD.
Do you ever do any of the following:
- You feel as if you cannot shake hands.
- You feel as if you cannot touch door handles, knobs, etc.
- You feel as if you cannot touch others due to germs.
- You feel like you have to wash your hands repeatedly to be safe.
- You feel like you have to check things throughout your house numerous times before leaving your house.
- You feel as if you have to color code food before eating it.
- You feel as if you have to count everything in order to feel a sense of control.
- You feel as if you cannot re-use things, everything has to be brand new.
- You feel anxious if things are not in order.
- You repeat rituals in order to hide from anxiety or to feel safe.
These are only a few examples, OCD is so much more than repetition, rituals and obsessions. OCD can be debilitating, it can keep you from leaving your house due to irrational and rational fears. I want you to know that you are not "broken", there is nothing wrong with you. You can beat OCD if you choose to. I know it can be difficult to talk about with others, but you can do it. I know you can. If you have any questions I will be happy to answer them to the best of my knowledge. I wish you peace and luck in your new journey.