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Friday, July 15, 2011

The truth about OCD

I have been wanting to post about this for some time. This post is meant to inform, not criticize.

Last week I was thinking about depression and anxiety disorders. Many people I know are under the impression that 1) depression and anxiety are "all in your head," and/or 2) depression/anxiety are embarassing problems that should be kept private. Why is it that we feel the need to hide mental disorders? Why is it that, if diagnosed with cancer, people will share that news in order to find support and strength, but upon realizing they suffer from a disease that can be so debilitating, they choose to suffer in silence?

Well, I'm breaking the silence. I have OCD.

My diagnosis came as a huge relief, about five years ago. I had been struggling with obsessive thoughts and was starting to worry that I was truly psychotic. The resulting depression was difficult to handle, and it was only a couple of weeks before I sought help, in the form of scheduling an appointment with a therapist at the university I attended.

As I discussed what was going on with the therapist, it became quickly apparent to her that I had OCD. She reassured me that I wasn't psychotic and explained her diagnosis. Talk about instant relief!

Today I came across an article on, and I wanted to share their definition of OCD, because I feel that it is concise and captures how debilitating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be.

OCD sufferers see danger everywhere, leading them to wash their hands until they are raw or check their door locks incessantly. Some also perform ritualistic behaviors to protect themselves from having bad thoughts. They may hide the knives or avoid the kitchen in an effort to ward off thoughts of harming the baby. Some women may avoid basic care, refusing to bathe their baby out of fear of thoughts about death by drowning. Unlike moms with postpartum psychosis (PPP) women with postpartum OCD are repulsed by these thoughts of harming their baby and know not to act on them.

Note: If you ever feel compelled to act on these thoughts, seek professional help immediately. You may have what's known as postpartum psychosis, a severe yet rare illness characterized by hallucinations, bizarre thinking, paranoia, mania, delusions, and suicidal impulses. PPP requires immediate medical intervention because of the increased risk of suicide for the mother and harm to the baby.

Now, I don't want to hurt any feelings, but if we focus on semantics, then we shouldn't say "Oh, I'm so OCD, I just can't stand it when the pillows are crooked." Please don't use the term "OCD" in this way, as it is medically incorrect and minimalizes the true anxiety and depression that OCD sufferers deal with.

If you have to have things "just so," or can't stand it when there is the slightest clutter because it messes with your fung shui, then just tell yourself you're anal retentive and you should probably not let it bother you.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about OCD: Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions. Symptoms of the disorder include excessive washing or cleaning; repeated checking; extreme hoarding; preoccupation with sexual, violent or religious thoughts; aversion to particular numbers; and nervous rituals, such as opening and closing a door a certain number of times before entering or leaving a room. These symptoms can be alienating and time-consuming, and often cause severe emotional and financial distress. The acts of those who have OCD may appear paranoid and potentially psychotic. However, OCD sufferers generally recognize their obsessions and compulsions as irrational, and may become further distressed by this realization.

I also found out that there are nearly as many people diagnosed with OCD as with asthma or Diabetes meletus.

I've had a couple "relapses" with my OCD. I don't need to tell you the particular thoughts that cause me severe anxiety. However, I can say that no amount of telling myself that these thoughts are irrational does any good. I just have to "ride the wave" of the thoughts, or even force myself to think them until my anxiety lessens.

The way OCD was described to me by my therapist was this: People with OCD, for some reason, don't have the same filter in their brain to intrusive thought. A normal person can think "Oh, what if I drove in to oncoming traffic?" and there would be no problem. They can filter that thought right out. But someone with OCD becomes so anxious about the thought that they replay the scene in their mind until it causes so much fear and tension. They have to react with certain "rituals" in order to cope with the anxiety.

I personally don't have "rituals" that I perform. On a scale of 1-10 my OCD is probably a 3 at worst. But it is something I deal with in my life.

Do you or someone you know suffer from anxiety or depression?


Michemily said...

I remember when you told me about having OCD that it wasn't a big deal to talk about it for either of us, and I thought, "Too bad it's not like that for everyone." You're right. People should be more open about challenges so they can be supported, and people on the other side should make sure they're doing the supporting that is needed. It doesn't always work that way, but wouldn't that be lovely if it did?

Melanie said...

It bothers me too when people say they're "so OCD" for just wanting something "just so." It's become a catch-phrase.

Isn't it so interesting (silly) how in our society mental disorders are so taboo to admit to and really discuss openly? I know *so* many people who have experienced or are experiencing depression and a number of other disorders as well....these things really are a lot more common than most people think; people just try to cover it up. I love it when people open up and share what they're going through because that's the only way to gain support and help through it! People can't help if they don't know what you're going through! Anyway, I appreciate your post!

Dani said...

I have a family history of depression and in High school after a break down I was put on Zolof. It helped a ton and thanks to my mom's frame of mind, you talk about things instead of hiding them. I was able to wing myself in college and had been off of any meds for 5 years...till about 4 months ago. I started back up on Zolof. I feel so much more in control of my mood and I'm not neglecting my family, or starring out the window in a catatonic state. People need to talk about it, that's how you get help!