Disclaimer: Some of the details I mention in this blog post maybe triggering or distressing to some readers. If you are sensitive to descriptions of violence please be mindful of that if you decide to carry on reading.
- Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious (although some people describe it as ‘mental discomfort’ rather than anxiety).
- Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be something like repeatedly checking a door is locked, repeating a specific phrase in your head or checking how your body feels.
The latest DSM – 5 ‘The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Edition 5‘ (The book psychiatrists abide by when diagnosing patients) removed OCD from under the umbrella term Anxiety and gave it it’s own division because many ailments branch out from OCD including Trichotillomania (hair pulling); Skin Picking; Hypochondria; Body Dysmorphia and many more.
Some argue that eating disorders are a form of OCD. While others maintain that even though eating disorders may share common symptoms with OCD it should be classified as a separate illness. In my opinion, I’d say there is a definite overlap between eating disorders and OCD — especially OCD’s sister illness Body Dysmorphia.
Over the years I feel the media — with it’s uniformed opinions of what OCD actually is — has made it ‘fashionable’ or ‘trendy’ to be diagnosed with this condition. Which in turn minimalizes the severity of what it means to suffer from OCD. We are living in an age where the internet has a massive influence on society’s perceptions and ideologies. With that in mind the media should be a bit more responsible about the information it distributes– but then again this is the media we’re talking about — anything for sensationalist story right?
The internet seems to be inundated with pseudo psychology; self diagnosis and Dr Google. People recognise certain symptoms and diagnose themselves with all sorts of severe illnesses including OCD.
Though, in all fairness, the media/internet has also done quite a lot to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health and providing education to help people understand how the brain can suffer from problems just like any other organ in the body. Nowadays, it is far less taboo to speak about mental health struggles and what help you may need. There are also some great campaigners out there fighting for mental illness to be taken seriously. So times are changing which is wonderful as it mean we are moving out of the ‘just snap of it’ era and being a bit more compassionate to our fellow human beings.
On the topic of stigma I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve overheard conversations where people proclaim to be ‘so OCD’ and then describe symptoms that are more fitting to someone who is a ‘neat freak’ or just particular about things.
Granted tidiness and order can be a symptom of OCD but I would say it’s the severity of the thoughts and behaviour that defines it as an illness. The impact it has on your day to day life; some people are unable to leave the house because the illness is so debilitating.
Here is a breakdown of the differences:
Particular person: Feels a strong need to have her/his room in a regimented order and feels relief once they have organised the objects in a particular way. They can then carry on with their day.
OCD sufferer: A excruciating need for control. If an object is out of place the person feels extreme anxiety to the point the fight or flight adrenaline is activated. They fear something really dreadful may happen to someone they care about if this extreme order is not preserved. If they do not follow these rules perfectly their own mind attacks them and bullies them until they follow orders.
This is also true of celebrity OCD. To be able to function or maintain a ‘normal’ job whilst your brain is constantly bombarding you with life and death intrusive thoughts or doubts about every aspect of your life takes tremendous strength. So I struggle to understand how people are able to become hugely success whilst suffering from OCD (?) This does not come from a place of judgement but rather curiosity. They’re either extremely functional OCD sufferers or their OCD has somehow helped them achieve their goals (?) It’s a really awful thing when your mind feels like your worst enemy; I know MIND describes obsessions as ‘mental discomfort’ … but I’d describe them as absolute agony!
I mentioned before that OCD is now seen as a ‘fashionable’ or a ‘trendy’ illness to have which I think is beyond insulting to anyone who suffers from this disorder. It’s even gone one step further with companies using the OCD acronym to try and be cute in their marketing campaigns. There is a particular cosmetic company that really raises my hackles. And that company is Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics.
I find it grossly insensitive to use a mental illness to sell your makeup line?! Would it ever be ok to launch a product range called Bipolar makeup or Schizophrenia cosmetics!? I think not! But apparently it’s absolutely fine to do this with OCD?!
I have recently started work with Robert Bray (above). His insight into the disease surpasses any ‘OCD professional’ I’ve worked with in the past. I think unless you’ve been through it you can’t really understand it — like most things I guess. Even the sufferers of OCD can’t understand how such irrational thoughts can cause such extreme anxiety over something that others may consider unimportant.
I remember a friend of mine — who shall remain unnamed for obvious reasons — and no it’s not me — had an intense fear of raisins. I had no idea how intense this phobia was until I put one on her chair in Design Technology class as a joke. As soon as she saw it she was unable to go near the chair and went into a trauma reaction. Yes, I felt guilty about it afterwards. The way she processed the idea of a raisin and what she associated it with caused her great distress. I guess you can develop an obsession or phobia about anything (?)
American Psychiatrist Jeffrey M Schwartz M.D refers to OCD as ‘Brain Lock’ and even used this for the title of his book. He compares OCD to one of those old gramophones that you play vinyl’s on. Once in a while the pin that gets stuck and you would hear that same section of the song play over and over again. Schwartz says this is what happens in the brain with OCD; the brain locks and plays that obsession or fear over and over again each time getting worse until the sufferer is petrified. The fear becomes disproportionate to the object or situation. I would this is the same way a phobia works — but don’t take my word for it I’m not an expert in that field, it’s just a theory.
It is quite common for OCD sufferers to have ‘whack a mole’ obsessions and compulsions. I’ve known people who start off with Harm OCD (a fear they would attack someone or might have killed someone) morph itself into Religious OCD (continuous intrusive ‘blasphemous’ thoughts about your faith and that you are evil), for example. One of the most painful aspects of OCD is you know what you are thinking and doing is irrational; but you can’t stop no matter how much you try — OCD has a gun to your head. And every time you give in to its ridiculous demands for a tiny bit of relief it gets stronger.
OCD has full disclosure to your worst fears. For example, it is common for a new Mother to suffer with OCD. Their baby is the most precious thing in the world to them, which OCD knows. Therefore it will bombard the Mother with horrific intrusive thoughts of hurting the new baby. Because it’s the Mother’s worst fear she assumes just having these thoughts means shes a terrible person and a danger to her child. But thats not the case at all, it’s because she care so much about her baby and would never hurt it she has these obsessions (if that make sense?). OCD will always latch onto your worst fear to taunt you with. A person with OCD who is caring and likes people will fear they are a murderer because they really don’t want to hurt people and are disturbed by intrusive thoughts that one day they might kill someone. Most ACTUAL murderers will enjoy thoughts about hurting people and actually kill somebody without guilt… I hope the difference makes sense?
I would really recommend ‘Mad Girl’ by Bryony Gordon. It’s a really insightful journey of Bryony’s struggles with OCD. And one of the main fears she had as an OCD sufferer and new Mother was abusing her daughter. The book is really interesting and provides an honest and inspirational insight into the life of an OCD sufferer.
Whilst I’m on the subject another book I would recommend is ‘Pure’ by Rose Cartwright. I’m so pleased people have the bravery to reveal this illness because it’s been suffered in silence by so many people for such a long time. The fear is friends/family/therapists wont understand and will think they are dangerous or bad people. I had the same OCD theme as Rose and I can honestly say it was horrenduous. I was first diagnosed at 17 years old and I remember I was absolutely terrified to tell the doctors what was going on inside my mind incase I was locked away either in prison or a mental institute. Now I understand my faulty thoughts are considered relatively ‘normal’ within the OCD community. I’ve managed to avoid ‘exposure therapy’ for as long as I could, but I still suffer, so I know it’s the only way to truly get back in control of my mind and the best treatment for OCD.
You may have seen television programmes where people who suffer from contamination OCD are encouraged to touch toilets or ‘dirty’ things so they feel the maximum anxiety they can possibly feel (this is exposure therapy). The point of this is not for a sadistic thrill but to desensitise the patient to the thing they fear the most in order to loosen the grip OCD has on their life. It’s impossible for people to feel maximum anxiety all the time so eventually the fear plateau’s and their thoughts are brought back to reality.
Contamination OCD is one of the most recognised and publicised themes; but there are so many more versions of OCD that are yet to be recognised. Such as Trans OCD (a fear that you are in fact a transsexual); Relationship OCD (a fear that your partner is cheating on you no matter how committed or in love they are with you. Or a fear you may not ‘really’ be in love with your partner). OCD can merge itself with reality (or things other people worry about) and make you constantly over analyse and doubt to the point where you cannot decipher the line between rational and irrational beliefs. In France OCD is known as the Doubting Disease because you are constantly looking for reassurance which relieves you for about 5 minutes before another doubt triggers you. That’s why, for example, someone with Relationship OCD may ask their partner 100 times a day if they love them and no matter how many times they say ‘yes’ the illness will always distort the truth in order to steal you away from reality and keep you mentally imprisoned.
I once saw this really interesting Netflix documentary when I was in Los Angeles a few years ago; I believe it was called Obsessed but I’m not sure as annoyingly I’ve yet to find this documentary while I’ve been back in the UK.
It follows people who suffer with lesser known forms of OCD. Two of the patient cases really stayed with me. One of the women was told that her Father had been involved in a car crash so she immediately rushed to his aid. Unfortunately her Father passed away due to his injuries. She took home his bloodied shirt (I guess as some sort of memento?) and every night when her children would go to bed she would wear this shirt and obsessively try and figure out how this car accident occurred. Or another case where a woman had constant intrusive thoughts of animals in pain. When she was a child her abusive Father beat her dog in front of her causing significant emotional distress. She was hounded by intrusive images of hurt animals and found the thoughts intolerable (which most people would; but like I said it’s the emotional intensity and consistency of the thoughts that classifies it as an illness). Part of her exposure therapy was to carry around a picture of an abused dog which she had to keep looking at during the day. A lot of people with OCD use avoidance as a coping mechanism to stress but this also just makes it worse because it then the brain thinks ‘Jeez this thing really is dangerous!’. She was also taken to kennels where the dogs where going to be euthanised which was disturbing to see as a) I love animals and b) seeing someone in that much pain is upsetting. You may think this is re-traumatising the person; but unfortunately (I say unfortunately because this form of recovery is extremely painful and I’m sure most people wish there was another way) it seems to be the most effective way to treat OCD. I guess it has a ‘face your fears’ element to it — you take away OCD’s power over you.
Having this illness can make you feel very alone as no one seems to understand what you’re talking about and even you don’t understand. To some extent OCD does not respond well to logic; just like you could tell a person suffering with anorexia that they are not fat a million times a day and they would not believe you despite the fact they are desperately under weight. As humans we seem to go with what feels real rather than what we know to be real.
I hope you enjoyed reading my post about OCD. And if you feel you may be suffering from OCD please do see your doctor. Mental health issues are now much more accepted and understood than they used to be. You are not alone; most OCD sufferer’s feel people won’t understand because their thought’s are different or worse than anyone else’s but rest assure many people suffer with these thoughts no matter how ‘bad’ or ‘strange’ they are.
Make sure you find a therapy that works for you; the main one is ‘Exposure Therapy’ a form of ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’. In my experience psychotherapy has little affect on OCD; it normally makes you try and figure out where it came from and can make it worse; and to be honest even if you do know it doesn’t really take away the irrational thinking and strong reaction.
The Maudsley Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma is one of the main treatment centre for treating chronic OCD which I would recommend.
There is also:
I would also really suggest following Robert Bray ‘OCD Recovery’ I find his quotes and therapy incredibly helpful and in a short time I’ve already improved so much.
Be brave OCD will try to convince you you’re the worse person alive or that people won’t understand … they will; don’t believe it’s lies.