What comes to your mind when you imagine a person with OCD? Probably obsessive hand-washing, walking while avoiding the cracks on the concrete, and counting….lots and lots of counting.
While all of that does form a part of the disease, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has a much wider reach.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personal Struggle
Stepping into the world after being diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I found myself being a little harder to navigate.
I do not know if it was denial or whatsoever, but it took me about 6 months to even start using the term OCD in reference to myself. The strangest thing that I found was not living with the disorder itself rather my continual dismissal of it in every way.
Most of the time, it feels as if my therapist and doctors have exaggerated with the diagnosis. After all, I am not bleeding from washing my hands often. I do not count every square on the concrete that I step into. And I definitely do not keep my desk pristine and spotless.
And yet doctors tell me consistently that I have OCD. I responded well to medicine and CBT specific for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
So the question that arises is this: what is it that me and a person obsessively washing their hands until they bleed have in common?
Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: The Bricks that Form the Wall
In one of my previous posts, I talked about figuring out the root of mental illnesses and how difficult it gets to conceptualize them.
If OCD is a massive wall, then what are the elements holding it together? As it turns out, the faulty wiring was a couple of negative automated thoughts.
- Personalization and Overestimation of Responsibility
- Black and White Thinking
- Catastrophizing or Overestimation of Threat
A more generalized and comprehensive list is explained here.
And then comes the ‘compulsive’ part of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
All these thoughts are followed by certain actions that provide temporary relief but only cement the fears in the long run. When left to fester and grow, such thoughts form a firm neurological pattern.
Eventually, an OCD person will find themselves washing their hands out of fear of contamination so often that the skin starts to rupture.
Conclusively: When I think of OCD, I think not of the symptoms but the thought patterns causing the symptoms. Not the physical manifestations of the disease that are different for every person, but the faulty wiring that are common to them all.
The Reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
1. It often comes with other mental illnesses
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder always brings along a couple of close friends, depending on the house it’s visiting.
- Some people with OCD experience thoughts so intrusive and frightening that they spiral into a severe depression.
- For others, the perfectionism, and tendency to see things in black and white turns itself inwards and cultivates into Eating Disorders.
- Many people’s obsessions run in loops in their heads so much that they begin to manifest themselves into physical symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder.
- Perhaps the most common association that exists with OCD is with mood disorders, particularly Bipolar Disorder. Although they have different symptoms, one feeds off of the other in the nastiest ways, worsening mental health symptoms overall.
- The cognitive distortions associated with OCD immerse themselves deep into the minds of an individual, transforming their entire personalities. A significant link has been established between personality disorders and OCD. In fact, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is somewhere on the spectrum of the disease as well.(Olivia M. Gordon, 18 January 2013) (Diedrich, 2015)
A more comprehensive relationship of OCD with other mental illnesses has been established in this study by the National Institute of Mental Health Intramural Research Program, USA. (Dennis L. Murphy, 2010 Jun)
1. It Effects Your Self-esteem
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder nitpicks, makes mountains out of molehills and views everything in dichotomies; this inevitably has a stark effect on a person’s self-esteem.
People with obsessive tendencies suffer more from anxiety disorders, and issues surrounding their self-image.
They are more receptive to negative feedback and more likely to make extreme judgments of not only themselves but others as well.
Additionally, they are very critical, unforgiving, and ridden with thoughts of self-harm and guilt. (Kimberly A Ehntholta, August 1999)
2. It is Messy
People often associate with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder the word ‘clean freak’.
When making that assumption, we are committing the error of looking at that metaphorical wall of the illness as opposed to its individual bricks.
People with OCD cannot tolerate unpredictability.
This can make them color code every T-shirt in their closet and scrub at the ink botches on their study table. But it can also mean drawers filled with stationery that they will never use or back packs filled with first-aids and toiletries to carry every day even if it makes their shoulders ache. And so on. (Singer, 2016)
Hoarding is never clean.
3. It affects your relationships
The guilt, doubts, preoccupations and obsessions that form a part of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder find a way to attach themselves to the sufferer’s relationships.
Whether the relationship is platonic or romantic, OCD will creep up on it and create all sorts of fears and worries.
They begin to question if they love a person and begin to monitor each and every feeling. They look for reassurance in the form of compulsive behaviors that are only momentarily satisfying.
Their catastrophic thinking patterns make them doubt the other person’s genuineness. They have recurrent thoughts of leaving. (Doron G., 2014) (Hagen, 2016)
Adding to that would be the debilitating feelings of shame and guilt, combined with self-image issues if present. The cycle becomes endless. (Guy Doron, 2016)
You Never Truly Recover From OCD
Like most mental illnesses, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has no known cure.
The fact that it brings with it a myriad of other disorders is not any help.You can take certain measures to reduce its negative impact, but it can creep back up on you time to time.
However, with the right support system, and professional help you can minimize its control over different aspects of your life.
A year of therapy and medicine later, and I still struggle with this disease and everything that comes along with it. However, it’s strong grip on my life has loosened and I feel much more free.
The journey may get hard, but it is not impossible.
Dennis L. Murphy, K. R. (2010 Jun). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Its Related Disorders: A Reappraisal of Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Concepts. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. , 131 -148.
Diedrich, A. &. (2015). Obsessive–Compulsive Personality Disorder: a Current Review. Current psychiatry reports. 17 , 547.
Doron G., D. D. (2014). Relationship Obsessie Compulsive Disorder (ROCD): A Conceptual Framework. . Journal of Obsessive Compulsive Related Disorders 3 , 169-180.
Guy Doron, D. D. (2016, April 18). Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Interference, Symptoms, and Maladaptive Beliefs. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from Frontiers in Psychiatry: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00058/full
Hagen, A. (2016). When OCD Targets Your Relationship. Retrieved Aprol 27, 2018, from Psych Central: https://psychcentral.com/lib/when-ocd-targets-your-relationship/
Kimberly A Ehntholta, P. M. (August 1999). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety Disorderes, and Self-Esteem: An Exploratory Study. Behavior Research and Therapy Volume 37 Isue 8 , 771-781.
Olivia M. Gordon, P. M. (18 January 2013). The Association Between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: Prevalance and Clinical Presentation. British Jourmal of Clinical Psychology .
Singer, J. (2016). OCD and Messiness. Retrieved April 28, 2018, from PsycgCentral: https://psychcentral.com/lib/ocd-and-messiness/