Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a very common anxiety disorder that affects more people than you might imagine and causes them to continually repeat actions, rituals or mental ruminations in the hope that it will lessen the anxious feelings or keep the person from some perceived danger (even if it seems silly) i.e. if I touch the floor then my wife will be safe etc.
You can read about the Symptoms of OCD in great depth here.
However, in this blog about OCD I’d like to be a little more light hearted about what is a serious and emotionally exhausting condition to live with, because treating it seriously doesn’t actually help a great deal – assuming you want successful treatment for anxiety!
At one level we all have unconscious rituals that we have to do, such as, breathing, eating and sleeping and at another level we have conscious rituals that “make sense” (to us) like brushing our teeth or wearing clothes. Yet, some people don’t brush their teeth and others don’t wear clothes – so, perspective and context play quite an important role in understanding, accepting and treating OCD.
One woman I know (who obviously has cleaning OCD) and needs to clean her house for 6 hours every day says that she doesn’t have a problem and just likes things to be clean, whilst her husband is almost driven mad by her obsessive need to clean (and to clean in a certain way, to a certain standard) – Who is right? Who is wrong? There is no answer to that. However, if it means that it causes trouble in their relationship, or if people don’t visit because they feel uncomfortable, then perhaps, it may be time to get help? Conversely, the partner of an obsessive cleaner may be very happy to live in a tidy environment where every thing is orderly and their shirts are washed and ironed 2 hours after being discarded!
So, OCD type anxieties can range from simple things like not wanting to touch a certain type of object right through to needing to repeatedly check something hundreds of times before feeling it is safe to move on, and even then, they will have a huge story in their mind about what might go wrong.
Therefore, the first step in overcoming OCD is to become bone crushingly honest with yourself “Is this an issue for me?” Or am I kidding myself that it is normal, tolerable or desirable – deep down you will already know the answer, however, if you have been living with OCD for a long time you may have learned hundreds of ways to hide the rituals and kid yourself it is not problem.
The second step is recognising that the ritual is to avoid some form of pain, typically these are an anxiety response or a fearful thought of some impending doom (to yourself or others) if you don’t run the ritual or do the appropriate internal thinking i.e. a prayer or counting things or some other thought based procedure.
Once we are deeply aware (and honestly accept) that the OCD behaviours are to avoid pain, step three is understanding and perfecting techniques that will allow you to tolerate not doing the behaviour (or responding to the thoughts) and sit with the uncomfortableness for as long as possible. It’s not easy, however, it is fundamental to moving forward, therefore, learning as many ways to interrupt anxiety is key to your success.
Next up is understanding that emotions are just emotions – just because we have a bad emotion doesn’t actually mean anything – it’s just an emotion. A woman told me the other day that she knew her sister-in-law didn’t like her, I asked her why and she replied “I don’t know why – I just can feel it!” Well, a feeling doesn’t make it true! It is of paramount importance to detach from using your feelings and emotions as evidence of truths. For example, just because I feel that I will be vomit if I touch my face after shopping – doesn’t make it true (although you can justify how it may all day long!) As you learn to control your emotions, it is possible to realise that emotions are something that (generally) we create rather than happen to us and that an emotion (or anxious feeling) is just an emotion and it won’t kill you.
Then finally, to recover from OCD type anxieties it is important to learn new skills that will allow you to reconnect with social interaction, travel and accepting that we (and others) are mortal and that we need to live life now.