When I first got told I might have an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, I got angry. How could this idiotic Psychiatrist woman say this after she only made me fill out a list that I must have had presented to me a hundred times. Containing questions like: How many hours a day do you spend being anxious? How often do you have a panic attack? Do you hear voices? On a scale of 1 to 10 how bored are you right now…?
But this time the outcome was different
“I have an Anxiety Disorder” I told her. “I do not have OCD!”. I actually thought it was ridiculous. Not knowing that the ideas we have about OCD, mostly derived from television shows, have little to nothing to do with the reality of OCD.
Like one of my Group Therapy mates said: “people who straighten stuff on their desk and then claim it is because of their OCD have absolutely no idea of how fucked up and unmanageable the real disorder is.” “I would not wish this on anyone.” And I could not agree more.
OCD is basically mind-fucking yourself and not in a good way. So, let me try and explain how it works.
We all have crazy thoughts at times. Or as our Therapists (yes, we get multiple) call them: “Intrusions”. For example, you’re standing on an 8th floor balcony and think: “what if I jump off?” Or, you have a five year old and after the tenth slap of the day you think: “I am going to hit him back next time!” Usually intrusions come and we do not attach meaning to them except for maybe thinking “wow weird thought” but that’s it.
People with OCD start attaching meaning to some Intrusions. The thought about hitting their kid will float by and instead of dismissing it someone with OCD will think “Oh my God am I going to hurt my kid? Am I a child abuser??” Making the Intrusion important, thinking it actually says something about them that they have this Intrusion. Obviously, this can be very scary.
To make the fear and anxiety that the Intrusive thoughts cause less, someone with OCD will start to act on these thoughts by checking things or having a discussion in their head with the Intrusions or perform compulsory rituals. They will ask for reassurance from people surrounding them. Or just start avoiding certain situations all together.
I’ll explain using my case since I am the most familiar with it.. duh.
My OCD is about getting poisoned or having allergic reactions to food or medication. I am not afraid of being dead but afraid of the feeling of dying and not getting any help. Probably because of my Anxiety Disorder and somehow thinking a Panic Attack is what dying will feel like.
The theory I am running with at the moment is that somewhere along the line I subconsciously made up that extreme control would avoid Panic Attacks.
Anyway, how it works. A long time ago I must have had the Intrusion that I might have a peanut allergy or could develop one. Instead of letting that thought go as nonsense I actually gave meaning to it and started to act on it by not eating peanut butter. This is giving in to the Compulsion and basically feeding it.
After a while, just not eating the dreaded nuts wasn’t comfort enough. The Anxiety was there when there was peanut butter in the house, on the table, when my kid ate it. This led to a lot of conversations in my head at work lunches, telling myself I was fine when peanut butter was in my vicinity. Sometimes moving it but then having to wash my hands because I touched it.
Safe to say, peanuts took up a lot of my time. Unfortunately, it did not stop with peanuts, it spread. I basically stopped eating anything that had traces of peanuts but also other nuts, seeds, soy, salt, Thai food, Indonesian food and basically anything not made by me. And this is just the food category.
The obsession also took and takes time from the people around me because, like most people with OCD, I need others to comfort me to quiet the anxiety. Questions like: “Does my face look swollen?” will give me a two-minute relief, however then I do have to ask again. And on and on and on. Man, I am a tiring person.
Trust me, I totally know how insane this sounds and even while I am giving into these thoughts, I know it’s not normal or necessary. That I do not have an allergy and that no-one wants to poison me. Still, I cannot stop. It is truly an Obsessive Compulsion.
So far, the people I have met with OCD have it about totally different subjects and have different compulsions, but the underlying issue is the same. Giving credence to an Intrusion and starting to live life around it, avoiding it, checking it, talking with it, giving it space it does not deserve.
Does that make sense? Well, sense.. I know it doesn’t. But I hope I made clear that OCD is more than we see on tv or hear people referring to when they tidy their sock drawer.
This is all quite heavy and hard to keep light, but the good news is that this Group Therapy is great, super scary and working so far. Next time I’ll explain what crazy stuff we get up to!
If you have any questions or ideas, please ask or share them through my contact page!
Thanks for reading ya’ll!! Now go tidy something!