What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Jackie Sommers.
What I want people to know about obsessive-compulsive disorder …
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) first showed its ugly face in my life at age seven, although I wasn’t diagnosed until fifteen years later. Fifteen years of being attacked by intrusive, unwanted thoughts before what I’d always taken as “craziness” had a new, more appropriate name. Add to that a not-so-fun five-year search for the right medication and three months of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Picture this anxiety disorder as cause and effect: you have an unwanted, intrusive, repetitive thought—and then you perform some ritual or action to provide yourself temporary relief.
Common themes of obsessions include worrying that you have harmed or will harm someone (purposely or not), recurrent doubt over your sexual orientation, unwanted blasphemous thoughts, upsetting sexual thoughts, contamination fears, a need for symmetry or exactness. Common compulsions include washing and cleaning, checking, counting, repeating certain prayers or phrases, confessing and seeking reassurance, arranging.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is very different from just being quirky in that it causes major distress. OCD disrupts life. Interestingly, most people who struggle with OCD are also able to recognize that their obsessions and compulsions are overboard and ridiculous—which doesn’t mean that they can stop themselves from doing them!
As an obsessive-compulsive, I felt guilty all the time, could not stop thinking, and was wildly aware that I worried a lot more than my friends—and over the strangest things too, things that none of my friends would even consider!
Does this sound like you? There are things you can do.
First, you should talk to someone who understands OCD. Have someone name it—I think diagnosis alone is a significant blow to a mental disorder.
Second, find other people who understand you—locate OCD companions who can identify with you. There is a very active OCD blogging community!
Third, and some might argue with me on this, have a psychiatrist help you find an appropriate medication. My daily “brew” is 20mg of Prozac and 75mg of Effexor in the morning, and one teensy little .5mg pill of Risperdal before bed. This step can be very difficult—as I’ve said, it took me about five years to find the right medication (and that included a whole parade of terrible side effects and one near-fatal allergic reaction). Was it worth it? Yes. I mean that.
Fourth, if your OCD is ruining your life and freedom (as was mine), then consider cognitive-behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy where you face your obsessions head-on. Does it sound terrible? Oh believe me, it is. For my CBT, I had to listen to a recording of my therapist telling me I was going to hell. Four times. A day.
It was torture, but CBT was ultimately the tool Christ used to set me free from OCD’s reign. While it is a lifelong disorder, OCD can be maintained (think of diabetes—while one always has it, if he is getting insulin, eating well, exercising, he need not worry about it). If you’ve been attacked by your own unwanted thoughts and frustrating rituals, this article is for you.
After twenty years of tyranny, OCD no longer masters me. Those of you currently in bondage can imagine what an incredible, unbelievable freedom I’ve been given.