Two simple words can destroy your life. Every minute, every second, of every hour all you hear is, “What if?” Every situation is potentially dangerous. Your heart and mind join forces becoming an evil villain that is out to destroy you and bring you down. That’s what if feels like if you have OCD.
The simplest things in life became huge mountains that are impossible to climb. A family vacation, a night out with friends, or a walk around the block is a death trap.
Obsessions are thoughts that get stuck in a repetitive cycle when the brain doesn’t shift gears as it should. Unwelcome, unwanted, and distressing; these mental images don’t stop.
That’s when the compulsions begin. The OCDer repeatedly performs behaviors trying to erase the scary mental images that won’t go away. These rituals might be excessive hand washing, cleaning, counting, or checking. Even though the person with OCD knows these are ineffective, the urge is overwhelming and overpowering so they give in to it.
Whether you’re born with it, or develop it later, life with OCD is a living hell. Their brains can’t shift through thoughts at a normal pace.
Thoughts get stuck, constantly running like a hamster trapped in a cage spinning endlessly on his wheel. OCD interferes with responsible functioning: job, relationships, punctuality, or just being able to live comfortably with themselves and their loved ones.
Most people are familiar with the most commonly talked-about types of OCD such as checking appliances and doors, fear of germs that may cause illness or death, and repetitive invading thoughts. However, there is a lot more to OCD than that.
“OCD is a biochemical problem in which the brain locks and starts sending false messages that are not recognized as false,” according to Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, author of “Brain-Lock: Freeing Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” The brain gets stuck in gear and cannot shift to the next thought.
The good news is that you can make a physical change in your brain. Here are 18 things that will help you understand your OCD loved one:
1. They have a repetitive cycle in their brains that they cannot control.
They want to “just stop,” but as hard as they try; they can’t. Because the OCD brain is locked, it doesn’t move through tasks at a normal pace.
2. They derive no pleasure from rituals.
Gamblers, shoppers, or substance abusers receive pleasure from acting out a ritual. OCDers do not.
3. They catastrophize.
The scenes that appear in the minds are suitable for a gory horror movie.
4. They check, re-check, and can’t stop checking.
Everyone checks the doors or stove to make sure they are locked and off before bedtime. You might have forgotten to shut the stove after answering your texts. But when a person with OCD checks, they don’t trust that they checked, so they check again and again. Maybe they missed something, or maybe the stove magically got turned on again?
Are the doors locked and the appliances off? Was that bump in the road a person I ran over? What did I say in that email? Checking is never believable. No matter how many times they check, they don’t trust their last check-up (garage doors, toasters, hot irons). The only comfort comes from putting your hot iron in your purse and carrying it with you to work.
5. They have disturbing thoughts of harm to themselves or their loved ones.
One small thought can become a horrendous mental vision of tragic events that they might cause or could happen.
6. They worry about worrying.
As if worrying isn’t bad enough, OCDers worry about why they worry so much. They feel anxious that they worry about things that are not worth worrying about.
7. They avoid certain objects, situations, or environments.
A person, place, or thing can spark a destructive wildfire in their minds. Fearful of obsessive thoughts, a person with OCD will go five miles out their way to avoid a reminder that could set off obsessive thinking.
8. They live with constant doubt, insecurity, and uncertainty.
Checking isn’t reassuring. Worrying is disturbing. Living in constant doubt causes anxiety and distress.
9. They may be superstitious.
Associating a past event to a word, piece of clothing or place; a person with OCD can think it has power. They also believe that any action they take will have a positive or negative effect because of that word, item, or place. They will walk over cracks on a sidewalk, avoid driving past a certain address, or even wear the same item of clothing for a week. They can get stuck on numbers. An address or date can seem lucky or unlucky so they avoid it or succumb to its power.
10. They need reassurance.
Who doesn’t need to hear “everything is going to be alright” when feeling nervous? But a person with OCD needs a lot more reassuring than one sentence.
11. They have no concept of time when in a ritual.
A shower may last for an hour even when the hot water runs cold. You wonder why it takes so long to brush her teeth or wash her face. Every action must be performed in a certain order and with meticulous detailing as if they were preparing the latest model Tesla for it’s debut at the 2015 Auto Show.
12. They may be hoarders.
Old clothes, purses, shoes, and papers cannot be removed. They might need them for future use. You might also be a bit nostalgic, but is there so much clutter you can’t see the floor?
13. They won’t use a public bathroom.
Germs are so scary that no matter how much their body needs to release itself, they will wait until they get to a bathroom that they feel comfortable in.
Symmetry is important, so is order. Papers on a desk, pictures on a wall, or hair on their head; everything must be just right. An uneven edge on a fingernail can cause an hour of nail-biting as they try to smooth the jagged edge. They can spend hours getting dressed, choosing outfits, or fixing their hair. Never feeling that they are “just right,” they will try on ten different outfits until they find the perfect one. They are often late for work or their own birthday party.
15. They touch, rub, or tap certain objects repeatedly.
Trying to calm their minds away from upsetting thoughts, they may pick their face, play with their phones or twirl their hair.
16. They examine their food very carefully.
Afraid that they might get sick if the food isn’t fresh or cooked perfectly. Any little bruise on an avocado might be a sign of an epidemic disease. It might take them ten minutes to examine and prepare a hamburger before biting into it.
17. They dread illness.
They fear that they have every disease they read or hear about that they become a hypochondriac.
18. They never feel that anything is clean enough.
Feeling that every pot, dish, or item of clothing is contaminated, the person with OCD is repeatedly cleaning them.
As difficult as it is to live with OCD or someone who has it, there are benefits to it. Most likely with a higher than average IQ, people with OCD are mathematicians, statisticians, and analysts who give us the latest technology, medicine, and put astronauts into space. Striving for perfection, they are excellent in fields that require repetitive practice such as athletics and musicians. And it’s probable that the person who takes care of you when you’re sick, does your taxes, and built the bridges that you drive across has OCD too.
There is good news! When OCD interferes with normal daily functioning, they can learn to self-command with self-control. A person with OCD can improve their quality of life. They no longer have to suffer. With proper treatment of Cognitive Behavior Therapy using the Exposure and Response Method, and learning to say, “It’s not me, it’s my OCD,” a calmer, happier life is possible.