What is OCD?
Chances are you know someone – likely multiple people – that struggle with a mental disorder. Although not uncommon, mental disorders can take a huge toll on someone. It can interfere with work, school, or otherwise. It can even affect a person’s ability to perform routine tasks.
I am someone who struggles with OCD.
OCD stands for “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”. You may have heard of it before – in movies, maybe on TV, or from a friend. “I’m so OCD,” someone might say. “I just have to keep all of my books a certain way!”
In reality, this is NOT the correct way to use the term “OCD”. OCD is not a colloquial term that just means “attentive to detail” or even “slightly neurotic about detail.” OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder in which someone struggles with repetitive, unwanted thoughts and imagery which often pushes them to complete one or a series of tasks – whether mental or physical – that can take anywhere from minutes to hours to perform. It may sound confusing on paper – so I’ll give you the insider’s scoop, as someone who has been diagnosed as Obsessive Compulsive.
What does it feel like?
Oftentimes, I’ll be exiting a doorway, when I’ll suddenly feel an intense and unwanted anxious thought. It could be about anything – a bear attack, a family member’s death, you name it. On occasion, it’s just an anxious feeling without any ostensible reason behind it.
So there I am, standing in the doorway. I get the anxious feelings all at once, like a flood – similar to a panic attack – and my brain uses a compulsive behavior in order to try and sedate the feelings. For whatever reason, my brain decides that reentering the doorway will help the anxious thoughts go away, little by little. I then get caught in a loop – I might be stuck going in and out of the doorway four, ten, or even more than thirty times before my brain feels satisfied enough to move on. The anxiety doesn’t really go away completely – and I might just find myself falling into another compulsive behavior as the anxiety creeps back up. That’s the cycle of OCD.
A lot of people have asked me, “Why can’t you just stop?” to which I might answer, “I just can’t.” For some reason, people seem to have a hard time understanding it. Think of it like persistent depression – which is far more severe than just a sad funk that you can “just stop”. It can be chronic, difficult to deal with, and can hinder your daily activities. The same goes for any other mental disorder, including OCD.
How can we treat OCD?
Thanks to modern psychotherapy, OCD can be very treatable. There are many different therapeutic options for someone suffering from OCD like myself – such as group therapy, behavioral therapy, and, most helpful to those with OCD, ERP – which stands for Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. In ERP, someone blatantly exposes themselves to the fears and anxiety they feel (unwanted thoughts, for example) and they then deal with the unwanted responsive behaviors (like going in and out of a doorway) under the supervision and guidance of their therapist. There are more treatment options, however, such as medication, that might prove more useful for some. One final note – everyone experiences disorders in different ways – so it is important to find the treatments that work for you!