No One Knows She Has OCD

My friend washes her hands a lot. She showers several times a day. She feels dirty all the time. On the outside no one would know. She is a busy mom of two rambunctious boys who play in the mud and work on their dirt bikes. She teaches yoga and helps others achieve their goals of emotional and physical flexibility. She’s a loving wife who hosts outdoor BBQs and luxurious soaks in their hot tub. She works as a training instructor for those who provide social services to adults with developmental differences. No one on the outside would notice the cracked skin on her hands and arms; nor could they tally up the hours she spends washing each week. Only those close to her- those of us who’ve lived with her as roommates in college and who do life side by side with her- would know that she’s been dealing with this since she was a teenager. She’s managed to find a way to blend it into her life, for the most part. Her symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder aren’t as blatant as others, so she hides it well.

What is OCD?

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? OCD is a mental health disorder; an anxiety disorder that occurs when someone gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that cause intense and distressing feelings. Compulsions are the behaviors that a person engages in with the goal of getting rid of the obsession or, at least, decreasing the distress caused by them. Unfortunately, each time the compulsion tries to provide relief, it reinforces itself and intensifies the connection between the obsession and compulsion. Round and round and round it goes.

Who Does it Affect?

According to the National Institute is Mental Health OCD affects more that 2.2 million Americans with a varying degree of intensity and disruption to their lives. It effects children, teenagers, and adults. There’s a strong chance you know someone who deals with OCD. Maybe you know someone, like my friend, who experiences obsessive thoughts about cleanliness. Perhaps you know of someone who has created rituals they believe will prevent something bad from happening to people they care about. It’s possible you have a friend who often feels they don’t say their prayers correctly and must repeat them over and over in order for God to hear them.

4 Ways OCD Can Show Up

These are just a few examples of the different ways OCD can show up in people’s lives. There are several different types within Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, many of which can fit into one of the following categories. It is important to note that, while these categories cover common types of obsessions and compulsions, there are many variances and ways this disruptive disorder can present itself in someone’s life.

  1. Contamination – People whose primary obsessions include obsessive worry about germs and feelings of disgust fall into this category. The compulsions that follow can include excessive hand washing, showering, grooming, cleaning, and other behaviors to remove contact with potential contaminates.
  2. Symmetry and Arranging– People whose symptoms fall into this type of OCD experience obsessions about things being exact or perfect. They have intense discomfort if things are out of order of feel incomplete. The compulsive responses are often to line things up, repetitively arrange and organize, touch/tap things a certain number of times, repeat words or sentences over and again until perceived perfection is attained.
  3. Fear of Harm and Checking– Primary obsessions within this category typically include intrusive images, impulses, and fears related to thoughts of unintentionally causing harm. With this, often comes a sense of dread and heightened responsibility. The compulsions that follow likely include repetitive checking to neutralize the feelings and attempt to stop the possible consequence from happening.
  4. Unacceptable/Taboo Thoughts– This category of OCD is marked by intrusive thoughts that are often religious, violent, or sexual in nature. These symptoms are extremely upsetting because they violate the person’s morals or values. There is typically no history of acting on any of these thoughts, nor is there a likelihood that they will. There is an extreme amount of mental effort put forth in suppressing them. Compulsions to control these thoughts may include creating rituals of behavior or mental checking to counteract the thoughts- excessive prayer, checking with others about their character, arguing with themselves about their own morality. There is often a behavioral avoidance of things that are likely to trigger the obsessive thinking.

Research has shown that most people have unwanted or intrusive thoughts from time to time, and certainly many of us have experienced compulsive behaviors at times in our lives. However, in the context of OCD, these intrusive thoughts and obsessive behaviors come frequently and trigger an extreme anxiety response that gets in the way of day-to-day living.

Good News—it’s Treatable!

The great news is that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a treatable condition! There are different types of therapies that help people learn new ways to treat, control, and even defeat OCD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has several approaches that are shown to effectively treat OCD. There are also medications that are successful in correcting the brain’s chemical reactions that can attribute to symptoms experienced.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms noted here and would like help finding a counselor that can help you manage and find freedom from the obsession and compulsion cycle, contact His Heart Foundation for information on counselors who specialize in treating OCD and might be a great fit for you!

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