I can remember the feeling of the cold, metal doorknob. It was about the tenth time I had checked it that night. Although I knew we lived in a “safe” neighborhood, I could not transition out of the belief that someone was going to break in and harm us. Besides, the night before, that’s exactly what happened to a nice suburban family on Law and Order.
I was only twelve years old, yet, this wasn’t my first time at the rodeo with irrational fears. There was that time I had convinced myself I had a hematoma (a brain tumor) after watching a medical documentary on CBS. Then, soon after seeing “The Exorcist” (which I wasn’t supposed to watch in the first place), I became convinced I was a “bad catholic” and that God was going to punish me by sending a demon after me.
What I didn’t know, is that I was dealing with something called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Around age thirteen, things began to really escalate when I had to tap my fingers on the table a certain amount of times in order to prevent “something bad” from happening. Then came the hand washing and the compulsive praying and the fear of my adolescent sexuality, all rearing it’s head during the peak of my teenage awakening.
Needless to say, I am no stranger to the suffering which is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. However, there is a major silver lining: it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Now, at age thirty seven, I’m able to reflect on my past and realize it brought me to exactly where I needed to be. I became a Clinical Psychotherapist who specializes in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, often operating with a first hand clinical understanding of what my clients are going through.
This article will definitively highlight the psycho-educational reality of living with OCD and how you can neutralize the negative aspects of it, while benefiting from the constructive side of it.
Knowledge is power when it comes to OCD. The following five facts have a sound clinical and empirical rationale, rooted in hours of research and clinical observation.
OCD is a Liar and a Story Teller: The first thing to know about OCD is that it will never, ever tell you the truth. The Pre-Frontal cortex (despite popular misunderstanding) is the part of the brain most closely associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This part of our brain has been described as “the chief executive officer”,impacting our memory, attention, flexibility, planning and problem solving skills. When there is a neurological wiring problem in this part of the brain, our ability to remember, focus, analyze, organize and solve problems are often rooted in a place of irrational dysfunction. Hence, OCD is a liar and a story teller. I often ask my clients to imagine OCD as being a little monster that follows them around everywhere they go. No matter where you go or what you do, this constant companion is always trying to tell you a story that scares you. The thing is, the stories that the OCD Monsters will tell you, will always be irrelevant to your actual reality. OCD thrives on telling you stories about terrible things that “could happen to you”. The thing to remember, is that you are not a diagnosis. You are a person with your own mind .. a mind which is entirely separate from OCD and its deception.
This is a powerful realization, as OCD can only “control you” when you fail to realize that you and OCD are not “one” with each other. You are not in unilateral alignment with all the nonsense it deceptively babbles to you. In my thirty-five years of dealing with OCD (the last ten of which have been spent working with OCD sufferers and studying clinical case studies) I have NEVER observed a single case where an individual’s OCD fear actually manifested. OCD needs you to believe it in order to remain relevant. It also wants to be the only voice you listen to in life. If I told you that one of your friends has consistently lied to you throughout the entire friendship, all in a devious effort to make you a nervous wreck, would you still continue on in that friendship? Of course not. And Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is no different. It is simply a disorder that feeds you a lie and then tells you a story about why that lie is true, with absolutely no statistical evidence or compelling rationale to support its claim. Just because something “could happen”, does not mean it has anything to do with you or the things that are going to happen to you. It is my experience that life gives us whatever we are being on the interior. With OCD, we are constantly being irrationally paranoid. Therefore, life becomes one big irrational paranoia.
OCD Transports You: What I mean by this is that “OCD transports you to a world you are not actually a part of”. For example, a client of mine who was genuinely Heterosexual and deeply in love with his wife, developed an irrational fear he was Gay. Per usual, when it comes to OCD, there was absolutely no evidence that my client was even remotely attracted to men. However, the “coming out” of his brother as gay, prompted him to be concerned that perhaps he was Gay as well. In alignment with typical with obsessive symptomatology, the client began engaging in “checking rituals”. This is where the OCD sufferer “checks to see” if their fear has any basis in reality, through some form of an experiment or research. Subsequently, my client began looking at gay pornography, to see if it provoked a sexual reaction from him. Needless to say, it never did. But when his wife turned on their computer one day and found a slew of homoerotic porn on their iMac .. it caused quite conflict in the marriage. After meeting with her, assuring her that her husband wasn’t gay and explaining how OCD works, she did feel relieved. But this story demonstrates how OCD is a transporter. My client was literally transported into a world of being gay, when he was never gay to begin with. He would describe walking past Gay Adult Stores in Manhattan and feeling “nervous”, because he was tempted to go inside to see if he would have an arousal reaction. He reported seeing documentaries on television about Gay Pride and feeling “anxious” that “he might end up participating in it, as a gay man, one day”. I might add that this man was the least prejudiced or suppressed person I had ever met in my life. He loved his gay brother deeply and attended Psychotherapy with me, knowing that I happened to be a gay person myself. He was simply terrified that “he would have to leave his wife and his family behind for a new lifestyle” and devastate them in the process. Again, there was no evidence of any kind that supported this fear, hence the intrinsic nature of the disorder.
OCD is never satisfied: Pretend for a moment that a man with OCD was concerned that he had a leaky roof. Although there was no evidence to support this claim, the man was convinced that he had a leak somewhere in the roof. As a result of such, he hires a roofing contractor to come over and inspect the roof. After a thorough inspection, the contractor confidently reports “your roof is fine, sir”. The contractor leaves. That night in bed, the man says to himself “Ah, but you know what, the leak could be all the way in the back of the roof where he didn’t check.” The man calls back the contractor. The contractor checks the back of the roof. He reports to the man “Sir, your roof is in perfect condition”. The contractor leaves. That night in bed, the man says to himself “Ah, but you know what, he didn’t check the foundation of the roof, that’s what the entire roof is situated on!”. The man calls back the contractor. The contractor checks the foundation of the roof. He reports to the man “your foundation is in perfect condition sir”. The man finally feels better. That night, while in bed, the man is finally ready to get some rest, when his eyes suddenly shoot wide open: “Ahh, but you know something, I never checked the credentials of the Contractor! How do I know he knows what he’s doing!”. And such goes on and on and on and on and on. This story demonstrates something that I have observed in every .. single .. client with OCD: an insatiable suspicion that a “new”, previously unforeseen problem, will overshadow a recently met .. satisfying conclusion. If OCD were a person , it would be the most treacherous person you could ever meet, who would always take you down the rabbit hole with them. The idea is: not to associate with it to begin with, even when it seems irresistible to do so. This is not to say you should ever fight with your OCD; absolutely not. But you should let OCD “do it’s thing” without following suit. Just because OCD is freaking out, doesn’t mean you need to freak out with it. Remember .. you control your mind .. not the other way around. Your OCD can be present, without you having to believe what it says. The biggest lie OCD tells you is that “you and it are one entity”. Never! OCD is one part of your brain and your intentional consciousness is an entirely different part of your being. The trick is to allow OCD to go crazy, without joining it. My work with clients is heavily based on helping them to let OCD have an episode, without them caring anymore. After all, OCD is a liar and story teller!
OCD can take away your life: Almost every client I’ve ever treated with OCD, becomes incredibly “sad” at one point or another, in response to how difficult it is to be experiencing these terrible symptoms. Walking around in a world where “something horrible might be happening at any moment” is an extremely draining and exhausting experience. It is not uncommon for an untreated individual to simply want to lay in bed, drink heavily or remain indoors for long periods of time. The “logic” behind these choices, are a reflection of the individual’s resignation to the OCD being in control. “I’m not going to enjoy my day anyway .. so why even bother”. That’s why this article, medication and finding treatment is so incredibly important. The more you know about OCD, the less power it has. OCD is very deceptive. The realization that you and OCD are not “one”, is a major realization to begin with. But psycho-educational awareness isn’t enough. Without prescription treatment, the maladaptive OCD process tends to be operating so strongly, that the individual is unable to hear their own self talk or therapeutic realizations. Simply stated: untreated OCD is loud, obnoxious, relentless and vicious. The good news is, a low dosage of a very basic anti-depressant, can easily help “slow the OCD down”, so you can make sense of your own thoughts. Having a Psychotherapist for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and seeing either a Medical Doctor or a Psychiatrist for a Prescription, is highly recommended when dealing with OCD.
OCD has a bright side: If someone told me tomorrow that they could totally cure me of my OCD, I would never pursue their treatment. Reason being, we all are meant to bear some cross or another in life. I do not believe this happens to hurt us, but instead, it happens to strengthen and fortify us. Beyond such, people with OCD are often intellectually brilliant. A basic explanation for this is simple: their mind never really stops working. I always tell my clients that “any diagnosis in life, is simply a strength operating in the wrong direction”. People with Borderline Personality Disorder, once stabilized, often become masters of handling a crisis. People with OCD, once stabilized, often become master researchers, detectives and critical organizers. People with Bi-Polar disorder, once stabilized, often become Masters at handling extreme conditions and polarized circumstances. The keyword, in all of those instances, however, is: stabilized. People with OCD, once stabilized, literally end up becoming mini-encyclopedias of knowledge. Reason being, they research SO much information when a fear arises, that they end up being an expert in various areas. Individuals with OCD also have a knack for organizing projects, thoroughly examining subjective data, engaging in critical analysis and investing a significant amount of time in productive goal setting.
The biggest power OCD has is when it is allowed to function autonomously and take you along for the ride. Again, You and OCD are SEPARATE entities. OCD is clinically known to be a liar and a story teller. OCD transports you to a world you are not actually a part of. OCD is insatiable in its irrational impulses. And finally, OCD wants to take your life away.
The moral of the story: either you use OCD for your constructive growth or OCD uses you for it’s destructive goals.