What does OCD look like living in the world today? It's not easy.
There is a stigma that often comes with mental illness. Many people have grown up with their only exposure to OCD being what they have seen in movies: Chronic hand-washing, obsessive cleaning, and lots of anxiety.
But what is OCD, and what does it really look like? How can the people around them help? Helpful links can be found at the bottom.
I was talking with a Facebook friend, Jim Richards, a radio talk show host from CFRB 1010 in Toronto. He was asking if any of his friends knew about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how people were dealing with the Coronavirus. He was concerned about friends of his who were struggling with it, and I offered to share with him what I knew and what I had done that helped.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.*
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves unwanted and disturbing thoughts, images, or urges (obsessions) that intrude into a child/teen's mind and cause a great deal of anxiety or discomfort, which the child/teen then tries to reduce by engaging in repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). **
OCD often coexists with other conditions such as Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar, Tourette Syndrome, Hoarding, as well as many other conditions. ***
People of different ages and both sexes are affected by OCD. It affects over one percent of the population, and fifty percent of the people who live with it will have a serious impairment. It typically affects females more often than males. ****
OCD is a collection of obsessions and compulsions.
* Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. Common symptoms include:
- Fear of germs or contamination
- Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, or harm
- Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
- Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order
* Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought. Common compulsions include:
- Excessive cleaning and/or hand-washing
- Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way
- Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off
- Compulsive counting
For the people living with OCD, and are obsessed with hand-washing and germs, it is a constant struggle with work and home life. Anxieties are high right now. It's overwhelming.
I don't chronically hand-wash. I often pace, walk, clean, tap my feet or drum with my hands, count things, and take things apart and put them together. I build systems.
It is hard to keep the disturbing thoughts at bay that occur with OCD. These thoughts often go against our morals, values, and what is believed to be normal. The person with OCD has no control over the thoughts that enter their minds, it is part of the disorder. A lot of time and mental energy is spent controlling the thoughts and the difficult urges that often accompany them.
Stress is a major factor that makes it harder to deal with the obsessive thoughts and the compulsive behaviours. The energy used to "control" these thoughts and behaviours on a regular basis is now focused on emergencies.
It's not uncommon for people with OCD to suffer from burnout and nervous breakdowns. This is highly escalated in difficult times.
What might help: Medications such as Buspar and other anxiety medications can help, mindful thinking, distraction therapies, breathing exercises, and very short breaks involving alone time to recompose their thoughts. Being alone doesn't help long term, it isolates people with OCD.
What is a distraction therapy? Often, it can be something as simple as finding something else to occupy the mind. Hobbies or learning a skill can be a good distractor as well, as well as certain types of exercise. Organizing things can also be an effective strategy for others. Cleaning is a distraction for me (For me, it's a choice not a regular thing).
I have found that choosing to allow the thoughts and to analyze them, helped me. I had to fight feelings of shame, disgust, embarrassment and judgement, but I realized that they were part of the disease, they were not really my thoughts. In some cases, the thoughts were legitimate and I had to deal with things.
The compulsive behaviours can be overwhelming.
Substituting other behaviours (before it escalates) often helps: things that keep the hands busy like puzzles, building things, as well as other strategies. I play my guitar, write, and often need to go for a walk. In some co-existing disorders such as autism, it may be expressed in ways such as stimming which are self-soothing behaviours that bring calmness such as clapping, hand flapping, counting things, or balancing or spinning objects.
How can people who care about people with OCD help? Ask if there is anything they can do to help, remind them that it is okay to take a break, maybe ask them if they want some tea, or steer the conversation to something more relaxing or that the person enjoys doing or talking about. Sometimes, they may need some space, but don't want to be alone.
For people who want to help, it's often asking if and how you can help.
Feel free to share this article with friends and family. I am not a medical adviser and all information shared is on an "As-is" basis. If there is enough demand, I will do follow up to this article including advanced strategies and systems Please let me know.
If there is enough demand, I will do follow up to this article including advanced strategies and systems Please let me know.
* Taken from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml
** Taken from https://www.anxietycanada.com/disorders/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/
*** For more information please visit https://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts/related-conditions