What it looks like to struggle with OCD and how to cope
.Let me first start off by saying that OCD is no joke. You may have heard the term OCD being used to label someone who has to have an orderly desk or a color-coded closet. This 3 lettered abbreviation for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is thrown around quite often without having a real understanding of what it really is or what it really looks like to struggle with OCD. Although being orderly and organized can be a symptom of OCD, many have no idea what the deeper parts of OCD really looks like.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Definition: a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she has the urge to repeat over and over again (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
FYI, this definition is pretty lax. If you were to add the kinds of obsessions and compulsions to the definition, you would have a clearer surface idea of what it is. That’s why today I am going to share with you what it’s really like to struggle with OCD including examples of obsessions and compulsions along with how debilitating it really is.
Although this post includes most OCD types, remember that someone who may struggle with OCD will have their own specific obsessions and compulsions that will most likely differ from someone else struggling with the disorder.
Keep in mind that OCD is a form of anxiety and anxiety stems from fear. So as you read these examples, you will see it is fear of the unknown and what can’t be seen that is the culprit and trying to know what is reality can be a challenge.
Struggle with OCD #1- Washing Everything
Many people think that people only struggle with being a clean freak and although this may be right for some, fear of contamination is just one of many symptoms for those who struggle with OCD.
If someone with OCD shakes someone’s hand, they may be having obsessive thoughts of “What if I catch some kind of disease, I better go wash my hands, but my hands still feel dirty, I better wash them again, and again, and again.”
The fear of what can’t be seen is more than present here.
You may notice that this sentence is a run on but that’s the thing about OCD. The thoughts are obsessive which means they keep going in circles.
Ways to cope:
Say out loud, “My hands are clean”
Struggle with OCD #2- Checkers
Someone who is a checker obviously struggles with repetitive behavior and their mind tells them to check again, and again with the fear that if they don’t check again, something will happen.
You come inside the house and lock the front door and it’s locked. “But what if it’s not locked?” “Let me check one more time.” “Maybe it’s still not locked.” So there is this battle of checking and checking until finally it “feels like it’s locked”.
Ways to cope:
Say out loud, “The door is locked” or “I locked the door”
Struggle with OCD #3 Doubt and Sin
This one I have to say is the most difficult one to deal with as it messes with your emotions and confuses you to the point of not knowing what is real and what is not.
You are driving and come to a red light. A pedestrian crosses the crosswalk and you think, “what if I run them over?”. You have no intentions of acting on this thought but because the thought was there, now you think, “Oh no, I am a horrible person, what if I almost ran them over?”.
It’s very challenging because you have all of these bad thoughts daily and feel like you can’t tell someone because they will judge you and not want to be around you although they are really just bad thoughts that you would never act on.
For those that struggle with this, their self-worth is usually determined from the thoughts they possess which in turn tell them “they have done this” or “they are this”. It’s a very scary thing as those who struggle with this are usually people who would never desire to do harm to someone or act on their thoughts.
Ways to cope:
Say out loud, “I don’t want to run this person over, this is just a bad thought” and/or “I am a good person, I love people and would never do anything to harm someone”. You can even write in a journal for OCD.
Struggle with OCD #4- Counting and Arranging
This is not just about being organized although being an arranger (which is just a relief of anxiety from something) means you may be highly organized. Another relief from anxiety may also include counting.
If someone is struggling that something may happen to a family member, they may count in patterns like 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, and so on until they feel like they did it enough to keep anything from happening to their loved one.
But this means that if they don’t count that they are causing something to happen to their loved one although this is not true.
Ways to cope:
Say out loud, “Counting has nothing to do with my loved one being safe”. Also, they may go a full day without counting to find out that their loved one is still fine even without their counting.
Struggle with OCD #5- Hoarding
When you see the word hoarder you probably think of the show “Hoarders” which involves pest-ridden homes and piles upon piles of stuff where you can’t even walk through the house.
For some, this may true. For others, they may be an organized hoarder. Which can also be seen as a recycler in my opinion. Let me talk about the less obvious hoarder (recycler).
Every time a container of cottage cheese or yogurt is finished, it gets washed and put away in the cabinet. The thought process is this. “If someone comes over for dinner, I can use these to send them home with leftovers”. Or maybe it’s the hoarding of toilet paper rolls which in turn you see as a “craft opportunity”. Magazines? I can use these for scrapbooking. Ripped clothing? I can sew these pieces together and make a blanket. And this list goes on.
An organized hoarder finds a way to use everything and as long as it stays under control where it doesn’t turn into the well-known tv show “Hoarders”, then it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Now if it does start to disturb your well being and interrupts your safety or that of others, then it may be time to clean house and get rid of things.
The thought of getting rid of things though is where the fear and anxiety comes in. What if I need it? Or “That empty potato chip bag means a lot to me because it’s the one my husband and I shared together and if I get rid of it, that memory may be gone forever”.
Ways to cope:
If you or someone you know struggles with this, just realize it’s just a fear of loss. By no means, feel like you need to start getting rid of precious items that have been in your family for years but if you notice you are building a collection of empty potato chip bags for a rainy day, it’s ok to give them to the recycling company.
Before you do so, you may have to understand the value of items first.
Here is an exercise: Put your favorite bracelet next to the empty chip bag and ask yourself, “Which one is more valuable and has meaning behind it?”. If you say the bracelet is more valuable (which I hope it is because I don’t want you throwing away 14kt gold bracelets) put the chip bag in the recycling bin.
Struggle with OCD #6- Fear of making the wrong choice (Indecisive)
When most people go out to eat, they usually have an idea of what they will order. It takes them no longer than 5 minutes to look at the whole menu and decide. For someone with OCD, making one wrong choice could ruin the rest of your day.
If you ordered food and end up not liking it, you may struggle with thoughts such as “I should have got that instead”. Or maybe, “What if I had ordered that instead, then my day would have been better”.
I was taught that not deciding is to decide. Either way, you are making a decision.
We make decisions all day long and some may turn out great and some not so ideal. Wise decisions such as slowing down at the yellow light or using the crosswalk are important. Things such as ordering food you end up not liking can be seen as a learning experience. Not something to beat yourself up over.
Ways to cope:
So you ordered something you didn’t like. Say to yourself, ” I had a nice time at the restaurant with my family and I think next time I am going to try something new.
Think of those who travel around the world to try new foods. Do you think they always love everything they eat? I mean snails and octopus is not everyone’s cup of tea. Although I love me some calamari. They instead see it as an experience.
Encouraging scriptures for those who struggle with OCD
“For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. ” 1 Timothy 6:7
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
Related Read: Are Your Emotions Wearing You Down
I’m not at all a healthcare professional. But from someone who has struggled with OCD, I’ve learned to cope with it. I’ve been freed from many OCD struggles or at least have got them under control. I recognize what’s reality and what is just an obsession. It has taken many years to battle with this. I would not hope this for anyone but would like to be a voice for those who struggle with OCD. Those who are hidden in their brain. Who feel like there is no hope. I got news for you. There is hope.
Here are some books that help combat OCD:
If you struggle with OCD, what are some of your struggles? It’s nice to know you’re not alone.