OCD: Truth and Lies
We all hear “OCD” periodically in our daily lives. Some of us may have heard someone use it to describe their particularities about organization and cleanliness, and others may have heard it because they know someone who has been diagnosed with the disorder. But what I have learned is that very few of us understand what obsessive-compulsive disorder truly is. Before I was diagnosed with the disorder less than a year ago, I certainly had a very narrow conception of OCD, and this limited understanding likely delayed my diagnosis by several months and kept me from receiving treatment that could have prevented its worsening.
As the name indicates, obsessive-compulsive disorder involves two major elements: obsessions and compulsions. The distinctions between the two are subtle, but they are important.
Obsessions involve thoughts. They are recurrent patterns of thinking that center on a certain topic, typically a fear. The fear could be irrational, or it could be a typical fear that we all experience that is then taken to an irrational extreme. Either way, the fear is frequently present in the mind of the person suffering from the disorder—he/she is constantly aware of the fear and continuously accosted with streams of racing thoughts about it. These thoughts are often considered to be “intrusive,” meaning that they are unwanted and that the person experiencing them does not feel as if they are his/her own thoughts—the rumination feels as though it has been placed into the mind by some other force. Given the ruminating and inescapable aspects of the obsessions, they are often very distressing to the person experiencing them, typically causing the person to experience a great amount of anxiety.
In contrast, compulsions involve actions. Compulsions are caused by obsessions—they are a person’s attempt to relieve the anxiety brought about by their obsessions. The person feels as though they must complete the action because they are so fearful of what may happen otherwise. Compulsions may include doing something, saying something, believing something—they are anything that the person does in order to relieve the intensity of their fear. For example, my obsessions have dealt mostly with relationships. At one point, I was so fearful of interacting with someone (because I feared ruining the relationship) that I compulsively locked my door because I simply could not focus on anything else unless that door was locked and my fear of running into them was eased. My compulsions are often less obvious though—for example, I may simply talk more around someone when I fear losing a relationship with them, because I feel as though I have to say certain things to maintain the relationship and because I fear that I will destroy the relationship if I do not follow through with saying those things. I may also have compulsions to apologize excessively because I obsessively fear that I have done something wrong in the relationship.
OCD is diagnosed as a disorder when the degree to which people experience obsessions and compulsions becomes distressing and infringes upon their daily life—so much of their thoughts are consumed with obsessive fears and rumination that it inhibits their day-to-day functioning. However, every member of the population experiences some elements of OCD from time to time—we all may have an obsession or a compulsion occasionally.
For example, though OCD has amplified my fears, the fears I experience—losing a relationship, being unloved, etc.—are things that we all experience as human beings. Because of this, I would like to speak truth to some of these fears. Here are some of the truths that have been affirmed in my life recently (even as I struggle greatly to actually believe them):
You are loved. God loves you so much, and that is something that will never ever ever change. And God wants to put people in your life who love you unconditionally as well, and he probably already has. So many people love you for who you are and will love you regardless of what you do, and there are people who do not even know you and love you just because you are a human being. Putting a limit how much you love or how much you allow yourself to be loved in order to avoid getting hurt is not worth it. People you love will hurt you, but love is worth the hurt. Let yourself love your friends and let your friends love you.
You are valuable. Give no power to inadequacy and worthlessness. You have something to contribute to your community and to your relationships, and, even if you didn’t, your value is not based on that anyway. You are priceless because you are a human being and because you are loved.
Suffering is not eternal. God places so many little joys into our lives to break up even the most relentless suffering. And, eventually, in my experience, love can overshadow suffering—it may not get rid of it, but it can make it so much more bearable and less of a defining aspect of your life. Additionally, suffering cannot and will not last forever—darkness will not be the ultimate victor.
God is a God of relationships and He will not fail to provide those for you. For months I have been fearing the loss of the friendships in my life, and I have actually lost a couple of friendships in the process. There are few things that hurt more than a strained or broken relationship. But, God offers us a relationship with Him, and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us any less or to make Him back out of the relationship. Additionally, God recognizes our longing for human relationships, and it is His desire that our need for these is satisfied. Even if he allows some of your relationships to fade, He has other ones waiting for you.
Feelings are valid, but they are not the truth. You may not believe that any of these things above are truth—I very frequently do not. But I encourage you to choose to say that they are true even if you don’t feel like they are true, and even if saying that they are true doesn’t make you feel any better. Choosing to believe the truth in spite of your feelings is a powerful thing that can open the door to eventual healing and encouragement.
For more information about the diagnostic criteria of OCD, visit: http://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts/clinical-definition-of-ocd