When you spend a lifetime living with OCD, that feeling of going crazy may begin to feel normal. That worry you can't escape can feel like it's swallowing your life. I know, I've been there—and actually, I'm still in the middle of it. However, it does get better (and even manageable!), so here are a few tips and tricks I've picked up along the way that may help you get there.
Throughout this article, you will see the phrase "out of control" a lot. Don't let this get you down, though. Just because you can't control what you obsess over doesn't mean you can't manage your obsessing and compulsions.
Knowing You Have OCD
The reality of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is often not how it is portrayed in the media, as the desire to keep things ordered and tidy (although that is a possibility). In reality, it is much more varied and tailored to each individual's mind and innermost thoughts.
There are two main aspects of OCD: obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions can be certain worries, images, or even just curiosities that get trapped in your mind. Imagine OCD as a glue trap. A thought comes along, no matter how tame or wild, and it gets stuck so you start paying more and more attention to it. It could've been any thought, but now it seems to be all you can think about. It keeps coming back so it seems like it's more important than the others (just know that it isn't).
You may even know that it is a silly idea, and the fact that you keep thinking about it can make you feel crazy.
Compulsions are your attempt at trying to "cure" your obsessions. It seems like the logical next step to fixing whatever you worry about, but soon it goes out of control as you try your "fix" every time you obsess.
For example, I have a thought about how if I step too many times with my left foot the muscles in my left leg will grow more than my right and then they will be uneven. This is my obsession, as I think about it and begin noticing whenever I step harder with my left foot compared to my right. To try and rectify this, I start purposefully stepping harder with my right foot. This is my compulsion, and soon I find myself tripping while trying to stay "even."
Sometimes you may not notice that you even have OCD till you go to a therapist who identifies it for you from your actions. Therapists are useful resources, but we'll talk more about that later.
Explaining OCD to Your Loved Ones
It can be hard to talk to those around you about your OCD. As a mental illness, it carries with it a weight that physical illnesses don't, mainly because you can't see it. Some argue that it doesn't exist, and that can be not only dismissive but hurtful beyond words. Still, others believe that you can control what you obsess over, or that it isn't as painful to deal with as it really is.
Step 1: Allow Yourself to Cry
It can feel like it is controlling your life, and that's something you need to convey to people. These are ideas, thoughts, and images that you do not have control over obsessing over. Cry if you need to, it is something that has been hurting you and it can be very sensitive explaining it and having to go over it with others
Step 2: Talk About Your Obsessions
Be as vague or as specific as you desire. Some of the things you find yourself obsessing over can be really explicit and disturbing, so you may need to explain that to someone if you don't want to go into detail.
Step 3: Explain Your Compulsions
Now that you've touched on what you worry about, try to explain that your compulsions are your way of trying to remedy what you worry about.
Ex: I feel like every time I touch something I get contaminated again or they just don't come off in the first place, so I just keep washing to get them off.
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Step 4: Let Them Know That You Appreciate Them Listening
Your OCD is a part of your life, an important part. Make sure to let the person know how much it means to you that you got to explain yourself and finally have someone try to understand (whether they actually do or not).
You've opened yourself up and identified your obsessions as obsessions by talking about them. This is the first step to true healing.
Be prepared to be met with disbelief and dismissal, for the people that don't have a first-hand experience of it, it can seem downright silly to say that you don't have control over your own thoughts. Try to understand their point of view and most importantly don't give up on trying to explain it to them. This is a disorder; it is a separate entity from you that seems out of your control.
Understanding What You Worry About
OCD can really make you question your sanity or even your mental health in different ways. First things first, know that whatever you worry about doesn't define you or your interests. Your worries are just ideas, they don't have any more value than any other thought in your mind.
Your OCD has found your weak spot, something it knows it can hurt you with and it will work to make that thought seem bigger than it is. Also, know that you aren't alone. Everyone, OCD or not, has wild thoughts from time to time, you've just stuck to yours.
Some pretty common things that OCD sufferers obsess over:
- Whether or not you're hurting others
- Sexual deviancy
And those are just a few generalized things.
So when it comes to "understanding what you worry about," what you worry about it just a thought, nothing more powerful than that. It doesn't define you, it doesn't control you.
Managing obsessions right now might seem out of reach, but it is possible with a little effort. There are a few techniques I have found really helpful in managing those worrisome thoughts or images.
- Writing it Down. Keep a journal near you to write down your obsession in detail every time it happens. When you write it down you may be able to realize just how silly it is and how often you repeat yourself.
- Telling Someone. Just like writing it down, getting your worries off your chest can really help. Therapists often come in handy this way because you can tell them in detail about your obsessions and because they truly understand they won't judge you for it.
- Visualizing it. When I was little, it helped to try and clear my head. Take a few deep breaths and visualize your worry in your mind. Then take that visualization and imagine crumpling it up and throwing it away. Doing this can help calm you down, even if only for a bit.
- Recording it. This works in the same way that writing it down and talking about it does, except that you are talking to yourself. You can keep replaying your description of the obsession over and over until you no longer are sensitive to it. This way you are confronting your worry throughout your day, rather than just becoming anxious over it.
- Scheduling it. Make a schedule in which you give yourself time to obsess. Create very specific times for you to indulge in your worries and create strict guidelines for your free time. If you begin obsessing during your free time, just push the thought away until your set time. Use the visualizing technique to pack away the worry. When the time to worry comes, see if you can delay it for 5 more seconds, minutes, or even hours. For everyone the amount of obsessing is different, so for you 5 seconds of not worrying could be a huge accomplishment!
- Realizing it. Realize your worry for what it is, a thought. Everyone has wild thoughts that may seem disturbing and it doesn't make a difference in who you are, what's happening to you, or what you do. Look to the world around you to see how everyone else has bad thoughts too. They are okay and you will be too.
Managing your compulsions can be a process, just like managing obsessions. The first thing you can do to combat your obsession is to try and see how long you can go without it.
Try making a schedule to control how you spend your time with your compulsions. Set aside time every so often to indulge in your compulsions, but keep your free time free of it completely.
An example of this would be if you obsessively pray (I used to do this a lot, just to make sure God could hear me). If you pray sporadically through your day, set aside special times to pray every hour, or two hours, a time frame that pushes you a little out of your comfort zone, but not too much. Then limit the time you spend indulging, so maybe only 10 minutes at a time. From then, begin the "free time" again and wait till your specified time to indulge.
Therapy, Therapists, and Medication
There are countless resources to help you deal with your OCD. For all of these things though remember that you may have to try many times to find a variation that works for you. Not all therapists think the same, so if you feel yours isn't helping you don't give up. Switch to a new one and keep trying till you find one that you feel understands you.
The same goes for medication. Not all medicines work in the same way, so you may have to try a lot of them to find one that works with your body and in a dosage that can truly make a difference.
Neither of these things may come easily and can be a tiring process, but remember that it is worth it! Never give up!
All in All
Remember that you are an individual; not everyone is made the same. This means that it may take you longer to find a way to manage your OCD than you expected. But through all of this remember that there is an answer, and to get help wherever you can. You are stronger than you think!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 Ariel Kempa