OCD and Who You Really Are

pensive manI was recently reading Ellen’s OCD Blog, and in her response to a mom whose son has severe OCD, Ellen says, “…what kept me going is knowing that people cared, that people could still see who I truly was, even when I couldn’t.”

This comment resonated deeply with me, and in many ways, sums up much of my family’s journey. I’ve previously written about our son’s stay at a residential treatment center, and how my husband and I felt left out of all aspects of our son’s care there. This, of course, brought up a host of concerns, perhaps none more troubling than the fact that the staff there really didn’t know our son. How could they? They met him in the worst condition of his life, consumed by obsessive-compulsive disorder, a shell of who he really was. They knew how to treat OCD, but they didn’t know Dan. I don’t want to get into all our issues here, as I’ve written a few posts on this topic already, but you can certainly check some out if you are interested.

What I find so powerful about Ellen’s comment is that it comes from a person with OCD. It seems so obvious now, but I don’t think I have ever really tried to look at the impact of our involvement from Dan’s perspective. Of course we all know having encouragement and help are of the utmost importance for anyone who is struggling. But to have the love and support of those who know you best, of those who know who you really are, before OCD took over your life, has got to be a huge source of comfort. While he might have felt lost while in the throes of severe OCD, perhaps it was a little easier to bear just knowing that his family knew who he truly was, and that we’d do everything we possibly could to bring him back to himself.

I hear comments all the time: “I don’t recognize my son.” ” “My daughter used to (insert all wonderful things here) and now all she does is (insert negative things here).” “My wife was an awesome mom and now she won’t even go near our daughter.”

It is so difficult to watch those we love turn into people we don’t know. But, really, that’s not what’s happening. Our children, our spouses, our parents, are all still themselves, under the mess of OCD. We need to keep reminding ourselves of this fact, and more importantly, remind them of it as well. We need to let our loved ones with OCD know that we know who they truly are, and that they will be back.




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Raising Awareness of OCD

 I'm Blogging for Mental Health 2015.

Today is Mental Health Month Blog Day, and I’d like to share a couple of  things with you:

First, Seth and I were recently interviewed on Voice of America’s One Hour At A Time.  If you’re interested you can listen to the podcast here.

Also, Ellen, over at Ellen’s OCD Blog, created this short video called Ritualise. I think she did a great job, and I hope you’ll check it out.

These are just two of the many examples out there of people working hard to get the truth out about OCD!


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OCD and Health Anxiety

by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

Health anxiety (also known as hypochondria or hypochondriasis) is defined by a preoccupation with, and persistent fear of, severe illness. Despite medical attention and reassurance, people with health anxiety either believe they already have a devastating illness or are in imminent danger of catching one. Seeking reassurance from doctors or the Internet might provide temporary relief, but the fear of illness returns. Symptoms must last a minimum of six months and interfere with daily living for a diagnosis to be made.

Sounds like OCD doesn’t it? Obsessions are health related and compulsions revolve around some type of reassurance and/or compulsive checking. Fear of contamination is a common obsession for those with OCD, and it’s easy to connect this obsession to the fear of contracting a disease.

According to the DSM-5, however, OCD belongs to the obsessive-compulsive and related disorders category, while health anxiety is listed as either a somatic symptom disorder or illness anxiety disorder, depending on the specific symptoms displayed. While there can be overlapping symptoms between the two disorders, and it’s also possible for someone to be diagnosed with both OCD and health anxiety, they are defined as separate disorders. It’s interesting to note that those with OCD typically have better insight into their disorder than those with health anxiety, who truly believe they have a serious illness.

In this informative and comprehensive article by Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz, he discusses OCD and hypochondriasis in detail. In examining the relationship between the two, he says:

“In my mind, hypochondriasis is a form of OCD.  In fact, as I describe below, I tend to use the same treatment techniques as I would use to help someone with OCD.”

Dr. Abramowitz goes on to discuss in detail the treatment for hypochondriasis, and you guessed it, it involves exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. This front line treatment for OCD also helps those with health anxiety. To me, it doesn’t matter how OCD and hypochondriasis are classified in the DSM-5, as long as those who suffer from these disorders get the appropriate help.

Once again, we see how the need for certainty propels these illnesses forward. Think you have a brain tumor? For most of us, a negative MRI and a clean bill of health from our doctors would be enough to put us at ease. But even though those with health anxiety and/or OCD might feel a fleeting sense of relief after receiving this good news, chances are they will soon ask, “But how can I be completely sure….?” And since we can’t be completely sure of anything, the vicious cycle begins.

If you or a loved one is living a life consumed by unwarranted worry about your health, I hope you’ll try to find a qualified therapist who, by using exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, will help you learn to accept the uncertainty of life.







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A Happy, Healthy Mother’s Day

mom and baby

I last shared this post on Mother’s Day four years ago. It still holds true today…

If you ask mothers what they want for their children, most would say, “I just want them to be healthy and happy.”  Truly, isn’t that what we all want?

And so we do everything in our power to make this wish come true. We love, we nurture, we make sacrifices, and we go to the ends of the earth to try to achieve this goal for our children: to be healthy and happy.

But sometimes we come up short. Because as much as we like to think otherwise, so much of life is out of our control. Sometimes our children aren’t happy, and sometimes they are not healthy. And sometimes, as hard as we may try, there is nothing we can do to make things better for them. Whatever type of illness they are suffering from, all we want is for them to be okay.

We are in our own little club, we mothers. I don’t know about you, but anytime I hear a story of sorrow on the news, or read of tragedy in the newspaper, I rarely think of the victim. Instead my first thought is always, “That poor mother.”  Because there is no stronger emotion than the love of a mother for her child, we feel deeply when other mothers are suffering.

And so on this Mother’s Day my wish is for all mothers out there to have happy and healthy children. And if  that’s not where you’re at right now, I wish you the strength to carry on toward that goal.

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OCD is Real

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

Since the publication of my book, Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, I’ve had several interviews as well as appearances where I’ve talked about our family’s story. Invariably, I get comments from people applauding my support for my son throughout his battle with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have to admit it makes me a little uncomfortable, being commended for doing what I and most parents conceive as our responsibility – to love, care for, and advocate for our children. Indeed, I receive many emails from parents who are doing that very thing right now: searching for the right path to best help their children.

Of course I am aware that I typically only receive emails from parents who are supportive, and am not going to be contacted by those who believe their children should just “get over it,” or should “stop being dramatic.” But I know these negative situations exist because I have heard from many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder who were treated this way by their own parents. From being ignored to being yelled at to being called crazy, these stories are heartbreaking to me. I know how difficult it was for my son to fight his OCD, and he did indeed have a supportive family. I can’t even being to imagine what it is like for children and teenagers who have no family backing whatsoever.

Another comment I get a lot is how great it is that I, as a layperson, understand so much about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Certainly I have learned a lot about OCD over the past eight years, and I do have a fair amount of “book knowledge” about the disorder. But understand it? I don’t think so. How can anybody understand a disorder that is irrational and makes no sense? Do I understand why my son thought and acted the way he did? Not really. My only explanation is that he had severe OCD.

I am bringing this up because I want to stress that, in my opinion, truly understanding OCD is not what’s important. What’s important is that we understand our children: that they are truly suffering, that they are doing the best they can at any given time, and that the most helpful thing we can do for them is love and support them in appropriate ways. In other words, we need to understand that OCD is REAL – as real as any other illness out there. And so our children or other loved ones who are dealing with it should not be ignored, demeaned, or ridiculed, but rather cared for, supported, and loved. That, in a nutshell, is all we need to know about OCD.

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Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Podcast

renjith krishnan freedigitalphotos.net

renjith krishnan

I recently had a wonderful experience being interviewed by Julie Burnfield. She and her husband Andy produce informative podcasts about obsessive-compulsive disorder.

If you’re interested, you can listen to the interview on their site, Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

I’d also recommend checking out their many other podcasts which include interviews with people who have OCD as well as experts and clinicians.





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