What does it really feel like to have OCD?

Support groups are often helpful for people. Whether you are dealing with a disease or disorder, or have experienced tragedy or trauma, there is nothing quite like connecting with others who are, or have been, in a similar situation. Why is this? I think one of the main reasons is because those in your support group simply know how it feels. While family, friends, and health professionals can support you and even possibly understand what you are going through, they will never truly know what it feels like.

When Dan was dealing with severe OCD, I wanted to know what it felt like. I knew he had constant agonizing intrusive thoughts, but how did he actually feel? If I could feel what he was feeling, then maybe I could somehow take away some of his pain. That doesn’t make much sense to me now, but for some reason it did back then. It wasn’t something we talked about a lot, as Dan had more pressing things to deal with than trying to describe his OCD to his mother.

Over the past few years, I have come across some OCD sufferer’s descriptions of what their anxiety from OCD feels like. The ones I remember are, not surprisingly, the ones I can personally relate to:

* You have that feeling you get when someone scratches their fingers down a blackboard.

* You have that feeling you get after swerving to avoid a potentially fatal car accident.

* You have that feeling you get when you take your eyes off of your child in a store for one minute, and then he/she is gone.

With the above examples, your physical and mental distress dissipates once the blackboard scratching stops, you avoid the accident, or you’ve located your child. But try to imagine having those feelings of intense anxiety repeatedly, perhaps hundreds of times a day. That is what some sufferers say life with severe OCD feels like.

I can imagine what it is like to have OCD all I want, but like I said before I will never really know how it feels. And instead of wishing I knew how Dan felt, I now wish that he, and all OCD sufferers, never had to feel that way to begin with.

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16 Responses to What does it really feel like to have OCD?

  1. PJBS says:

    The description of the feelings
    that “Dan” and others suffer are “unbelievable” . Such insight and
    help to others like me who sometimes think they have mild cases of ocd
    because of “scary” thoughts is a real “wake-up” to the actual horrors
    of what Dan and others have to deal with while trying to have a
    normal life. Thanks for bringing such important facts to life so there
    can be more understanding of this devastating disease and how it
    affects those who live with it

  2. ocdtalk says:

    You’re welcome, and thanks for your comment!

  3. As usual, I find your well-written perspective on things fascinating. I often wonder what it’s like NOT to have OCD, or to not have OCD and then to develop it later in life as some people do, giving them a frame of reference for comparison. So often I wonder if other “normal” people feel the same way I do about certain things and just manage to resist the compulsive behavior (whereas something in me snaps and I go for the compulsion even when I know I shouldn’t). For me, I think, trying to differentiate between what OCD “feels like” versus what OCD doesn’t feel like is a compulsion in and of itself – I want to believe that it really is OCD, that I have a real reason for struggling to do what some find effortless. I’ve had to learn to not seek certainty about this matter, too, in the process of getting better.

  4. ocdtalk says:

    Your comment shows another side of OCD that I didn’t touch upon….the constant uncertainty and doubt that comes with the disorder. Thanks so much for your insights…..I find them so helpful in my “quest” for understanding!

  5. Lolly says:

    Dead on descriptions of how OCD feels, for sure. Wonderful post, especially the last paragraph. Your writing is so heart felt and means so much to me reading these things from a non-OCD sufferer. Your son is truly lucky to have a mom like you. I am working on a post about children with OCD, as I have been one and know the torment and the “alone” feeling. I didn’t know what it was so I kept it all inside until my mid-20’s… -Lolly

    • ocdtalk says:

      I look forward to reading that post. What a gift to families that will be……..an adult perspective of what it is like to be a child with OCD, from someone who really knows!

  6. I LOVE the support that I get from other OCD sufferers! And I find it amazing that – though the OCD “theme” may be different, the manifestations, and feelings are all SO SIMILAR. I also agree that unless you have OCD you just can’t understand what it’s like. Which is why I find it so very important to connect with a therapist who is empathetic – or has OCD as well!! Funny, I used to think that everyone thought just like me! Now that I know that I have OCD, and I’m learning about how much of my life is OCD controlled, I am starting to realize that there really ARE people who don’t feel the need to “do something” about their scary thoughts or “do something” to prevent something bad from happening.

  7. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for your comments! Sounds like you have really come a long way in your understanding about your OCD, and your sharing helps me understand.

  8. I can SO relate to those descriptions! Not so much the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard one, but the other two are bang-on! It’s like this feeling of continual terror. I thought you might be interested in reading a post on my OCD blog for maybe a little further insight: http://lightsallaround.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/mmpi/ I like your blog, and I just subscribed!

  9. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks so much for your comments! I just read your post and you do a great job of telling what it is like to have so much doubt and uncertainty taking over your life. I look forward to going back and reading your previous posts as well.

  10. I feel a knot in my neck or where ever the thought is. It can be in my back, legs, toes. I believe the knot is anxiety but I have to move it to feel just right. Anyone else with this feeling?

  11. ocdtalk says:

    Hi Christy, Thanks for commenting. Certainly anxiety can produce physical symptoms; I can’t say if your knot is related to anxiety or not, though. Maybe others have experienced this and will let you know……

  12. willitbeok says:

    I relate SO MUCH to 2/3 (not the fingernails on a chalkboard thing.) OCD causes a sudden, intense feeling of alarm — and although they’re false alarms, and even if I intellectually already know that, the feeling and the anxiety still happens

    • I think that’s what some people without OCD find difficult to understand; that the intense anxiety is very real, even if the sufferer knows intellectually that the danger is not. Thanks for sharing!

      • willitbeok says:

        I know. 😦 I try to remind myself how hard it must be for people without OCD, and why they might have trouble understanding how I feel and act. It’s easy for me to feel sorry for myself having a disorder, but I know I make life hard on those around me, too. At least I can say that whatever is stressing them out is probably stressing me out just as much, if not more!

      • With everything you go through dealing with OCD, I’m impressed that you are trying to see things from other’s viewpoints. I think that’s why communication is so important, especially with those we care about the most. Everyone has struggles and I think most people genuinely care and want to be helpful. In most cases I think they are interested in learning more about OCD, especially if it affects someone they love.

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