In browsing OCD forums and blogs, I have come across some posts that, on the surface, seem to demonstrate that OCD makes sense. In one post, a woman talked of having to perform a certain set of rituals to keep her husband safe when he traveled for work. For whatever reason, she was recently not able to complete these rituals, and wouldn’t you know it, her husband was in a car accident where he sustained minor injuries. Another post involved a mother who was terrified of transferring germs to her young child, and lo and behold, the child contracted a nasty viral infection.
So if the first woman had performed her rituals the day of the accident, would the accident still have happened? If the second woman had washed her hands just one more time, would her child have gotten sick? The answer, of course, is we really don’t know.
Uncertainty, which we know fuels the fire of OCD, is simply a fact of life. In the course of our lifetimes, good things will happen and bad things will happen and we can never be sure, from one day to the next, what awaits us. Whether we suffer from OCD or not, there are bound to be challenges and surprises for all of us, and we need to deal with them.
And that’s what I find so interesting about the above cases. These OCD sufferer’s “what ifs” came true, and they handled the situations just fine. When the “something bad” finally happened, it was manageable; much more manageable, in fact, than their OCD. The obsessions and compulsions and the havoc they wreak on lives are often much worse than the “what ifs” are when they actually do come true.
I am reminded of another post I read a while ago that I can’t seem to locate (if you are the author, please let me know!). It was a first-person blog where the OCD sufferer came to the realization that the only really bad thing that had actually ever happened to her was………..Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Good post. I have had some of my “what ifs” happen, and at first it seemed surreal, like a bad dream coming true. But you’re right. I ended up handling the situation as well as if I didn’t have OCD. The bad thing is, sometimes I think about those instances when I’m telling myself, it’s the OCD talking.
I like what you say about uncertainty being a fact of life for everyone. I think when I’m in the middle of an OCD frenzy, I tend to think there are people out there who don’t deal with uncertainty. Of course, they do.
Thanks for the comment, Tina. I know for my son Dan it was important to realize that the obsessions and compulsions that he engaged in to keep his world “safe” were the very things that were actually destroying his world. And yes, we all deal with uncertainty, in one way or another!
You make some excellent points. I think the difficulty in choosing response prevention often comes from the fact that rituals are a known quantity, whereas “what if’s” are an unknown quantity. It often feels easier to put up with the devil you know than the one you don’t. The good thing is that in many cases, we underestimate our ability to manage challenges. Oftentimes, we handle life’s surprises much better than we would have anticipated.
Thanks for your insight, Dr. Seay. I guess fear of the unknown can be very powerful……but it is frustrating to see how this fear can keep those with OCD away from ERP Therapy.
This post is a great reminder to me. Most of the time when the “what ifs” come true, they usually don’t end up being nearly as bad as I think they will be. One time, though, the “what if” ended up being worse than anything I could have imagined (my husband almost died from Crohn’s Disease about a year ago). Even as bad as that was, and it was truly terrible, somehow we both managed to get through the ordeal. Now his current health problems are certainly a concern, but they seem so manageable compared to what happened previously last winter. We have no certainty about my husband’s future health, so we’re just enjoying our time together now. It was a painful but important lesson in uncertainty.
Thanks for sharing, and I’m sorry you and your husband had to go through that ordeal. But as you said, you got through it and are enjoying your time together now. Not a single one of us has any guarantees with our health. It’s just that sometimes the uncertainty is more obvious than at other times, as you know.
This makes a lot of sense. My 9 year old daughter is the one with OCD and last year when my husband had a massive heart attack and nearly died in front of us, and was in the hospital for 12 days, it seamed like her OCD was lessening despite the difficult event we experienced and his slow recovery. I was so hopeful during this time, that her OCD was going to be improved but after he came home from the hospital, it got worse.
You make a good point in your comment about your son realizing that the obsessions and compulsions he was engaged in to make his world “safe” were really what was destroying his world. This is something that must be hard for anyone with OCD to see but for a young child, very challenging. I can only hope that as my child ages and matures, she can begin to see this more. I have already seen an improvement in her understanding of OCD.
Thanks for commenting! I agree that age and maturity should bring about a better understanding of her OCD. In the meantime she has you to help her through 🙂
I dont suffer from OCD. Depression and anxiety only, but these struggles have taught me much about how I think and the traps my mind sets for me. When a came to the point in this post where the woman didn’t complete her ritual and her husband was in an accident my first thought was “what would her brain tell her if she had compeleted her ritual”? I would imagine she would have been thankful she did her ritual or he may have been seriously injured. In this case it is really a matter of perspective isn’t it? Are these types of congnitive strategies helpful for OCD sufferers? Could the woman with the sick child train herself, using CBT maybe?, to see the other potential causes of illness? Anxiety in particular has taught me that often rationale thought has little to do with the fear so I understand part of the challenge. I have learned there are commonalities to a lot of this stuff, and couldn’t help but wonder if some of these strategies can be helpful.
Thanks for your comment, Casey. Yes, CBT, specifically Exposure Response Prevention Therapy, is the treatment of choice for OCD, and it literally saved my son’s life. You bring up a lot of good points and the bottom line for those with OCD, I think, is the need to learn how to live with uncertainty and just accept it as a fact of life.