I follow a number of blogs written by OCD sufferers, and the more I read, the more I realize how complicated, confusing, and unpredictable OCD can be.
I know a fair amount about the disorder. My son has OCD and I know firsthand how it can affect the entire family. I’ve seen how OCD can devastate lives. I’ve written posts on everything from symptoms and treatment to enabling and recovery avoidance. But I don’t have OCD, and while I can pick one aspect of the disorder to focus on, discuss, and wrap up neatly with a bow, I never truly convey the scope of this illness. My posts are neat, and OCD is messy. Writing about obsessive compulsive disorder is so much easier than having it.
Many people with OCD also suffer from depression, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), and panic disorder, to name a few common comorbid conditions. Of course, each of these illnesses has their own definition and list of symptoms. It is important and necessary for diagnosis and proper treatment. But again, reading and writing about them conveys a sense of neatness and order. Patient number one has OCD, GAD and depression. Patient number two has OCD, panic disorder, and social phobia. Symptoms and the illnesses are categorized and seen as separate entities, as opposed to interrelated. It is easy to forget that we are talking about a whole person’s state of being, not just a bunch of different disorders. No doubt people have manifested symptoms of these various mental illnesses long before the disorders were differentiated by names.
When my son Dan suffered from severe OCD, he was also diagnosed with depression. Makes sense, right? Who wouldn’t be depressed in that situation? Once his OCD was under control, his depression lifted; two separately diagnosed illnesses that were intricately entwined. While this may be a simplified example, I believe it is worth thinking about. We, sufferers and non-sufferers alike, need to remind ourselves that OCD, GAD, depression, etc. are just words used to explain how we are feeling and how our minds and bodies react to these feelings. They are a way of trying to maintain some order and clarity over the messiness of mental illness. But let’s remember that while these labels and acronyms serve their purpose, our main goal should be striving to understand what is going on with the whole person.