Freedom from OCD

When he was dealing with severe obsessive compulsive disorder, my son Dan spent nine weeks in a residential treatment program. During this time, he kept saying that he “wanted his freedom back.” I wasn’t sure if he was talking about getting out of the program, or about regaining his independence from his family.

Turns out it was neither. What Dan wanted was freedom from OCD. Since that time, I have read many blogs and spoken to lots of people with OCD, and I keep hearing those same words: “I want freedom from OCD.” More than once, in fact, I have read first person accounts of sufferers who have successfully battled OCD where they refer to the “chains of OCD being broken.” They are no longer prisoners.

But what does freedom from OCD really mean? A non-sufferer may think it simply means saying good-bye to the disorder and having it be nothing more than a bad memory. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. While OCD is highly treatable, it rarely goes away completely. So if you always have OCD, can you ever experience freedom from it?

I would answer with a resounding Yes. Freedom from OCD does not necessarily signify the absence of OCD, but rather the lack of control that the disorder has over the sufferer’s life. While someone who is not in control of their OCD will feel compelled to perform compulsions or avoid situations to rid themselves of the anxiety that comes with their obsessions, those who have freedom from OCD will accept their obsessions as just thoughts and nothing more. They will not let their OCD dictate how they live their lives.

It is not uncommon for those with OCD to name their disorder as a way of affirming that it is separate from themselves. I talk about this more on the post entitled The Enemy. While those who do not yet have their freedom from OCD may be dealing with The Enemy, those who do have their freedom are dealing with something more akin to a little brother or sister tagging along. Sure, they can be annoying and a bit of a nuisance, but they sure as heck aren’t going to boss you around!

Gaining freedom from OCD takes a lot of hard work and may be an ongoing  process. When I write about Dan’s story these days, I often say, “Dan still has OCD, but OCD does not have Dan. There is a big difference.”

And that difference is freedom.

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22 Responses to Freedom from OCD

  1. Jack says:

    That’s an important distinction, and it makes a lot of sense to me. There are definitely times I feel like my thoughts are controlling me, and times I feel like they’re just an annoyance I can ignore. My goal is just to have more of the latter; I know it’s never going to go away completely.

  2. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for the comment, Jack……I wish you lots more of the latter as well!

  3. Tina says:

    Wonderful post! You hit the nail on the head: freedom from OCD is when you don’t let the obsessions and compulsions control your life. I’ve come a long way since I was first diagnosed–I feel like I’m free from the very worst. I’ve got a ways to go, but I can taste the freedom!

    • ocdtalk says:

      That must be a great feeling, TIna; to know you are free from the worst……I’m so glad things are going so well for you and your hard work is paying off!

  4. 71 & Sunny says:

    A few weeks ago I had a similar conversation w/my psychologist. I was telling her that I still had the obsessions (though not as bad) but they didn’t seem to upset me as much. She mentioned that there were 2 components to OCD – the interference of OCD on my life and the distress of OCD. While I still struggle w/interference, I usually have much less distress. I find that to be tremendously freeing as I’m not in constant agony anymore. Accepting the fact that I have a chronic – but improving – illness has also helped greatly.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for the comment, Sunny. That is interesting, separating OCD into interference and distress. I’m guessing the interference is easier to deal with when your distress is so much less…….I look forward to hearing of your continued improvement. You’ve come so far!

  5. Lolly says:

    I loved reading this post, it is so spot on. You inspire me!

  6. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks Lolly…….you inspire me too!

  7. douglaslisa says:

    Out of all the words Dan could have chosen to describe his feelings, he chose to use the word “freedom.” I find his description of “wanting his freedom back” to have been quite insightful. If we look up the word freedom we will find meanings such as “the quality, esp of the will or the individual, of not being totally constrained; able to choose between alternative actions in identical circumstances; the state of being without something unpleasant or bad and personal liberty, as from slavery.”
    Therefore, OCD is the absolute antithesis of “Freedom.” While one is within OCD’s seemingly unrelenting grip, does it not constrain, remove one’s ability to choose alternative actions, leave one in a perpetual state of unpleasantness and bound to it as if its slave?
    Dan’s story gives those of us, still well within the trenches of fighting this formidable opponent, hope for our futures and the futures of our loved ones.
    Instead of fighting for our lives against OCD, we are going to now engage in this battle with a new resolution. A resolution where our war is no longer fought against OCD but a fight for Freedom!

  8. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks so much for your comment Lisa. I am so glad Dan’s story gives you hope for the future. I wish you and your daughter successful battles ending in freedom.

  9. This is so true. I’m still working towards that goal….I think I’ve “got it” some days, but not as many as I would like.

  10. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for the comment, POC……’s to many more days of freedom!

  11. Amy Przeworski says:

    Wonderful description of the goal for treatment–not to wipe out OCD entirely but to be free to make your own decisions rather than having OCD guide them. I also like the hope that this gives others and the emphasis that treatment is efficacious for many people.

  12. If you’re talking about the diagnostic label OCD, as soon as your symptoms reduce enough to return to a bearable standard of daily living (i.e. you no longer feel overwhelmed by the intrusive thoughts or controlled by the compulsions), you no longer qualify for the disorder. In that sense, OCD _has_ gone away. But obsessions and compulsions are a normal part of everyone’s life, and what has really happened is that you’ve moved down the “OCD continuum” to a level that is more in line with the general population, and hopefully allows you a fairly “normal” life (if there is such a thing!).

    Great blog, it helps dispel some of these myths out there about OCD being an incurable brain disease!

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for the comment and you bring up an interesting point…….if the obsessions and compulsions don’t really interfere with your day-to-day living anymore, then do you still have OCD?? I would think a lot of OCD sufferers would argue that they have to work hard to keep the obsessions and compulsions at bay, and so while their lives have improved, their OCD still exists…….

      • I think that when we speak of OCD, we are talking of two different things: a diagnostic label for a psychological disorder (either you met the criteria or you don’t, regardless of past history); and a tendency towards dealing with intrusive thoughts with unhelpful compulsions.
        People who have once been diagnosed with OCD, but have improved significantly, no longer have OCD from the psychologists’ point of view. However, from the person’s point of view, they still have the OCD tendencies, and can fall back into the disorder far more readily than the average person. The semantics let us down here because we don’t have a word for this tendency towards obsessions and compulsions. It’s inaccurate to call it OCD because it’s not a disorder for most people: we all obsess about certain things from time to time, have unpleasant or even shocking intrusive thoughts, and have a host of illogical little compulsions, but they don’t cause us crippling anxiety or interfere significantly with our daily functioning. This is what I referred to as the OCD continuum.

  13. ocdtalk says:

    Interesting……I’d like to explore this issue more on another post…..thanks for giving me something to think about 🙂

  14. mysophobe says:

    This is a really great post. I think you raised important issues. I’m an OCD sufferer myself, and I know the feeling of ‘wanting freedom’.

  15. Paul Reeve says:

    I have pure O and I often find ‘Freedom’ is a very empowering word!

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