Rational People-Irrational Disorder

When my son Dan was first suffering from severe OCD and we had no idea where to turn, we connected with a close friend of ours who is a clinical psychologist. One of the first questions Mark asked me was, “Does Dan realize how irrational his behavior is?”  When I asked Dan if he really believed someone he loved would be harmed if he moved from his chair before midnight, or if he had something to eat, he answered, “I know it makes no sense, but I just have to act this way.”  Those with OCD typically know their thoughts and behaviors are illogical; they just can’t control them.

Since becoming an advocate for OCD awareness, I’ve been told by several sufferers that this is the worst part of having OCD.  You know you are thinking and acting in an irrational manner but are unable to stop the thoughts and/or the actions. “It would be better if I didn’t realize how illogical my thoughts and behaviors are,” one sufferer said. “I’d rather be oblivious than tormented.”

So what are the ramifications of this insightfulness? For one thing, because those with OCD don’t want to be perceived as “crazy” they often go to lengths to hide their disorder, even from those closest to them. They will also avoid or, at the very least, delay treatment because they feel shame and embarrassment. How can they willingly share things that they know are “ridiculous” with a therapist?  This awareness of how their thoughts and behaviors likely appear to others, indeed how they even appear to themselves, must be torturous.

For non-sufferers, I think it’s easy to understand why someone with OCD would try to hide their disorder. After all, whether we have OCD or not, we can all relate to not wanting to embarrass ourselves. What might be harder for a non-sufferer to understand is, if sufferers know their behavior makes no sense, why don’t they just stop? This question, of course, is a lot more complicated, and is what makes OCD a disorder to begin with.

We need to continue to educate and raise awareness of OCD and what it entails. I think this is just as important for sufferers as it is for non-sufferers.  Some of the most emotional interactions I’ve had with OCD sufferers have been when they talk about the moment they realized they are not alone: “I never imagined that there are other people out there – lots of them – who regularly turn their cars around to make sure they haven’t hit anyone.” Such a powerful revelation, to see one’s actions as symptoms of a real illness, and not just some random illogical behavior. Certainly no reason to feel shame or embarrassment.

Rational people with an irrational disorder.

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8 Responses to Rational People-Irrational Disorder

  1. 71 & Sunny says:

    Yes, very comforting to realize I had a real illness and that I wasn’t just weird or crazy.

    I love that statement, “I’d rather be oblivious than tormented.” So incredibly true. When I was in the depths of my most severe OCD I was desperate for any relief, and being oblivious sure would have sounded good then. Of course, if I had been oblivious, I would never have been able to fight my way back with the help of my family and psychologist.

    OCD is totally irrational. So painful when you feel like there is nothing you can do about it. Thankfully, that is just a feeling and it’s not true.

  2. Tina Barbour says:

    That is such a good way to describe OCD–rational people with an irrational disorder. It’s still easier for me to write about my OCD symptoms than to talk out loud about them. When I hear myself talking about them, I realize how irrational it must sound to others.

    I have been so blessed by finding out others have had similar experiences with OCD as I have. Most of the people I know who have OCD are people that I’ve met online, and knowing them helps me tremendously.

    • ocdtalk says:

      I agree, Tina. The online community is really amazing……I think it has helped so many people who otherwise would feel isolated and alone. Thanks for the comment!

  3. krystallynn says:

    Thank goodness there is an online community to connect with…it is so helpful to me to see that you can have OCD and still have hope, still function, get help,have bad days but then feel better the next, have fun, fight OCD and win some battles and there are so many bloggers to support and encourage you along the way. I am glad you are are writing because you are touching peoples lives.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks so much, krystallyn, for the kind words. I’ve also enjoyed reading your blog, and “getting to know” your wonderful family.

  4. Elise says:

    I had OCD in my early 20’s. Just over 20 years ago. I had it very bad. I used to have small rituals, switching lights off etc, this led to bigger ones. I got to the stage I would dress if it was slightly wrong I had to take them all off and redress. At my worse I couldn’t walk passed anything written considering I lived and worked in London and had to travel by tube this was terrible. I would have to read every discarded bit of newspaper, adverts etc. I went to the Doctor she didn’t tell me what was wrong just that I could go to group therapy. I got myself better in the end. I forced myself to work passed the feelings of doom it took me 3 years to spiral into OCD and claw my way out. I realised I wasn’t mad when I saw a late night TV programme with someone else talking about shutting car doors and their rituals. I agree it needs to be spoken about and people to know you can recover and you can beat it. It will always be with me but I only get it when I’m stressed and I know what it is.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Elise. What an amazing accomplishment, overcoming your severe OCD on your own. How much better it would have been if a therapist had recognized what you were dealing with and knew how to treat you. I’m so glad you’re doing well now.

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