OCD, Friends, and Isolation

5D08CJ_D03-MountainTree1To me, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of Dan’s descent into severe obsessive-compulsive disorder was his progressive isolation from his friends.  Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for those with OCD, and it can become a vicious cycle. OCD isolates the sufferer, and this detachment from others, where the OCD sufferer is left alone with nothing but his or her obsessions and compulsions, can exacerbate OCD.

In Dan’s case, many of his obsessions revolved around harm coming to those he cares about. What better way to prevent this from happening than by avoiding friends and family? And this is exactly what he did. In his mind at the time, the “safest” thing to do was to stay away from everyone. This is just one example of how OCD steals what’s most important to you. Another common example is those OCD sufferers who have issues with germs. Avoiding any place or person that might carry germs (so pretty much everyone and everything) is about as isolating as you can get. There are many other reasons why OCD sufferers might isolate themselves. Their compulsions might be so time-consuming that there is simply no time to interact with others; OCD has taken up every second of their lives. Let’s also not forget the stigma that is still associated with the disorder, and many with OCD live with the fear of being “found out.” How can they best prevent that from happening? Yup, isolate themselves.

When someone is suffering deeply, whether it be with OCD, depression, or any illness, support from friends is crucial. Yet those who reach out to the isolated person are often ignored, and after a while, they might stop trying. This is what happened to Dan. I have no doubt his friends genuinely cared for him, but they didn’t realize the extent of his suffering (because Dan never let on) and when their efforts to connect with him were rebuffed, they, not knowing what else to do, left him alone.

I recently wrote about my friend Marlene whose son Oliver tragically took his own life. She shared with me a song written by Oliver’s good friend Luciano, and you can feel his guilt and despair over not realizing how badly his friend had been suffering. It’s not his fault that he didn’t know, and it’s not Oliver’s fault for not being able to tell him. It is this insidious disease, OCD, that caused this heartache.

In some situations (college, for example) an OCD sufferer’s isolation might first be noticed by friends. When friends cut us off, they lose their support, their encouragement, their hope, all of which are necessary for recovery. Really, the more we are pushed away, the more likely it is we are needed. I think it’s so important to spread the word that withdrawal from others might be a serious cause for concern, and help should be sought.

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24 Responses to OCD, Friends, and Isolation

  1. Tina Barbour says:

    Janet, such a heartfelt and important post! It must have been so hard to see your son isolate himself. I didn’t think of myself as purposely isolating myself when OCD was at its worst, but I was. I just saw it as something necessary to keep others from finding out my secret life with OCD. That became more important to me than being with others. You make a great point that when others withdraw from us, it could be a sign that help is needed. That’s something that we should all be aware of and follow up on.

  2. OCD's victim says:

    They dedicate their lives,
    To running all of his
    He tries to please them all
    This bitter man he is
    Throughout his life the same
    He’s battled constantly
    This fight he cannot win
    A tired man they see no longer cares
    The old man then prepares
    To die regretfully
    That old man here is me

    What I’ve felt
    What I’ve known
    Never shined through in what I’ve shown
    Never be
    Never see
    Won’t see what might have been

    What I’ve felt
    What I’ve known
    Never shined through in what I’ve shown
    Never free
    Never me
    So I dub thee unforgiven

    (Metalica – The Unforgiven)

  3. Yes, yes, yes. This is such an important topic!! I remember withdrawing from everyone in my darkest days. Thankfully I had incredible friends and family who refused to be alienated. 🙂 (Or even hurt by it– I know that I am in a blessed minority, and I am eternally grateful. My friends are absolute all-stars.)

    I liked what you said about how it’s not the sufferer’s fault for not being able to share, and it’s not the friend’s fault for not understanding– it’s just OCD’s fault. Over and over, I realize how the disorder itself is the culprit.

    Good post!

  4. Thank you, Jackie. How wonderful that you have always had such an amazing support system, and you realize how blessed you are. And yes, I believe OCD is usually the culprit when disaster strikes!

  5. 71º & Sunny says:

    Absolutely you are spot on, Janet. It’s like a vicious cycle with isolation. I remember keeping myself away from others for fear that I would make them ill. Plus, just trying to act “normal” in public could be so exhausting, that it was just easier to hang out at home rather than trying to find the energy to deal with the outside world. But, isolation just breeds more problems. My psychologist was really good at helping me expand my social circle. I realize now that it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

    • I’m so glad you had the support you needed, Sunny. I guess that’s what I want to get across: Even just one person in your corner can make all the difference in the world when you are feeling isolated.

  6. The Hook says:

    Thank you for the enlightening post.

  7. jik says:

    Hi janet I really can relate on this topic coz I do experience to isolate myself from friends and people just to manage or at least reduce my anxiety from my ocd and its such a lonely feeling, ur ryt the more sufferers
    pushes u away the more we really need love support and understanding.

  8. Janet, you HIT THE NAIL RIGHT ON THE HEAD HERE!! I have always dealt with the same scenarios that Dan has, the harming obsessions and in my case, just like Dan. . .how do you tell members of your family that you have had graphic thoughts about taking an AK-47 and eliminating them. I don’t know how to say it any other way but that’s the issue. One cannot just go out and start telling the world this stuff. People will misunderstand. On the other hand, how does family react when one of their own discloses this kind of a dilemma. That’s issue number 1 for me. Issue number 2 is now that I am almost ready to tackle the “dating” world, how and when do I disclose such things to a person I’ve been developing a relationship with? I mean, what’s the first thing that comes into a young woman’s mind when man sits down and tells her well, “Not only have I been in counseling for x number of years for a disorder, that disorder involves fears that I will do something graphically horrible and violent to somebody to put in generally.” That woman’s first instinct, whether it’s cultural or it’s just simply human intuition, is to run FAR away, especially if she has kids. I’m all ready to take on this challenge (the dating) but I’m leary of the consequences and am prepared for some of the ultimate rejections I may have until I find myself with a woman who I find attractive and can understand and tolerate me for who I am. Getting there is a mystery and to not go there is to continue to live in the continuous lonliness, and lack of love and isolation that I’ve fallen into my entire adult life. I’ve been told by more than one counselor and others I’ve asked privately that this “will be all right”. I just don’t know if it’s going to be that smooth of a ride, though.

    • Thanks for sharing, Scott, and I hope things go well for you. To me, the key here is educating people. They need to understand what OCD really is and then once they do, I would think sharing what you want to share with them would be easier for everyone.

  9. Ram says:

    Thanks for sharing the article! The problem with using isolation of a symptom is isolation could be caused by so many different factors caused by other mental or developmental disorders.

    Social Security Disability Help

    • Thanks for commenting, Ram. Yes, of course people isolate themselves for so many different reasons, and it is, at the very least, a cause for concern.

    • Wondering what you mean. . . most mental and physical developmental issues definitely are isolating because they separate those who suffer with them from those who are reasonably functional and there is a wide gulf between them for that reason alone. However, OCD, itself, is extremely isolating in and of itself for a number of reasons and people who have it are isolated by it just by having it alone. It’s even worse when other pervasive mental/emotional/physical issues are thrown in for sure.

  10. Thank you for this post! Goodness knows the paralysing anxiety which leads to isolation is one of the most difficult pits of despair to escape from! But with help from resources like this and others as well as ones friends, it can be overcome and if not overcome at least lightened.

  11. Bridget Kostello says:

    Incredible post–the way it is written and its content. The necessity for social emotional support cannot be overestimated in any chronic illness. It is crucial and vital to a person’s recovery.

  12. sarah says:

    Thanks for the comment. I recently met a friend who suffered from this. Isolated himself from everything except work and his family. It was difficult to know how much to contact the person when there was not much in return. I am just wondering where one would draw the line. Would it not get really annoying for the sufferer at some point?

    • Hi Sarah, My own personal opinion is to not withdraw contact. Just because your friend doesn’t respond doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate your concern. I would continue to let him know you are there for him for whatever support he needs from you. I don’t know the extent of your relationship with him but if you have any contact at all with his family, I would let them know you are concerned. I wish someone had let us know our son was isolating himself before things spun so out of control.

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