To 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.