OCD, Career Choices, and Limitations

winding roadI’ve written before about my son Dan’s almost lifelong dream of becoming an animator. When his OCD was severe, he came very close to giving up on this dream. My husband and I kept the bar high for him because we knew it was what he really wanted. We realized he was committed to continuing Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy and so we encouraged him to go back to school. If it didn’t work out, at least  he would have given it his best shot. Though there were some difficult times, one year ago Dan received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in computer animation, and he now works in his chosen field.

During his stay at a residential treatment program for OCD following his freshman year, Dan’s therapist suggested he become an art teacher; he felt that road would be less stressful for Dan . While an art teacher is a great job for someone who wants to be an art teacher, Dan never had the slightest interest in the teaching field. I am thankful he decided to stay on track and pursue his dream.

For some OCD sufferers, however, original educational and/or career plans might not work out. Maybe college is too stressful, maybe a particular work environment elicits a multitude of triggers, maybe a job is just too demanding. Maybe those with OCD might have to work toward their goals differently, at a later date, or not at all. A competent therapist who knows the sufferer well and specializes in treating OCD can help decide which paths to take. But is having to alter life plans a sign that OCD is “winning?”

Not in my opinion. Because really, don’t we all have limitations? I would have loved to have been a nurse, but blood and needles make me squeamish. Whether it is due to illness, life circumstances, or just who we are, most of us face detours as we travel through life. We compromise, we adjust, we revise our dreams. Even as an animator, Dan has realized there are certain aspects of the profession that aren’t a good fit for him, and so he is steering his career path accordingly.

Because obsessive-compulsive disorder is an illness which can totally control a sufferer’s life, and successful treatment involves not letting it, I think there might be a tendency to feel defeated if OCD has to be factored into the equation when making these life decisions. Again, I think it’s important to remember that we all have challenges that need to be considered when making life choices; what we desire might not be what’s actually best for us. While those with OCD might need to acknowledge their disorder, it doesn’t mean that OCD is “winning.” It means they are being honest with themselves. And if OCD sufferers, indeed if all of us, maintain a positive attitude and endeavor to live a fulfilling, productive life, the real winners will be ourselves.

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25 Responses to OCD, Career Choices, and Limitations

  1. Tina Barbour says:

    I love this post, Janet! It touches on things that matter so much to me–finding one’s way in the world, using our gifts, having work that matters.

    I am so glad that Dan is working in his chosen profession. I love to hear of people finding their fit, using their gifts.

    You’re right that OCD doesn’t win just because we may make changes. We all have to adapt to life circumstances, including illnesses and other obstacles. I think we can still find ways to use our gifts and do work that makes us happy.

    For me, writing is what I want to do. It has always been what I wanted to do. OCD has bothered that dream, making it very hard to write sometimes (obsessions over possibly plagiarizing, getting it right, etc.). But I have managed to still write. That said, I know that I would not flourish in a setting like a daily newspaper. The constant deadlines and the constant need to have a story would not be good for my anxiety or OCD. And I’ve chosen to focus on freelance editing and not freelance writing in part because of the stress that does come with writing for others (more fears about getting it right). I’m still writing and working with words, though. And it doesn’t mean I never want to write for others. It just would be much more stressful in a purely freelance setting, if that makes sense.

    Sorry for the long comment, but you opened the floodgates with your great post! 🙂

    • I love your long comment, Tina 🙂 because you’re a great example of what I’m talking about. You are doing what you love in the way that is best for you. I’m so glad you are moving forward with your freelance editing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. When I was in high school and I told friends I wanted to be a social worker they told me I couldn’t because I had a mental health issue. Well, in their face I did! Doubt can sometimes be a very good motivator!

    So glad that Dan is doing exactly what he wanted! Working in a field you enjoy can greatly add to your life 🙂

    • Not only are you a social worker, you are a great one from what I can tell. I agree with you; sometimes one person telling you you can’t do something is all it takes to make you do it!

  3. Linda says:

    Great written. Just what I needed to read today when reflecting on my own career.

  4. Amazing timing on this post! Things at my job, which was previously a great fit for me, have increasingly become more stressful, causing me to wonder if I’m perhaps not in the right environment. The more office stress, the more OCD triggers, behaviour, and anxiety.

    Part of my challenge is knowing if I can just see things differently at work (with more perspective), thus not finding them so stressful. If not, I might have to find something else.

    Trying to figure out the balance between OCD, stress and striving has been difficult. I, like you, could never be a nurse despite wanting to, because the environment is very upsetting to me. But I’m a Type A personality. Always striving, always wanting to better myself. This seems to run opposite to OCD, which always wants to hold me back, keep me quiet, close me down.

    I love travel and I love living in other countries. A while ago my sister told me it was better that I was back home again (because of the OCD) and I was hurt by that comment. I don’t want OCD to hold me back from what I love. I dream of living abroad again, but I do wonder if it’s better if I don’t.

    Thanks for the great post and for the comments it’s inspiring from others!

  5. Abigail says:

    This is a great post. Encouraging and surprising because I wasn’t expecting you to say that it is okay to acknowledge limitations, and that we can do that without letting the OCD win. But I think you are so right.

    Currently, I work fewer hours than I could probably handle if I didn’t struggle with depression and OCD and anxiety. I tried to add hours, but was able to see a corresponding dip in my mood, so I cut back again. I wish I could work more; my superwoman ideals would have me work more. But I value my health enough to adjust to working less. And since I’m going to college part time, that helps me be okay with myself for working less.

    • I think I surprised myself a bit too, Abigail, as I’m usually all about not letting OCD call the shots. But I think it’s important for all of us to be realistic and acknowledge our limitations, so we can make the best choices for ourselves. Sounds like you’ve done that!

  6. 71º & Sunny says:

    Ah, this is a challenge for me all the time, Janet. I always wonder if I’m letting OCD win, or if I’m just choosing not to put energy into something that’s not worth it. And of course, OCD being the doubting disease, you always doubt what you really feel about stuff. It can be very frustrating. I’ve made choices and some of them are based on a combination of practical items and fear. I think I’m happy with my decisions though.

    • As usual, OCD really complicates everything, doesn’t it Sunny? I’m glad you’re happy with the decisions you’ve made; my guess is they are the right ones for you.

  7. Nick says:

    I love this post!

    One of the hardest lessons that I have had to learn with having ocd is that I do have my limitations. I have always had a driven type of personality and while I have never had high expectations for others, I have always had high expectations for myself. When I was growing up I wanted to be a Monk. It was and is a dream of mine. However, when I got hit with ocd I had to learn how to deal with the illness and placed that dream on the back burner as something to tackle at a later time. I did not see that as a limitation at that time. instead i just had something more immediate to focus on. When my counselor told me that I would have ocd for life I turned inward and drove myself to learn to manage the ocd on my own. again, my mind would simply not recognize the word “limitation”. I saw it as I had an illness, I would tackle the illness and nothing was going to stop me. In time I improved and found a job that I have been at now for almost a year which is pretty long for me based on the ocd that i have. I volunteered at places as more time has passed I have taken on new responsibilities and slowly began to get back in touch with my spiritual side. however, I have found that with the doubters disease comes some complications. I started to strive for the unattainable object known as perfection. without realizing it I was taking a vast amount of responsibility at work, a vast amount of duties at church and was not spending enough time on the daily maintenance i needed to maintain the ocd at a manageable level. And sadly, recently i had a relapse. my anxiety was through the roof, i was doing a lot more compulsions that normal and i was constantly in a state of near panic. I had to come face to face with the fact that I do have limitations. that I cannot constantly go up to the plate and expect home runs all the time. I have since scaled back a bit on the responsibilities that I have at work and the duties I have in church. I’m not saying that I will never become a monk, that i have let go of a dream. instead I am seeing that if i constantly give and give and give without taking a single moment out to perform my own ocd maintenance i will stretch myself thin and relapses are not fun! the trick that I have learned is to take everything in moderation. don’t try to be a super man just be a man. take everything day by day. when we run convinced that we have no limitations at all our bodies will eventually say “enough! I need a break. you can’t keep doing this!”

    Never stop chasing your dream. face your fears and live your dreams has always been my motto. but don’t try to rush it. ocd is chronic. it is a life long condition. it requires daily maintenance to ensure that it remains at a manageable level. taking on too much responsibility or trying to change things too quickly in pursuit of your dreams will only succeed in making the ocd worse. pursue your dreams but do it one step at a time. one day at a time. life is not a race. do only what you feel comfortable doing at that moment. there is absolutely no shame in that. everyone has limitations regardless on if they have a physical or mental condition or not. and having limitations is a good thing. it reminds us to stop and smell the roses once in a while. life is happening. if we run all the time we end up letting it pass us by.


    • Thank you so much for sharing, Nick, and it sure sounds like you have the right attitude to me. It’s a balance really, isn’t it? To hold on to your dreams, but to also not let them destroy you. Good luck as you work toward your goals! I appreciate your comments.

    • rajeev says:

      thanks nick and also thanks to janet.
      I also need to accept limitations and then move forward gradually and constantly.

  8. Grackle says:

    “Again, I think it’s important to remember that we all have challenges that need to be considered when making life choices; what we desire might not be what’s actually best for us. While those with OCD might need to acknowledge their disorder, it doesn’t mean that OCD is “winning.” ”

    Thank for this. I needed to hear it. I am going to continue to follow my dreams but I have certainly needed to make many adjustments–especially when my OCD was really bad–and I still feel some anger and disappointment in myself. I wonder whether I’d have the career I wanted by now if only I’d done better in university? (I graduated but my GPA was much lower than it would have been if I hadn’t been struggling so much. And that’s just one way the OCD has held me back.) But anyway, I’ve found other things that I really want to pursue or am already enjoying!–I just have to work on accepting that I must take it easy, go slowly, and accept my limitations…and that it DOESN’T mean I’m being lazy. (This last is particularly hard!)

    • Yes, be kind to yourself! I think it’s great that you have things you want to pursue but, as you say, you can go at a pace that works for you and accept your limitations…….we all have them in some way, shape, or form. It certainly doesn’t mean you are lazy…..I don’t think lazy people worry about being lazy 🙂

  9. abraham dzagbletey says:

    hi there, i need a help! i am in a serious dilemma as in choosing my degree course. i have a great feeling and passion for animations.. but my senior brother who has done telecom engineering says its going to limit me in job opportunity.. so i should go for computer science. which he says i can do my masters in other fields to broaden my job opportunity.. but i think its going to be a long process after finishing computer science then now thinking of going into animations…

    well i don’t know what to do now, what to choose.. i want to know my job limitations when i do animations and and other post graduate courses i can do after having BFA in computer engineering… please

    a reply would be much appreciated for my future’s sake

  10. Edith says:

    I hate OCD!!

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