The Nonsense of OCD

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Warning: Parts of this post might be triggering for some people.

As we know, it is the need for certainty that fuels the fires of OCD. Compulsions are performed to reduce anxiety by making sure everything is okay. For OCD sufferers to recover, they must refrain from doing these compulsions and learn to live with doubt. Indeed, every one of us has to live with uncertainty if we want to be mentally healthy. But it’s not easy. Over and over we hear from OCD sufferers and others who admit it’s just too difficult to do.

But is it really? If you think of it, we live with uncertainty all the time. When we wake up in the morning, how do we know we will even make it out of bed? Or to the bathroom? Unless all our loved ones are standing right in front of us, how do we truly know they are okay? Even if we can see them, how do we know how healthy they actually are? You get the idea. Aside from what you absolutely know to be true in this moment, everything else is uncertain.

And so we all live with uncertainty every single day, and in most cases, don’t even think about it. Even those with OCD only deal with particular issues in regards to uncertainty. Often OCD latches on to what’s most important to the sufferer: staying healthy, not hurting others, maintaining relationships, and the list goes on. And so while sufferers struggle with obsessions, compulsions, and certainty in these targeted areas, they often easily live with uncertainty in many other ways. Many of us complain it’s just too hard to live with uncertainty, yet we actually do it all the time.

OCD is such a strange illness. While I accepted a long time ago that the disorder makes no sense, I’m continually amazed at how absurd it really is. Some OCD sufferers who have germ and/or contamination issues might spend hours in the shower but have no trouble sifting through garbage. I’m sure everyone who suffers from OCD has their own examples. And while sufferers realize none of this makes any sense, it doesn’t matter. That’s just how OCD works.

To me, another odd aspect of the disorder is that a seemingly random obsession such as the fear of hitting someone while driving, or a compulsion such as needing to pick up twigs and branches and rocks so that nobody will get hurt by them, are actually quite common. I’ve heard from many OCD sufferers who assumed they were the only ones who suffered from a particular obsession or performed a specific compulsion, only to find out that others do the exact same thing. Why? Why, for example, isn’t the fear of  a car exploding because it hasn’t been properly maintained a common obsession, but fear of not turning off the stove is? Where’s the rhyme or reason?

As far as I know, there isn’t any. I hate that this illogical illness has so much power and destroys so many lives. I wish all OCD sufferers could realize how much smarter they are than this nonsensical illness so they can find the courage to fight it head on. Now that’s one thing that would make sense.

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29 Responses to The Nonsense of OCD

  1. Nancy says:

    I’ve often wondered how OCD manifests itself in “third world” countries, in primative societies without cars to run over people, stoves to check and no antibacterial soap to use against contamination, in non-Western situations with different cultural norms, etc.

    BTW- In the family we do say that if it was rational it wouldn’t be labeled a mental illness. Just our way of reminding ourselves that of course it doesn’t make sense. That’s the point of OCD- irrationality.

    • Thanks for commenting Nancy, and I think you bring up some great points….especially, how does OCD manifest itself in third world countries??

    • Alicia says:

      My parents come from a third-world country, and their attitude towards mental illness is truly appalling. They lock people up in a prison-like environment when they display symptoms or start to “act odd.” There is no treatment, and these people are just locked away and left to rot. With my OCD, I’m 100% positive I would have been locked up if I had been there instead of in the US.

  2. Great, thought-provoking post, Janet! I am one of those OCDers who has been amazed at how common certain compulsions are, when I thought I must be the only one in the world to do such strange things. It makes OCD fascinating, though incredibly frustrating.

    I like your reminder about how we all live with uncertainty all the time; we just don’t realize it. That realization opened up a whole new perspective for me.

  3. C says:

    OCD really is a bizarre–yet fascinating–disorder. So many people suffer from the same seemingly very specific things (i.e. checking the stove, hit-and-run-ocd), despite having different backgrounds, vocations, educations, cultures and experiences. I mean, really, why is it the stove? Why do checking-ocd brains end up obsessing over the stove rather than the car, like you said, Janet. It boggles my mind sometimes that obsessions can be so specific! OCD is so strange.

  4. Jared says:

    This is a really good post! I feel that many people can be more at ease just by knowing that not everything they are experiencing is unique to themselves. I feel a key in dealing with it effectively is noticing just what you pointed out, that the thought is not actually rational. When we truly question the validity of OCD thoughts, many of them start to lessen in intensity. That along with dealing with the emotional and nutritional aspects of OCD, in my opinion, leads to further and further improvement. I just released an e-book on Amazon that mentions various useful strategies with the intention of readers learning about these approaches and sharing them with their healthcare practitioner to form a practical and powerful path toward empowerment and becoming less effected by OCD. Please check it out if you have a moment. It’s called OCD Empowerment and you can find it here:

    http://www.amazon.com/OCD-Empowerment-Comprehensive-Compulsive-ebook/dp/B00EEH43C6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376230549&sr=8-1&keywords=OCD+empowerment

  5. Alicia says:

    I like this post so much. I’m currently going through ERP, and it’s really hard – my OCD is fighting it every step of the way. Because, as my therapist (who is wonderful) says, the whole point of the treatment is not necessarily to debunk the illogical thoughts of unlikely events happening, but to acknowledge the possibility that these events may actually happen BUT we need to learn to be okay with the possibility. Because the level of control an OCD sufferer needs over their surroundings and other people in their lives in order to be comfortable is just not realistic. So basically, ERP involves just marinating in the anxiety over and over again until it eventually goes back down to baseline, without reassuring ourselves or asking others for reassurance. Which can be INCREDIBLY hard to do, to the point where I would literally prefer physical pain over this anxiety.

    I have to check all of my clothes every time I leave the house, to make sure nothing is stuck to them that could get lost. And I also have to check family members when they leave the house. Keeping tabs on everything and everyone is absolutely exhausting, and I can’t even live my own life. And I can’t really leave the house, because even though I see with my own eyes that there’s nothing on me, my OCD won’t believe it. According to the principles of ERP, I need to just learn to be okay with the uncertainty, as you said.

    It’s funny, like you said, how OCD manifests itself. Losing a letter written by a loved one is not nearly as bad as losing that person in a car accident, yet I worry about the former and not the latter. And like you said, I’m fine with uncertainty in other aspects of my life, so I just need to reprogram my brain so that I’m just as okay with uncertainty in the focal points of my OCD as I am with uncertainty in other aspects of my life.

    We have to be okay with uncertainty in order to live life – because the alternative is living like THIS, and I don’t really consider this living.

    • Thanks for your insights, Alicia. You sound like you understand what you need to do and are working toward that goal with a wonderful therapist. That’s great! Good luck as you continue with your ERP Therapy. I’m rooting for you!

  6. This is so true and something I was just thinking about the other day. You would think that the obsessive/intrusive worry would be something that would be individual/unique to the person. So for instance someone who grew up always being told to check when they crossed the road might have an obsession and compulsion about that yet somehow it always seems to be the same content that comes up again and again. I wish they’d do some research into it as I feel sure it holds the key to a lot of unknown things about OCD. Thank you for writing so eloquently about OCD’s illogicality. Emily

    • Thanks for sharing, Emily. I agree with you completely. It does seem to be a mysterious disease with a “missing link” that hasn’t been pinpointed yet. Hopefully one of these days!

  7. Grace says:

    Interesting post. Unfortunately OCD isn’t about intelligence. I remember knowing full well how irrational I was being but had no control over it. I firmly believe it was a chemical imbalance because when I started taking a targeted medication, the obsessions stopped.

    • Thanks for your insight Grace. Of course OCD has nothing to do with intelligence….in fact, a “typical” OCD sufferer is of above average intelligence. You bring up another mysterious aspect of the illness. Medication helped you immensely, yet there are others with OCD who are not helped at all by meds (my son for example). Tough to figure out! I appreciate your comment.

  8. Krystal Lynn says:

    Very strange illness indeed. I remember how my daughter was flabbergasted that I was willing and able to grab a doggy bag and pick up her newly acquired dogs’ poop in the yard. Did not bother me in the least..but I have huge contamination issues with other things.
    Most of the time I realize how off base my obsessive thoughts are and how really irrational it is to perform a compulsion but the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety is so strong that it really seems easier to perform the stupid compulsion. I try to keep in mind how brief the anxiety recedes when I do that and that performing the compulsion , it only strengthens my belief in it. My only successes have come when I have truly risked the uncomfortable. I am not an expert but I am going to guess that most of us with OCD have developed so many compulsions that it seems overwhelming and though it is great to have a success in one or two areas, sometimes I will gain a new obsession. The lifelong struggle with this is tiring…but I am not the only one who struggles, there are people who have to deal with all sorts of physical and mental struggles and pain in their lives so I am choosing to focus more and more on my blessings.

    • Thanks for sharing Krystal Lynn, and I find your explanation of why you give in to compulsions very helpful. I think you always have a great attitude, and focusing on your blessings is a huge part of that!

  9. The Hook says:

    Life in general rarely makes sense, my friend.
    Thank you for your dedication and insight. I hope you find some solace soon.

  10. Elizabeth Spevack, Personal Development Coach says:

    I can so relate Janet! OCD definitely doesn’t make sense, and when someone is looking for a rational explanation, it just won’t work. It’s like a broken record in the mind where it skips in certain areas but plays smoothly in others.

  11. 71 & Sunny says:

    Oh it definitely DOESN’T make any sense, Janet! There are times when I’m even surprised myself with my own inconsistencies. The brain sure is a funny thing.

  12. Deb says:

    I told a good friend of mine that helping my son fight OCD is kind of like the carnival game “whack a mole”. If you are not familiar with the game, it is a big box with a bunch of holes in it. You use a mallet to quickly whack the “moles” as they pop their heads out of the whole. You get one down and another one comes up.

    The game is so much like my battle with my son’s OCD. We work for a week on getting over one fear and another one comes up. We work on that fear and the old fear comes back along with a new one. It is incredibly overwhelming.

    Ironically yesterday in an effort to give him more independence, I let him drive himself to therapy. He was 30 minutes late for his appointment because a bug hit the windshield and he had to stop at a store to wash the windshield and then go back into the bathroom to wash his hands….then go back out to rewash the windshield and back into the bathroom to rewash his hands. He said he repeated this process 5 times.

    He told me that he did not tell the DR why he was late. SO I get to be a tattletale at his next therapy session. I hate the position this puts me in, but if I don’t say anything my son will tell his doctor he is doing great….which is what my son actually thinks.

    I am trying to get less overwhelmed by all of these individual fears and irrational “moles” that pop up one after the other and remember that it is really all one thing…OCD.

  13. Great analogy, Deb! I’m quite familiar with the “whack a mole” game and for some reason, never liked it…….thanks for sharing!

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