The Paradox of OCD

by franky 242

by franky 242

I was just reading my friend Tina’s blog over at Bringing along OCD, and this is what she has to say about her anxiety:

It was interesting to me that though I have a lot of anxiety, most of it centers on my thoughts and my perceptions, not on things that are actually happening in the present moment. It’s a different anxiety from what I feel in real-life situations…

Her words made me think of my son Dan. My guess is most of his acquaintances, and many of his friends, would not describe him as an anxious or fearful person. Every day occurrences that might typically stress people out don’t seem to faze Dan. Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic that makes you late for an important appointment? Relax, we’ll get there. A lost wallet or cell phone? It’ll turn up and if it doesn’t, we’ll deal with it. Computer crashed and you’ve lost important info? Don’t worry, it’ll all work out. Even during a family crisis (the death of his grandfather), Dan didn’t fall apart. In fact he handled it remarkably well.

Is it an act? Underneath that calm, cool exterior, is he really a nervous wreck? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Dan also likes adventure, as is evident in his choices throughout the years:  He loves to fly and travel, and has rock-climbed, mountain biked, and skied black diamond trails – all happily. He has been on every type of roller coaster imaginable.

It’s hard to believe this is the same young man who could not leave a bathroom stall for four hours because “something bad might happen.” The same young man who could not eat, or drink, or enter certain buildings on his college campus. The same young man who was so consumed by fear and anxiety that he could barely get out of bed in the morning, if at all.

So what’s the explanation for this paradox? Many of us know the answer: Obsessive-compulsive disorder. When OCD was in charge of Dan’s life, everything was topsy-turvy, and nothing made any sense.The disorder is not rational, and as Tina points out, the anxiety it causes is not related to any actual event, but rather from the sufferers “thoughts and perceptions.”

As Dan became more immersed in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, and more committed to mindfulness, his obsessions began to lose their power, and OCD  took a back seat. From the back seat it went into the trunk. It’s not gone, but it’s weak enough that it usually can’t even lift that trunk lid.

The best part? With OCD at bay, Dan (and all those who have worked so hard to overcome OCD) is free to live his life as he chooses, adventures and all. Of course, the thought of him racing down those black diamond trails totally stresses me out!


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15 Responses to The Paradox of OCD

  1. Dominique says:

    Hi Janet–My son has thrived on ERP therapy and mindfulness meditation, just as yours has. These are powerful tools to combat this dreadful disorder. I also wanted to respond to a previous post of yours, in which you posed the question about the “positives” of this disorder. What helped give my son hope during his darkest OCD days was my looking at the positive side with him–how deeply he had delved into the workings of his own mind–through his therapy, research and treatment program at a renowned OCD Institute; how much he had learned about other people, and the empathy he had developed for others’ suffering. He is now doing very well in college (which has not been without major bumps) and is considering a career in social work to help others.

    • Hi Dominique, Thanks so much for your comment and I am so happy to hear your son is continuing on so well with his life. It’s also great to hear how the two of you can see all the good that has come out of his suffering. Wishing you both all the best! Thanks again for sharing.

  2. 71º & Sunny says:

    Oh this is the hallmark of OCD, I think! Supposedly, the most common fear is getting up on stage speaking in front of people. While, I don’t enjoy speaking in front of people, I CAN and do, do it. Even more so, I sing and act in front of people too. It’s just not that big of a deal for me. But put me next to a trash can and I’m a wreck! The illness just doesn’t make any sense, which is, in my opinion, further proof that it is an illness after all, and that it has nothing to do with anyone’s personal courage or weakness of character.

    • I think you make a great point, Sunny, that those who know nothing about OCD often don’t grasp. It has nothing to do with weakness……it is an illness. Thanks for your insight!

  3. myocdvoice says:

    I’m the same way as your son: I love adventure and am almost fearless (aside from what OCD makes me fear)! This is an interesting paradox and I’m motivated to get to a point where I’m only fearless. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Ruby Tuesday says:

    This piece just grabs me, because I was (and still can be) very much the same way. I have other anxiety disorders in addition to OCD (and the bipolar disorder to boot), so of course that muddies the waters, but I was always the fairly relaxed one. I still feel like I’m at my best in difficult times or crisis — except when there are times I can’t seem to leave my room.

    That doesn’t happen due to OCD anymore, or even so much generalized anxiety or panic (though I confess it has been popping up more recently.

    It’s so interesting to me to read about these commonalities, and to have a better understanding of what might have provoked them!

    • I think of you as calm cool, and collected, Ruby. That’s how you appear to me. I agree that this is all so interesting, especially when we find these commonalities that we (at least I) don’t expect.

  5. D says:

    Wonderful post, its not easily understood being far from benign how ever it is manifested. (” If can do this why so much illness etc). All common misunderstandings I’m sure, in the medical realm too.

  6. Thank you for sharing my words, Janet. OCD is so weird, isn’t it? I am much more likely to be strong through the fear in “real life” panic situations than with the anxieties and fears that OCD and generalized anxiety bring about. The more I learn about how my thoughts affect me, the better I get at just acknowledging them and moving on.

    Now, I must say, I don’t think I’ll be skiing down any black diamond trails! I do think I’d have “real” fear there. 🙂

  7. Something just crossed my mind about children with anxiety because of disorders. When they reach teen years (or in our case near teen) it sometimes is hard to determine which we are dealing with teen issues (hormonal), the child themselves or the disorder. I find it hard with my daughter since her OCD issues have died down to distinguish which is which. Any other thoughts out there?

    • I think this is a common issue, Donald, as “normal” teen behavior often presents itself as anything but “normal!” In our case, Dan’s OCD wasn’t a huge issue until his late teen years, so we didn’t deal with a lot of overlap. But it’s a great question, and I hope others will respond. One thought I have, which might sound a bit odd but often was helpful in our family, is to ask your daughter herself. “Is this your OCD we are dealing with, or something else?” Of course you know your child best, and this may or may not be helpful to you. Good luck and thank you for sharing!

    • Donald, I just read this post and thought of you and your comment. Check it out!

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