OCD, Friends, and Isolation

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This post first appeared on this blog in February 2013….

To me, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of my son 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 can be isolating, and this detachment from others, where the person with OCD 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 cared 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. OCD stole what was most important to him. Another example of OCD and isolation involves those 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 those with OCD  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, be it from 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.

In some situations (college, for example) isolation of someone with OCD might first be noticed by friends. When a previously social friend cuts us off, he or she not only loses an important support system, but also the encouragement and hope 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 educate people that withdrawal from others might be a serious cause for concern, and help should be sought.

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13 Responses to OCD, Friends, and Isolation

  1. grannyK says:

    I am so sorry he went through that. It happened with my son as well, except for one of his friends. He has a friend (Jake) who never gave up on him. Actually, his entire family adores my son, Chris, and would always make him feel welcome and invite him to all sorts of things. They were the only people my son felt comfortable around. It was and still is a blessing.

    • I’m so happy to hear that you and Chris have such wonderful people in your lives! I think it’s a good lesson for all of us. Reaching out and being there for one another is more important than so many of us realize. Thanks for sharing!

  2. thank you! I’ve had these type of obsessions before, and its hell to keep them still. I wish your son the best!

  3. You are very right about OCD and isolation: I’ve been living with OCD for over 10 years, now, and up until recently, haven’t avoided anything that scares me (which is a lot of things) in my determination to have some sort of life and career. As I’m getting older (I’m 40, now), and having tried to help myself and get support as someone who can’t afford therapy, I’m getting increasingly exhausted with it all and have cut myself off from most of my friends because it’s just easier not to bother trying to interact when I’m anxious all the time. I feel trapped by this disorder and consequently my limited life. I really hope your son finds a way through this, and thanks for your posts.

    • Thank you for sharing and I am sorry to hear that you’ve been isolating yourself. My son did find a way through OCD by embracing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. There is a lot of info about this therapy in my book and on my blog. It is the first line psychological treatment for OCD as recommended by the American Psychological Association. If you cannot afford therapy now, you can start with some of the great workbooks and websites out there that can help you understand and proceed with ERP on your own. There also may be research studies going on at major universities where you can get treatment for free. Again, my book and the sidebars on my blog have some great resources listed. I hope you don’t give up, as OCD will only take over more and more of your life. I wish you all the best as you move forward.

      • Janet – thank you so much for your reply and I’m sorry I’ve only just picked it up. I will act on your suggestions. I am working through the acclaimed, ‘The OCD Workbook’, and do have times when I can envisage escaping a little from this prison. I think your blog is great – thank you!

      • I am so pleased to hear you are doing some ERP! Good for you! I wanted to also mention that there are some great OCD support group forums through Yahoo if you are looking for additional help and connections as you move forward with your ERP. Good Luck!!

  4. Phil says:

    So, work and family does not permit me time to do exposure exercises. Further, therapist are very expensive and none take insurance. I take Lexapro 20mgs per day and that has helped temper the severity of the ruminations, but they still occur and have been for many years now. I thought i could be medicine free, but after 18 months off of medication I fell into a deep depression and had no choice but to go back on Lexapro (other mess such as Vibryd and Prozac exacerbated my OCD).

    I am very wary of meds and refuse to touch Xanax, but how does one of limited time and resources ever beat OCD?

    • Hi Phil, In my opinion you need to make fighting your OCD a priority, and make the time. Start off slowly if you have to. Any ERP is better than no ERP. OCD, by its very definition, takes up time and interferes with the sufferer’s life. So by making the time to fight it you will, in the long run, have more free time in your life!
      I know the expense and availability of therapists is an issue for many people, but you can start out by using some of the great workbooks out there, as well as some websites that can get you started on ERP therapy. Resources are listed on the sidebar of my blog and many more are listed in my book.
      Good luck as you move forward!

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