OCD and Illness

by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

As most of us already know, there are many things we can do to keep ourselves healthy. We can eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. We can nurture our positive relationships and move on from our negative ones. We can practice mindfulness, gratitude, and stress-reduction techniques. We can do yoga. We can help others. The list goes on and on.

But sometimes we can do all these things and still get sick. Because as much as we hate to admit it, much of life is out of our control. Most of us get colds, an occasional virus or infection, maybe even the flu. And of course there’s a slew of more serious illnesses that might find our way to us. We deal with whatever comes our way. What other choice do we have?

For those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (an illness in and of itself), getting sick is often much more of an ordeal than it is for those without the disorder. Many people with OCD report their OCD often flares up when they are sick, no matter what type of OCD they have. And of course those who suffer from OCD and hypochondriasis are hit with a double whammy when dealing with less than optimum health: Not only might there be an overall increase in their OCD symptoms, they also must deal with the “devastating illness” they are convinced they have contracted. It’s not unheard of for those with OCD to find their way to emergency rooms on a regular basis, convinced they are dying, only to be told they are totally fine (which of course is a form of reassurance that will only strengthen the OCD).

What I find fascinating (and somewhat surprising) is that I have heard from those with OCD who actually have faced life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, and they have handled their illnesses with great strength and courage. When the “what-ifs” actually come true, those with OCD are capable of rising to the occasion. In fact people have told me when they have been faced with real crises such as a serious illness, they don’t even pay attention to their OCD. As one man put it, “I’ve got something real to deal with here; I can’t be bothered with my OCD.”

So all this worry about “what-ifs,” serious illnesses, and even dying is nothing but a waste of time and energy. Life is uncertain for all of us, whether we have obsessive-compulsive disorder or not. So I hope those with OCD can find the courage to face their obsessions and resist their compulsions, because OCD’s hold on them just might be the worst illness they’ll ever have.

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8 Responses to OCD and Illness

  1. nspalmquist says:

    My daughter has OCD. She’s an adult now. My concern is that her OCD prevents her from getting routine health care. She pays for health care but won’t go to the doctor. The thought of confronting all those germs concentrated in one place, doctors who don’t get the OCD way of thinking and testing that no one likes (and would be particularly invasive for someone with cleanliness issues) combine to keep her from getting the basics. This may be ok for her in her early 30s but as she gets older I see this as a real problem. Even now she needs a gynocologist, mammograms (I had breast cancer) and a neurologist for migraines. Has she gotten any help? No. She never gets there. At this point I can no longer insist or drag her there myself. I’m left to gently suggesting.

    • Thank you for sharing and I am so sorry to hear how OCD is affecting your daughter. Once again we see how what she is trying to do (keep herself safe) is actually doing the opposite. Obviously she needs to fight her OCD so she can be able to see doctors when needed, but as you say, it is out of your control. My heart goes out to you as I know how difficult it is for a loving parent to not be able to “make everything better.” I wish you all the best and hope your daughter chooses to fight her OCD soon.

  2. Dr Jeannette Kavanagh says:

    Yes Janet, it’s true that people with OCD waste a lot of their time worrying about ‘what ifs’ -as do those of us who don’t have OCD. However, I’m sure that it’s not a lack of courage that keeps them in those tortuous ruminations. Having worked with people who have obsessions and compulsions I am very certain that they know that “OCD’s hold on them just might be the worst illness they’ll ever have.” In fact, while in its grip, it is the worst kind of torture because the person knows that, in the main, her/his worry is baseless.

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