The Nonsense of OCD

by stuart miles

A version of this post first appeared in August 2013, and 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 people with OCD 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 those with OCD and others who admit it’s just too difficult to do.

But is it really? If you think about 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.

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 an individual: staying healthy, not hurting others, maintaining relationships, and the list goes on. So while people with OCD 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 of 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 people with OCD 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 lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder has their own examples. And while those with the disorder acknowledge and 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 people with OCD who always 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 everyone with OCD would realize how much smarter they are than this nonsensical disorder so they can find the courage to fight it head on. Now that’s one thing that would make sense.

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10 Responses to The Nonsense of OCD

  1. Yes. It makes no sense. I think that’s why some folks with OCD don’t come forward for treatment; maybe they think that it makes no sense and people will think I’m “crazy” if I tell. Wish I could send this message to all: You’re not crazy. There are people who understand, and there is help.

    • Thanks for spreading the word, Angie! I believe that is a big reason why people don’t seek help………nobody wants to appear “crazy.” Just one more reason to continue advocating for OCD awareness and proper treatment!

  2. Mary says:

    I think about this very thing so much of the time that it is almost in the category of “obsession”. (My teenage son is the one with OCD.) I WANT to understand the nonsensical nature of OCD, but then I suppose it would no longer be nonsensical. I’ve thought I’ve identified possible underlying reasons for why OCD latched onto certain things for my son, but as you’ve pointed out, it COULD latch onto many other things and hasn’t – yet, and hopefully never. And that’s an uncertainty I have to live with. Thanks for posting this.

    • You’re welcome, Mary. I think the bottom line is it doesn’t matter why your son has certain obsessions – what matters is getting the right help for his OCD. Thanks for sharing! Maybe you’ll find this post helpful:

      • Mary says:

        Thank you, Janet. One of the first things I did after my son’s OCD diagnosis was to read your book. It is still one of my most useful references! And your son’s story continues to give me hope. My son, almost 19, is getting CBT/ERP for about a year and a half, but is not the most receptive and engaged patient. 😦 While he’s made some gains, he’s not fully on board. His therapist has reduced his sessions to every other week and may reduce them further if that doesn’t change; not giving up on him, but hoping that my son will choose to fight stronger and really want the help in the (near!) future. Thanks for the link to the article. How very true it is! My son had his share of unhelpful talk therapy over the years before he was, thankfully, correctly diagnosed. And just another remark about your book – My son had a very similar reaction to closing the blinds that your son had when trying to approach the kitchen cupboard. It was a shocking display of fear that I’ll never forget. Your story had me hooked from that moment. Thanks for this blog too. SO helpful and encouraging – and you know how much that is needed in the lives of families suffering from this illness.

      • Thanks for your kind words, Mary. I’m sorry your son isn’t yet totally on board with treatment, but he is young, and I’m sure he will get there. You sound like an amazing mom who is doing all the right things. I wish your whole family all the best!

  3. Mary says:

    Thanks for your encouragement & optimism, Janet!

  4. That was the hardest thing to understand> How can i be afraid of germs, when i can touch a shopping cart with no problem? I couldn’t touch a door handle,pick up my keys if they dropped on the ground and parts of rooms or objects in my house were ‘contaminated’. My family wanted ‘certainty’.: what should they not touch, what can i not touch? Why was it so arbitrary? The only thing I could tell them was be grateful it’s not even worse…yet.

    • Hi Karin, Thanks for sharing. I hope you are getting the appropriate help (ERP therapy) with a qualified OCD therapist, who can also help your family learn how to not enable you. I wish you all the best. You can beat OCD!

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