We all have those friends who claim they have "OCD" because they like things organized in a particular way or have to have the finishing touches on a cleaning routine. But only someone who has been plagued with relentless, pestering, unending, intrusive thoughts knows the true beast of OCD. That friend has a preference for her desk being organized or her clothes being folded in a symmetrical pile. But you are tortured by the idea that if you don't pick up your clothes or throw away a piece of litter, someone will come along, slip on it, hurt themselves, and it will be your fault. OCD is more than an urge to clean or organize or to re-check the stove. It is unrelenting.
It doesn't have to be logical either. You might see a plane flying overhead and have a thought about it crashing. Instantly fear surges through you as you contemplate the possibility of your thought actually causing the plane to crash. Yes you're a grown adult and know that is not possible, but why does the association feel so compelling? Are you loosing your mind? Are you having your first psychotic break? You rationalize that psychotic people don't know they are psychotic, so you can't be officially "crazy" yet; but now you're worried about the idea and thought won't go away. To appease the idea, you might share your concerns with a trusted friend, seeking their reassurance; which helps...for a time.
While you're worried about your sanity, you are still consumed with guilt over your intrusive thought thinking that plane may crash. You say a prayer to protect that plane - you know, just in case - and it makes you feel better...for a little while...until you see the next plane or car or bus, imagining each crashing and people dying. Each time the thought comes, a surge of panic follows and you create a neutralizing prayer to counteract whatever negative force your thought sent out into the universe. As long as you can keep saying your prayers perhaps nothing will happen, you won't be responsible, and your guilt will be assuaged - at least momentarily.
Round and round the cycle goes - obsession, compulsion, obsession, compulsion. The thought, the behavior, the thought, the behavior. That is the definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; an intrusive thought followed by an action to neutralize, prevent or make certain the fear behind the thought won't happen. The reality is there is a chance that if you don't pick up every piece of litter, someone could fall on the wet trash and break his back. Or it could just so happen that the bus you imagined crashing, does run a red light and hits a pedestrian. Yes, there is always that chance.
The brain, especially the OCD brain, is a beautiful thing. This brain that wants to assure you that nothing will happen really has your best interest at heart. It wants to make sure you and everyone you care about is safe. Therefore, it hyper focuses on the small chances of the worse happening - just to make sure it doesn't.
The challenge for a person with OCD is to learn to live with that chance. Not to control or neutralize or counteract or prevent...but to accept that perhaps, you may be responsible for terrible things happening. The only way out of the tortured cycle is to learn to accept uncertainty; that is to accept the reality that you can never be 100% sure of anything.
Learning to live with OCD takes courage and bravery of the utmost. Whether you have OCD or not, you surely can conjure up a worse case scenario fear that sends chills down your spine. The difference between you and your friend with OCD, is that you can dismiss that scenario. However, your friend has to learn how to face it. Sit in it. Accept it. And refuse to seek out ways to feel better about it. It is straight up terrifying. And brave.
In the next couple weeks, I'd like to take you into a deeper dive into OCD. Understanding the brain chemistry, the various sub-types and the possible therapeutic modalities for treating the disorder. If you'd like to read more in detail, a helpful book, and one I will be using to reference my posts is Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson, PhD. If you can relate all too well with this post and are ready for some professional help, don't hesitate to contact me for a free phone consultation. I am here.