Written by Emma Myers Cox
OCD awareness week was last month. OCD affects approximately 2.3% of the population and I am one of them. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is something that I FIGHT every single day. It is something that at one point in my life consumed me to the point where I could not even leave my bed for days at a time. What is OCD to me? OCD is checking in the mirror every 45 seconds to make sure my pupils are dilating as they should be because that means I don’t have brain damage. OCD to me is feeling the features of my face constantly to make sure one side is not drooping because that means I’m not having a stroke. OCD to me is checking the stove multiple times to make sure it is off because that means the house won’t burn down. OCD to me is checking my pulse 3 times a minute to make sure its regular because that means I’m not having a heart attack. OCD to me is being consumed by a specific thought only to have it replaced by another one days/weeks/months later. OCD to me is laying on the floor crying, begging God to help me. OCD to me is a bully that I have learned to fight but will never go away.
So, what is the textbook definition of OCD? BeyondOCD.org describes it perfectly:
OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions that take up at least an hour a day – but usually longer – and cause significant distress. Movies and television programs sometimes feature characters who are supposed to have OCD. Unfortunately, films and TV shows often mistake or exaggerate Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptoms or play it for laughs. People with OCD know it’s no laughing matter.
Obsessions are persistent, uncontrollable thoughts, impulses, or images that are intrusive, unwanted and disturbing. They cause anxiety or discomfort that significantly interferes with normal life. A person who doesn’t have OCD is able to filter out recurring thoughts about germs, for example. But people with OCD who are obsessed with germs can’t stop thinking about being contaminated and may even avoid going into public places.
Individuals who have OCD feel compelled to perform repetitive actions called compulsions, or rituals, in an attempt to relieve the distress caused by the obsessions. For example, a person with an obsessive fear of intruders may check and recheck door locks repeatedly to ensure that no one can get in. Compulsions are frequently overt – something we can see. However, they may also be carried out mentally, such as mental praying or counting. And although we can’t observe them, mental rituals can be every bit as debilitating as those we can see.
Although most people with OCD realize their obsessions are irrational, they believe the only way to relieve their anxiety or discomfort is to perform compulsions. Unfortunately, any relief provided by the compulsions is only temporary and ends up reinforcing the obsession, creating a gradually-worsening cycle of OCD behavior.
Far too often, people with OCD suffer in silence, unaware that their symptoms are caused by a neurobiological problem. Like others who have illnesses such as asthma or diabetes, people with OCD can learn to manage their symptoms. The appropriate treatment produces changes in the brain by weakening old neurological pathways and strengthening new ones, allowing it to function more normally. Fortunately, research continually provides new information about finding ways to understand and treat OCD. And the prognosis for people who suffer from OCD is more hopeful than ever before.
If you took the time to read that you may have a different opinion on OCD then you did before. OCD has become an adjective in today’s society. I hear the phrase “I’m so OCD” and “That bugs my OCD” nearly every day. The stereotype surrounding this disorder makes it almost impossible to have a serious discussion about it. Explaining OCD becomes explaining what OCD is not.
I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my family, especially my husband, encouraging me to seek therapy. I quickly realized that therapy only works as long as you are willing to listen and put in the effort to really make yourself better and improve your mind. Being able to talk to someone changed everything for me. I could share what was going on inside of my brain and they understood. Every therapy appointment was not just talking about everything wrong with me. My therapist got to know me, my hobbies, what I enjoy doing in life. I was able to learn techniques to combat my OCD that were specifically tailored to me. I realized VERY quickly that this was not something I could deal with on my own. This was not something that I could just bottle up and hide. If it was not for going out and seeking help, I would still to this day be in that very dark place that I was before, hardly able to function.
Supporting OCD awareness is something that I have grown extremely passionate about. I want to help break the stereotype. OCD comes in so many forms and affects so many people. People who have OCD are 10 times more likely to take their own life. Think about that next time you use OCD as an adjective. Break the stereotype. Raise awareness. Support those affected. OCD will always be a part of me, but I will never stop fighting it until the day I die.
Thank you to Emma Myers Cox for her guest blog about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Emma is a graduate of Heartland Christian School in Belton, Missouri. She currently attends Oklahoma Christian University where she is studying gaming and animation. Emma is also the niece of ReDiscover’s President and CEO Jennifer Craig, who is very proud of Emma’s recovery journey and OCD awareness advocacy.