In recognition of International OCD Awareness Week, take a few moments to read Trisha’s story. If you know someone with OCD, please share it. And if you are personally suffering, may it inspire you to get help. You are not alone.
What is OCD?
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a harsh taskmaster. People who suffer from it live with an endless bombardment of obsessive thoughts. These thoughts are not positive or uplifting; they are filled with dread and sometimes are simply dreadful — imagining the death of a loved one or visualizing an act that is violent, sexual, and always personally repugnant. OCD is thought-life under siege. To cope with these despised intruders, OCD sufferers use specific actions to mitigate, manage, or control their thoughts. It’s almost as if the actions are offered as a sacrifice in order to appease the thought tyrant. The actions become an imperative.
Trisha was late getting ready for work. Even though time was precious, she continued to count out the number of mascara strokes. Once she’d done ten on each set of lashes, she would wait another ten seconds for the mascara to dry and then complete the application by repeating it. Trisha did it the same way, every day, every time. It was the same with each of the things she did to get ready, from washing her hair to brushing her teeth. As long as she did it the same way every time, she knew she’d do it right. As long as she did it right, she was safe. As long as she did it right, her mother was safe.
Trisha lived in fear of doing something wrong, of not being what her mother called “presentable” whenever she went out in public. If she didn’t get it right, her mother was going to die. She could see her mother’s lifeless body in her mind, knowing she was responsible. To avoid this catastrophe, everything had to be done just right. Trisha chose certain types of clothes, with a minimum of zippers so she wouldn’t have to spend so much time checking to make sure each button was fastened correctly or the zipper was zipped properly. This alone could set her back ten minutes or more, as she had to check multiple times for each — just to make sure. Failure was just too dreadful to contemplate, although she saw it in her mind all the time.
Just as Trisha was counting the number of times she’d brushed the lashes on her left side for the second time, the phone rang. She froze, torn between what might happen if she didn’t answer the pone and what would happen if she did. By the third ring, she couldn’t take the suspense any longer and ran to pick it up. After all, what if it was something important? What if it was her mother? What if she’d already done something wrong?
Breathless, she grabbed the phone. The voice on the other end ask Trisha if she had any donations to put out on the curb next Thursday. She tersely answered no and ended the call, realizing she was going to be even later to work than she had planned. Everything was now ruined. She headed back to the shower, turned on the water, disrobed, and started her morning preparations all over again. Everything had to be done exactly the same way to keep the monsters at bay. It was the only way to keep from killing her mother.
Do you need help?
OCD is all about keeping obsessive thoughts at by with compulsive rituals. These thoughts can be comprised of unwanted images or impulses, often personally or religiously upsetting or repugnant. Because they are so upsetting or repugnant, great desperation is involved in trying to control them.
The rituals used often have to do with checking things over and over again, counting or physically touching items in a particular sequence. It is not just what the ritual entails that is important but the ritual itself. The preoccupation with the ritual helps mask the obsessive thought as well as act ass an appeasement so the dreaded thought or image will not return.