Janet Singer's son Dan suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) so severe he could not even eat. What followed was a journey from seven therapists to
I’ve previously written about recovery avoidance in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and how heartbreaking it can be for family and friends to know there is treatment for the illness, yet their loved ones refuse to commit themselves to it. I’ve talked about how important it is for those with OCD to identify their values, so that the desire to regain the things they hold most dear could hopefully propel them toward recovery. But still, time after time, I hear of those who just can’t bring themselves to embrace treatment.
They are too afraid.
As someone without OCD, I have never understood this. In my mind, since people with OCD are already living a life consumed by fear, it makes sense to pursue treatment (exposure and response prevention therapy), and at least have this fear serve a purpose and lead to some positive results: freedom from OCD. I know treatment is scary, but is it really worse than living a life dictated by obsessive-compulsive disorder?
For some people, it is. I now realize that for a good number of those with OCD, the thought of living without OCD might be more frightening than living with the disorder. While those with obsessive-compulsive disorder typically realize their disorder makes no sense, they also, on some level, believe their OCD keeps them and their loved ones safe. After all, isn’t that the whole “purpose” of all those compulsions? To make certain that all is well? Why rock the boat? It’s just too scary.
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Another fear some people with OCD have is that if they “lose” their OCD, they will not be themselves; they will be missing a part of who they are. Again, as someone without the disorder, this makes no sense to me. In fact, I think the opposite is true: OCD does not allow sufferers to truly be themselves. When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he was caught up in the world of OCD and anxiety, unable to spend his time, pursue his goals, or even think his thoughts, the way he wanted. Everything he did was based on what OCD commanded. Only when he recovered did he return to his authentic self; who he was, and is, meant to be.
I believe people who have OCD are often a lot stronger than they think they are. It’s not unusual to hear stories of children with OCD who are able to resist doing their compulsions at school (likely due to fear of ridicule), or of adults who find themselves in situations where they simply cannot bend to OCD’s demands. Maybe they absolutely have no choice but to use a public restroom, or perhaps they also resist compulsions for fear of being “found out.” Whatever the scenario, if the incentive is strong enough, sufferers can stand up to their OCD.
A good therapist can help, but the true desire to beat OCD and embrace treatment has to come from the person who will be fighting it. Those with OCD need to uncover their own motivation to recover, and I truly believe that where there is a will there is a way. The trick is to find that will and fight through the fear. Only then will OCD be crushed, losing its power to control and ruin lives.
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