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
My son Dan was an honest child; an unusually upfront, truthful boy, who as far as I know, never lied to me. Teachers and relatives would comment on his honesty as well, saying things such as, “If we want to know what really happened, we ask Dan.”
Enter OCD. Now Dan is telling us he doesn’t realize his fingerprints are all over the walls. He said he’d recently eaten, so that’s why he wasn’t hungry at dinner time. He couldn’t go here or there because he was too tired. These were all lies (which worked) to cover up his obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even after he was officially diagnosed and his secret was out, he’d still lie. He always said he was “fine,” despite the fact that he was obviously so not fine. He lied about his feelings, he lied about taking his meds, and he lied about his thoughts. And not just to his family. My hunch is he lied to the first few doctors he saw, or at the very least, wasn’t completely honest with them regarding the symptoms of his illness. Like so many others with OCD, he was embarrassed and scared. What would people think of him, or what would become of him, if others knew what horrible thoughts were going on in his mind?
And so OCD often turns sufferers into liars. Whether it’s due to the fears mentioned above, or some other reason (related to stigma perhaps, or even commanded by OCD?) those with obsessive-compulsive disorder often do whatever they can to cover their tracks. They become sneaky and deceptive, courtesy of OCD.
What I find ironic is that many of these same sufferers deal with honesty issues as part of their disorder. For example, some people with OCD are so afraid of lying they might have to review their entire day in their minds to make sure everything they said was true. Or they might always answer “I don’t know,” or “Maybe” to questions because if they answer “Yes” or “No” and then change their minds, they would have lied. Others might even confess to “bad things” they never did, but how do they know for sure they didn’t do them, so the right thing to do is to own up to the wrongdoing. Concerns that revolve around hyper-responsibility often involve being honest and doing the right thing to keep loved ones, or maybe even the whole world, safe. And of course, scrupulosity is all about upstanding moral behavior, which involves telling the truth. Being truthful is very important to many with obsessive-compulsive disorder, except when it comes to covering up their illness.
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So once again we see the disconnect between what sufferers strive for and what OCD delivers. Those who value truth and honesty become deceitful. They struggle to be certain all is well, but OCD, being the insidious disorder that it is, goes ahead and makes sure the opposite happens. All is far from well, and in fact, lives can be destroyed.
While OCD has the capacity to target what is most important to us, and sabotage our lives, we don’t have to let it. If you have OCD, please be truly honest about your disorder and seek help. Don’t let OCD win. Fight back with Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy and regain control of your values and your life.
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