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
The need for certainty is what fuels the fires of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Compulsions are performed to reduce anxiety by making sure everything is okay. For OCD sufferers to recover, they must refrain from doing these compulsions and learn to live with doubt (the basis of Exposure and Response Prevention therapy). Indeed, every one of us has to live with uncertainty in our lives if we want to be mentally healthy. But it’s not easy. Over and over we hear from those with OCD and others who admit it’s just too difficult to do.
But is it really? If you think of it, we live with uncertainty all the time. When we wake up in the morning, how do we know we will even make it out of bed? Or to the bathroom? Unless all our loved ones are standing right in front of us, how do we truly know they are okay? Even if we can see them, how do we know how healthy they actually are? You get the idea. Aside from what you absolutely know to be true in this moment, everything else is uncertain.
So we all live with uncertainty every single day, and in most cases, don’t even think about it. Even those with OCD only deal with particular issues in regards to uncertainty. Often OCD latches on to what is most important to the sufferer: staying healthy, not hurting others, maintaining relationships and the list goes on. While sufferers struggle with obsessions, compulsions, and certainty in these targeted areas, they often easily live with uncertainty in many other ways. Many of us complain it’s just too hard to live with uncertainty, yet we actually do it all the time.
OCD is such a strange illness. While I accepted a long time ago that the disorder makes no sense, I’m continually amazed at how absurd it really is. Some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder who have germ and/or contamination issues might spend hours in the shower but have no trouble sifting through garbage. I’m sure everyone who suffers from OCD has their own examples. And while sufferers usually realize none of this makes any sense, it doesn’t matter. They are compelled to perform their compulsions. That’s just how OCD works.
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To me, another odd aspect of the disorder is that a seemingly random obsession such as the fear of hitting someone while driving or a compulsion such as needing to pick up twigs and branches and rocks so that nobody will get hurt by them, are actually quite common. I’ve heard from many OCD sufferers who assumed they were the only ones who suffered from a particular obsession or performed a specific compulsion, only to find out that others do the exact same thing. Why? Why, for example, isn’t the fear of a car exploding because it hasn’t been properly maintained a common obsession, but fear of not turning off the stove is? Where’s the rhyme or reason?
As far as I know, there isn’t any. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an illogical illness with the power to destroy lives. The only good thing about OCD is that it’s treatable. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is the front line treatment for the disorder, and working with a competent therapist will help OCD sufferers regain control of their lives. It’s not easy, but it can be done, and I hear success stories all of the time. Those who are suffering from OCD need to realize how much smarter they are than this nonsensical illness so they can find the courage to fight it head on. Now that’s one thing that would make sense.
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