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OCD

You’re Not as Unique as You Think You Are

How OCD sufferers get tripped up with anxiety, worry, and doubt: A brief Q&A.

Key points

  • It is impossible to separately label all possible OCD manifestations. OCD can attach to any topic under the sun.
  • Members of certain Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations are more likely to be under-treated for OCD.
  • OCD sufferers often experience a great deal of shame.

For some people seeking treatment or a second opinion, it’s a real eye-opener to finally, after many years of having “anxiety” and trying standard outpatient therapy with little benefit, they find out that their true diagnosis is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Or sometimes it can be the case that they already knew they had OCD, and even that the OCD was well treated in the past or they developed skills to cope with it, but then out of the blue they have a confusing experience of having other symptoms of manifestations of the OCD that are brand new.

Another issue is that OCD is so variable from person to person that not all manifestations are shown on movies and TV. Types of OCD and OC-related disorders that are commonly shown in film and TV include hoarding, contamination fears, for example a fear of getting sick, and checking-based compulsive behaviors but there are many other manifestations that don’t get as much attention in our popular culture. It's really impossible to name all manifestations or even make a list of them because OCD can attach to any topic under the sun.

The truth of the matter is that OCD will do its darnedest to find ways to provoke you and cause you distress by focusing on anythingand I mean anythingthat you care about … or maybe anything you think you don't care about (or don't want to care about). Really it’s arbitrary for some of us, and completely logical or obvious why—knowing themselves—for others.

Here are some common things OCD sufferers may find themselves preoccupied by:

  • The worry or fear that they are diagnosed with OCD but what if it’s something else and they never find out what it is.
  • Fear of harming or harm coming to their newborn child or children.
  • Fear of not reading or writing something correctly or fully and then needing to re-read or review and/or revise multiple times.
  • The fear that seeing or hearing something or going to an environment will cause them to then feel uncomfortable or contaminated with bad or undesirable thoughts or feelings.
  • Fear of how thoughts or actions they performed in the past will come back to haunt them or harm others.
  • Experiencing irrational aversion to a person, place, or thing (often felt as disgust), and concern about getting contaminated by the trigger.
  • Worry that they will cause harm if they are not careful enough, especially for things you are not actually responsible for.
  • Fear of giving someone an illness (whether COVID or any other illness).
  • Existential worry including spend hours on end contemplating the purpose of your life or whether you are really here or not.

Q&A

The following is a brief Q&A of some typical questions I have encountered as a specialist and consultant in the field.

Question: “Am I weird for thinking this way?” “You’re going to think I’m crazy…”

Answer: You’re not weird—or maybe you’re no weirder than any other human on this planet—it’s just that your OCD wants you to feel weird. Sometimes OCD can cause sufferers to struggle with stigma by causing them to be preoccupied with topics or actions that our society would judge as shameful:

  • Fear of being a bad person.
  • Feeling preoccupied by the idea of or urges of self-harm.
  • Thoughts of committing suicide (even though they don’t want to take their own lives).

**All thoughts of suicide or self-harm should be taken seriously. If you or someone you know has reported thoughts of self-harm, please call 911 or contact your local emergency room number immediately. In the United States, you may also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.**

  • Fear of losing control and harming others or becoming violent.
  • Feeling worried they are committing a blasphemous act or are not fully properly observant of their religious beliefs.
  • Fear that they could be a pedophile or could have sexually assaulted someone in the past (despite there being no such prior act in reality).
  • Worries about sexual orientation, for example, fear of being gay.
  • Feeling uncertain or preoccupied with their relationship not being right or at risk of failure despite evidence to the contrary.
  • Having disgusting or gruesome images repeatedly enter their mind.

Question: “I’m sorry but black/brown/Asian/[insert other group here] people don’t get OCD. I don’t see that mentioned anywhere and I don’t know anyone in my community like me.” OR “People from my race/culture/religion don’t get OCD. I must be the only one. We don't have these issues where I'm from. No one will understand.”

Answer: I’m so saddened each and every time I meet someone who has experienced the isolation of being a person of color in a community that is not open or accepting of mental health struggles of any kind. Unfortunately these attitudes in our society are harmful. Members of certain Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations are more likely to be under-treated for OCD, according to a study published in February 2020 in the journal Clinical and Experimental Psychology (Katz et al 2020). Help is available.

Question: “I was diagnosed with OCD a long time ago and I’m anxious but it’s different. Do I have something else going on?”

Answer: For most people, the answer is probably not. OCD is an amazing little shape-shifter or as annoying and persistent as a bad rash (think: like a bad case of poison ivy, which sort of seems to just spread and creep from area to area). It seems that when you think you’ve got it in check, OCD will do its best to find ways to kind of creep onto new targets in your life, to find new ways to rattle you or steal your attention. For most sufferers with OCD, while we could get stumped and worried something new is really wrong in terms of our mental health—and it could happen—the reality is that often it’s our old friend coming back in a new form.

Question: “I’m exhausted. I keep trying to hang in and fight my OCD. I keep doing the thing it asks for and they used to help me feel better but they don’t help anymore. What am I doing wrong?”

Answer: Unfortunately, the more you try to engage with the OCD thoughts or ‘figure them out,' find certainty, or analyze them, or find ways to soothe it or suppress your anxiety, the stickier and more distressing the thoughts will get. Perhaps if you are getting stuck, the best thing you can do is read some self-help books about OCD, find reputable educational resources speaking to your particular ‘type’ of OCD, or seek a professional opinion to help get unstuck. Help is available and you can get better.

Helpful resources include the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

October 10 is Mental Health Awareness Day.

OCD Awareness Week is from October 10-16, 2021.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

Katz et al. OCD in ethnic minorities. Clinical and Experimental Psychology 2020 (6):1.

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