Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is Not a Joke

By Jennifer Parr | Oct. 02, 2017

 

Note: This blog originally appeared on the International OCD Foundation’s blog. The International OCD Foundation aims to help everyone affected by OCD and related disorders live full and productive lives.

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A lot of people claim to have “OCD” without really understanding what it is. Because of that it took me a while to accept that I had obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The symptoms at first started to appear slowly, but eventually they became overwhelming.

It began when I was in college. I had a pen that I placed on my keyboard and it had to face a certain way, otherwise I was sure something bad would happen, like failing a test or a quiz. This behavior continued after I graduated. By then, I was a substitute teacher and I was afraid I would get a bad class or have a really difficult day. I recognized this as a compulsion and wondered if it was OCD, but since it was just the one compulsion, I figured I was safe.

I moved into my own apartment and began working as a teacher full-time.  After that, things slowly got worse. More intrusive thoughts and symptoms began to emerge. The picture on my glass had to face a certain direction in the cupboard. The items on my bathroom sink had to be arranged in a particular way. The towel in my bathroom had to be folded a certain way on the towel rack. My teeth had to be brushed a certain way otherwise I would have to brush them again. I had a routine for the shower, and if it was not followed then I would have to shower again.

I was no longer afraid of failing a quiz or a test. I was now afraid that I would be fired or that my class would act up and misbehave; these fears persisted despite being told by the principal and other teachers that I was good with the students.

I was still in denial about having OCD. I did some research and found that none of the information I read matched my symptoms. To me, OCD mostly meant extreme handwashing. There was information about people that needed to repeatedly check on things. But there was no information about people that liked to have things arranged a certain way or who had several rules regarding simple routines. Additionally, there was no mention of any obsessions regarding getting fired from a job.

During the summer, my symptoms would disappear for a few days when I would go to live with my aunt and uncle, and work at an amusement park operating rides. On first arrival, I had no set rules for how things were to be arranged. I loved these few days that I was free from OCD. However, after a while, new rules would emerge about how things needed to be arranged, and I continued to be afraid of being fired.

I continued my research and I learned about another condition affecting many people that suffer from OCD: an impulsive control disorder called trichotillomania. The disorder involves people pulling out their hair, consciously and unconsciously, resulting in bald spots. I had always thought that it was odd that I pulled out my eyebrows, but I only now understood the connections between this and my OCD.

After accepting the fact that I had trichotillomania, I did more research about OCD. When the compulsions and obsessions became worse, I told my doctor and she prescribed me a medication that was to help with the symptoms. The medication did not help. It only made it harder to sleep. I eventually stopped taking it because I valued my sleep and did not find it effective at relieving my symptoms.

In fact, the symptoms only became worse. During the summer, I returned to work at the amusement park. I loved the job but people became angry when their child was not permitted to get on a ride (as they were too short or too tall, or not dressed appropriately). Guests blew up at me just for telling them no. After one of these incidents, not only was I still having compulsions of getting fired, but I was afraid of guests becoming angry with me. It became difficult to get ready in the morning because I had so many rules for brushing my hair and teeth and putting on deodorant. It all became so much that I did not want to go to work, and looked forward to my days off.

I was in counseling that summer because I also suffer from depression. During one session, I told my counselor how much my OCD was affecting me. She encouraged me to slowly start doing some of my compulsions in a different order or way. It was extremely difficult, but I managed to turn the towel a different way. I then managed to change a few other behaviors. Unfortunately, these new changes just led to new compulsions.

OCD has made it difficult to live my life. Next summer, I will no longer be able to work rides at the amusement park because I am tired of going to work feeling afraid. I will have to switch departments and work in retail despite loving the rides. OCD has also made it difficult to be a teacher because I am so afraid of what the day will bring. That said I continue to teach and have not given up on getting better.

A lot of people claim that they are "OCD" about things. However, nobody can be OCD about something. In addition, having to do things a particular way does not necessarily mean you have OCD. Some people are just perfectionists. I would like people to realize that there is so much more to OCD than just a few compulsions: It is a serious disorder that greatly impacts the lives of those affected.

 

Jennifer Parr is a third and fourth-grade teacher. In her free time, she likes to read and write.

 

Next week, October 8–14, 2017, is OCD Awareness Week
Join the International OCD Foundation in raising awareness about this misunderstood mental health condition.

Comments
vicki
My daughter just turned 18, and has OCD since 5th grade. It gradually got worse, and she got older.
She is affected with the had washing/germs/dirt/bugs/ and certain dates on food. it has put a stress not only on her and finishing senior year, but my entire family. It is overwhelming, and heart breaking. She is on Prozac and goes to CBT, and it was helping, but it still debilitates her most days. I need support as her Mom, because I am making it worse for her. she gets so angry and mad at everyone because we don't understand. any advice or story is welcome. this affects everyone.
9/8/2018 8:13:55 AM

Karen
My daughter (16) has OCD since she was in elementary school. At first it started with panic attacks and we thought generalized anxiety. However I started noticing that she was having compulsions. I noticed it mostly because her older brother had a tic disorder (not really full Tourettes), ADHD and a reading disability. He successfully overcame the tics with therapy and started meds for ADHD and deals with his dyslexia, he's doing very well. However, daughter has been to numerous therapists and on several medications which help somewhat. The thought of CBT and ERT completely freaked her out until recently, when she had a bout of depression. Her obsessive thoughts are completely irrational (fear of turning into something/someone else, or others turning into someone/ something else) and she knows it however she cannot control it. She does many different compulsions such as touching, tapping, swallowing, hand washing, stepping back and forth...just depends on what she is doing at the time. We have recently found a new therapist (focuses in OCD with CBT&ERT) and since she was so frightened about her depression, as well as being older and wants to be on her own soon, she has agreed to start ERT therapy. I am very worried about her going to college and being on her own, but we are hopeful. I wish all of you who deal with OCD the strength to continue fighting this as it is exhausting. To the families, parents, siblings, spouses good luck as well. Be there for them, try not to enable them and support them in finding treatment. The best book I have read on OCD is called “Because We are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost In Thought” by Lily Bailey. It is a first hand account and it's helped me understand what my daughter goes through more than any other book.
6/8/2018 4:13:09 PM

Georgie
My suffering with OCD has become so much worse with "stuck" bizarre images that tie in with the fear and uncertainty that torments my mind and somehow creates a sense of non=reality. Sort of like my brain is divided in two parts and there is a tug-of-war going on all of the time. Hard to explain. I am currently tapering off Klonopin medication which is really hard for me to do. OCD takes on all sorts of forms twisting the mind and distorting reality. Very difficult to manage and cope with!!
3/11/2018 8:00:38 PM

Paul Johnson
I had severe OCD for a long time. Took more meds than most people, tried several therapies, and so on. It was hell. Plus a bunch of other comorbid related problems.

Im a bit better now. But its still very annoying. Imo its more difficult to treat than some of the other anxiety disorders.
12/23/2017 3:41:15 AM

Maureen DeArmitt
David Lee, I would love a copy of your book. My son has severe OCD, Asperger’s and Tourette’s. He started doing repetitive behaviors at age 4 after two febrile seizures. When he walked into a room, he would rub the back of his hand against switch-plates or outlets. The min I saw him doing that to every one, every time, my heart sunk as I developed OCD in high school (only my sisters and I used to call them “clickies” because we used to have to touch everything with our pinky finger at least 22 times for me and 12 for her (our favorite number). These small behaviors became greater and I remember having to jump rope 1000 times without messing up or I was afraid that my grandfather was going to die of leukemia. Crazy, right? Well it ended up making me anorexic and getting cut from my high school softball team. Now my son has it and at age 16, he is afraid to drive for fear that he may yank the steering wheel and crash. He is so trapped inside his head that it’s truly gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking to see him suffer. He is on meds and sees a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Sometimes the meds make him nauseas as he’s been on everything from Celexa, to Zoloft, to Prozac and now he’s on Luvox. I’m on Effexor and so far it works for me. Jack also had ticks and I found that klonopin works great for neck ticks. I’m honestly at the point now where I’m thinking about DBS for Jack (Deep Brain Stimulation) because they’ve had a huge success rate with it for OCD, Parkinson’s and Tourette’s. There is a lot of overlap between OCD and Tourette’s. OCD is more like a hiccup in the brain whereas full blown Tourette’s is an involuntary/incontrollable movement disorder that affects the neuro transmitters in the brain. It is heartbreaking to see my sweet son suffer from depression as a result and some days say that he wish he would fall asleep and never wake up because it’s so debilitating. So I completely understand what you’re saying and I would just about anything in this world to take away his pain and suffering. I welcome any advice and help. Thank you so much and God bless all of you. Praying for healing for all of you.
12/1/2017 6:07:46 PM

Ray F Mihulka III
I have been suffering with OCD for decades with the same patterns as the author. It gets better with time. I take Effexor, Wellbutrin, and Buspar. The medication is reasonably effective but the side affects are not a great trade off. I may quit them and focus on CBT.
11/22/2017 2:59:10 PM

Martha Buckwalter
OK
10/30/2017 11:54:20 PM

Martha Buckwalter
My daughter developed OCD following head injury from an auto accident in "97. She checks repeatedly if lights are turned off, if mailbox is empty after taking out mail, washes, rinses, & drys dishes repeatedly,needs items in order, rubs clothing with spots until she gets blisters, wears out tooth brushes in short order, while on medicine developed a spitting problem after brushing teeth--up to 13 times--resulting in later loosing her meals eaten, showers extended times (needing water to be turned off in basement to stop sometimes), repetitious sponge washing & examining clothes, repeating accusations or criticisms of others--sometimes for hours or day after day. Not a complete list, but she has also been psychotic all year, with anosognosia (not recognizing she has a problem, but will admit and only accept OCD diagnosis). My BP has been high and I need a break! Daughter approved for supportive housing with NJDDD, so working on that and waiting for a Dr. appt. to report on her MRI.
Had to end her driving privilege to get that far. Psych. meds. have caused all kinds of problems--hard to treat with organic brain syndrome involvement also--and unable to handle much medicine or stress. I have not read much in detail about others' OCD experience and would be interested in reading a book about it.
10/30/2017 11:53:24 PM

Marilyn
Believe me I know all to well OCD is NO laughing matter. My husband has OCD but will not admit it which makes it very hard on me. He has to make sure everything is in a certain order, gets VERY upset if something is not straight, example magazines on a counter will be straighten by him several times a day. If anything is out of place in the house he has a meltdown. The other day we were at a restaurant and the shade was down and one side was not straight. He made me fix it. Even if we are in a office building and he sees a picture that is not hung on the wall right, your guess it, He will go over and fix it!
Even our cat is affected! She must eat at a certain time in the same place plus if he does not know where she is for more then 5 minutes he goes looking for her. This is just a example of some of things I deal with every day. I am exhausted!!
10/25/2017 7:35:21 PM

Mary Ann Morris
It took my whole life to recognize the symptoms of OCD when they arise. Otherwise, my mind can be spinning out of control and I cannot concentrate. I can control OCD, and have had victories over the different forms it has taken in my 74 years. When I am sick or overtired it kicks in like a bad dream. Avoidance is difficult, but it is better that sliding into the pit of OCD. God bless anyone who suffers from this. Depression makes it worse too. One cannot reason his or her way out of OCD, just know this little saying: "It's not me, it's my OCD." This seems silly, but it works.
10/25/2017 7:13:28 PM

David Lee
I have a similar story but I didn't even know I OCD until I researched it. (From my research, apparently a lot of people don't know they have OCD unless it is a severe case.) Anyway, I am writing a book about my experience. Hopefully, it may provide some answers to those who have OCD. If anyone would like to know more, please post here. I'm following this post so I will receive a notification.
10/3/2017 8:32:14 AM

Lizanne Corbit
This is such an important read. OCD, like anxiety, is one of those things that on the one hand it's great that it's become sort of commonly discussed, and almost "main-stream" but on the other hand it can be detrimental to people truly suffering with it because people don't understand the gravity of the actual situation. Anxiety is not "almost having a heart attack" because you misplaced your keys for a moment. In the same way that OCD is not "I totally have make sure my tv show is recorded". Pieces like these cast and honest, important light on the true seriousness of these issues.
10/2/2017 6:16:33 PM