Part I of our series on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) talked about the common myths of OCD. In Part II this week, two individuals in recovery share about the realities of living with OCD.
We all have strange or upsetting thoughts come and go, and most of us can forget them and move on. But not Linda*, a Singaporean woman recovering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). For a period, she was constantly plagued by intrusive thoughts about hurting a loved one.
“I thought I was an evil person with a dark side that I had to hide from others. I didn’t dare share these thoughts with anyone. Now I realise that it’s normal to have strange thoughts from time to time. But somehow my brain got so freaked out by these thoughts that [an inner voice repeatedly yelled] at me: “What if you actually purposely hurt or kill someone?”
American student and mental health advocate Shira Folberg was diagnosed with OCD at age nine. Now in recovery, she is passionate about fighting stigma and spreading accurate information about OCD.
“An OCD intrusive thought is a persistent, anxiety-provoking obsession. It’s like getting a song stuck in your head; but instead of a song, it’s a mixtape of your worst fears on repeat,” said Shira in one of her many tweets about living with OCD.
Some people with OCD have intrusive thoughts about harming a loved one, even if it is something they have no intention or desire to do.
For both Linda and Shira, their intrusive thoughts are often “ego-dystonic”, meaning the thoughts are about things that are not reflective of their personality or values, nor things they would do in real life. For instance, a person with OCD may have thoughts about harming oneself (“What if I drive my car off a cliff right now?”) or a family member (“What if I take this knife and stab my partner in the back?”).
Ironically, in trying to do things to make up for her troubling thoughts, Linda developed compulsions that worsened the disorder. While working at a hospital, her OCD took on the fear of harming her patients. To reassure herself that they were safe, she would constantly read their medical reports to ensure there was no drug, procedure, or surgery prescribed that would be harmful to the patient. She would also repeatedly and rigorously clean patients’ equipment, for fear of contamination.
“It was utterly exhausting and led to me staying back far beyond my work hours—sometimes until 3am the next morning—to complete my work,” recalled Linda.
Linda eventually experienced burn-out and developed depression. However, she sought professional help and her OCD is more manageable now. “Sometimes I still catch myself performing compulsions. But now I have some tools that I can use to tackle the OCD,” she said.
People with OCD may feel deep shame, guilt or fear if their intrusive thoughts involve things that are criminal or dangerous, and think that they are a bad person. Sufferers may also feel self-conscious about visible compulsions like repetitive tapping or blinking. Many hesitate to seek help and go undiagnosed for years.
“When first diagnosed with OCD and depression, I hid it from everyone, even my family. I have now come to accept them as health conditions that I need to learn to manage. I have become quite open about sharing my OCD experiences with people, trying—in a small way—to be an advocate and raise awareness about these conditions,” said Linda.
Supporting a Loved One with OCD
Linda stressed the importance of showing unconditional love and acceptance to someone with OCD. “It helped so much when, after revealing my diagnosis to my family and close friends, they continued to love me as I am, without stigmatising me or my condition.”
“My eldest brother would check in on me and send me encouraging messages on WhatsApp. My second brother kept me laughing every day with his hilarious antics. Show your loved one living with OCD that you are rooting for them, and that you see them for who they are, beyond their condition,” advised Linda.
*Name has been changed for privacy
Where to Seek Help and Treatment
Singapore Counselling Center: Make an appointment booking.
Institute of Mental Health: Tel – 6389 2222 (24-hour hotline) or visit the website for more information on OCD or to book an appointment to see a doctor.
The contributor is a Singaporean writer and journalist based in New York. Shane’s work has appeared in Esquire Singapore, Salon.com, Surface magazine, Yahoo! News, and Marie France Asia. Find Shane on Twitter at @itsShaneTan.