The 10 Biggest Lies OCD Tells You

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While working on my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in therapy for a little over a year now, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that OCD loves to lie. Through these sneaky lies, OCD pretends to be a helpful friend who wants to keep us safe. But really, it only manipulates us into doing more and more rituals. When stressed and struggling with an obsession, I’ve found it’s helpful to identify when OCD is trying to tell a lie. Then, I’m more likely to resist doing a ritual or to fight through the discomfort of an exposure. Here are 10 common lies OCD tries to tell…and why you shouldn’t believe them!

1. I have to do rituals to feel safe or keep others safe.

While most people with OCD know their fears are irrational, sometimes in a stressful moment those fears can feel true. At times like this, I try to remember the relief and feelings of safety you feel after doing a compulsion will only be temporary. Doing rituals never makes me feel safe in the long run. Delaying a ritual and sitting with the anxiety is actually what gives me feelings of safety and control.

2. I have to do rituals if I want to feel less anxious.

Because of its cyclical nature, one of the main pitfalls of OCD is that it can grow quickly. Doing a ritual decreases anxiety, which feels really good in the moment, but the relief is only temporary. When the obsession pops up again, we have to do the ritual more and more for our anxiety to go away. With every ritual we do, we continue to learn that ritual equals less anxiety, even though it doesn’t work very well. Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) reteaches our brain that if we don’t do a ritual, eventually our anxiety will come down on its own. With every exposure we do, our anxiety comes down faster.

3. This anxiety will last forever.

This lie can feel especially true during an exposure or panic attack, but it’s not only false — it’s impossible. All anxiety will come down eventually. It might soon go back up again, then down, then up, etc., but it will come down. I pinky promise.

4. Just do the ritual one more time. It’s better than trying to resist.

This is one of the lies OCD tells me most often: “One more time!” It’s the same lie music directors and dance teachers always told us in practice, and it’s never true. Giving into the ritual only makes the obsession grow more, which means you’ll have to do the ritual even more times.

5. My thoughts make me dangerous.

Something my therapist told me this week is, “We can’t choose what thoughts we have, but we can choose what we do.” What many people don’t realize is everyone has weird, intrusive thoughts. While most people shrug them off and go about their day, the difference is people with OCD tend to overreact to these thoughts. We feel responsible for our weird thoughts and feel like dangerous people. Because of this, we obsess about the thoughts and engage in rituals to reduce our anxiety, which accidentally makes the thoughts come more often. This lie is simply not true; thoughts are just thoughts.

6. I shouldn’t tell people about my thoughts.

When my OCD tells me my thoughts are dangerous, it also tells me to keep them a secret. We don’t want people to know all the weird thoughts we have. This only makes the thoughts stronger; we fall deeper into the obsession. It also makes it harder to get help. It’s like saying “Voldemort” — you can take some of the power away just by saying it out loud.

7. I should be able to control my thoughts.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could try really hard and just stop having intrusive thoughts? Yes, that would be nice, but I’m sorry to say that’s not the reality. Go ahead and try, I’ll wait. Tired yet? As nice as it would be to have control over our thoughts, I repeat, “We cannot choose what thoughts we have, but we can choose how we react to them.” The more we react to the thought and try to stop thinking about it, the more we think about it. The less we react to a thought and treat it as just a thought, the sooner it passes.

A common way to demonstrate this phenomenon is the pink elephant experiment. Try it yourself here!

8. There is a high probability that something bad will happen.

This is a common lie all anxiety disorders try to tell, but one I’ve tried especially hard to fight back against and test out many times. What I’ve found is usually, it’s not as bad as I expect it to be, or the bad thing doesn’t even happen at all. Quite often when I do an exposure, the anticipatory anxiety is worse than the anxiety I feel when I’m actually doing the exposure. Our brains really like to keep us safe, which means our brains really like to tell us something bad will happen, even when most of the time it doesn’t happen.

9. If something bad does happen, then I won’t be able to cope.

What about when you take the risk or do an exposure, and the bad thing does happen? I also underestimate my ability to cope with something bad. We are far more capable of coping than we usually believe.

10. I need certainty.

OCD related fears come in all shapes and sizes, but one aspect that ties them all together is an intolerance of uncertainty. Whether you check a lock multiple times or reread a page over and over, the goal is to feel certain that the feared outcome won’t happen. The only way to feel free then is to embrace uncertainty. Instead of responding to a “What if?” by ritualizing and desperately trying to achieve certainty, it’s better to respond with “Maybe…” and work on accepting the uncertainty.

~Morgan

Follow this journey on My OCD Voice.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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4 Unique Challenges When Your Compulsions Are All in Your Mind

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is commonly known as the “hand washing” or “organizing” disorder. But there are many forms of OCD, including a lesser-known type called pure obsessional OCD, or Pure O. Pure O follows standard OCD patterns with one exception — the compulsions take place mentally. Examples of my mental rituals include avoidance, reassurance-seeking, ruminating and many more. But inward compulsions may make it difficult to recognize symptoms and identify an individual who may be suffering with Pure O.

While Pure O is as tormenting as other types of OCD, unique challenges often make the journey toward recovery more difficult to navigate.

1. People think Pure O doesn’t exist.

It’s not uncommon to hear “Pure O doesn’t exist” from clinicians. For me, this statement can be devastatingly triggering. When people hear “Pure O” they sometimes think it means obsessions but no compulsions. But we actually have non-detectable mental compulsions.

I was overjoyed to discover I was not alone in my obsessions. In my mind, the relief of a community overrides the need to be accurate with the terminology. The commonality of themes among our obsessions creates a community relieved to discover their disturbing fears are not uncommon.

2. Pure O obsessions are disturbing in nature.

All obsessions associated with OCD are frightening and unwanted. However, the intrusive thoughts of Pure O can be downright disturbing and tortuous for me. My Pure O fears may involve sexual, violent and/or blasphemous thoughts. While many people have fleeting, unwanted thoughts of this nature, I can latch onto the fear and possibly struggle for years with uncertainty.

Some common obsessions include: Fear of becoming violent or a murderer, fear of physically hurting another person or animal or fear of “turning” gay or straight.

I neither want to nor will commit these acts, but my inability to stop thinking about the fear leads me to doubt myself. With Pure O, we question our ethics and morality. It isn’t uncommon for me to think, “What kind of monster am I to have these thoughts? I must be evil inside to have these thoughts?”

There’s no reason why I may develop a particular obsession. Factually, my obsessions bear no reflection on my character, morality or ethics. While this explanation seems simple, people with Pure O often struggle with why and how could they could be capable of these thoughts, on top of managing the illness. This added stress can hinder the treatment process and the internal stigma surrounding the obsession.

3. We’re sometimes too afraid to say our fears out loud.

Many factors contribute to the silence about my Pure O fears. Despite knowing the fears are not real or a reflection of ourselves, we can still feel shame and guilt. It isn’t uncommon for me to wish I could have any other obsessions but my own.

Reasons we may be afraid to say our fears out loud include: Fearing others will believe the obsessions are true, fearing saying it out loud will make it a reality and fearing saying it out loud will “prove” it’s true. We also fear others will judge us.

The Pure O cycle is perpetuated by our inability to validate or invalidate the obsession. If saying the obsession out loud creates doubt in ourselves or others, I would go to great lengths to keep it hidden. This fear adds another difficult layer in navigating symptoms and oftentimes causes us to suffer alone.

4. Pure O creates a secondary fear that our thoughts are real.

Outward compulsions indicate to the outside world that help is needed. But my mental compulsions can overwhelm me and no one would know. This presents a unique fear. Because our compulsions are mental, we often cannot recognize their presence. We see them as part of our reality and perception, in turn making us doubt we have OCD at all.

I also used to agonize over whether my mental actions are truly compulsions because they feel so real. It isn’t uncommon for me to believe, “If these fears aren’t real, I wouldn’t still be thinking about them after all this time.” This secondary fear not only makes Pure O cycles hard to recognize, but they add to our shame and guilt and may prevent us from seeking help.

Every type of OCD is difficult to live with and manage; however, Pure O presents unique stress by way of shame, embarrassment and guilt. Pure O’s unique ability to call my moral code, ethics and character into question due to my disturbing obsessions can create a vicious cycle. The good news is I am not alone in this struggle and treatment has been found to be effective.

If you are experiencing any symptoms from OCD, you can visit the International OCD Foundation to find a specialist near you.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Little Thing That Mattered Most While I Was in Treatment

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Growing up, my mother always enforced two rules with me and my sisters. The following must be completed on time: Homework and thank you notes. When we were children, I understood the reasoning behind homework. If you didn’t turn it in, you’d get a bad grade, which would lead to failing out of school, which would leave you out of work forever (at least that was the thought process of an elementary school student.) But thank you notes weren’t on my bucket list of things to do after gymnastics practice. As far as I knew, none of my friends were running to the mailbox two days after my birthday party to see if a thank you card had been delivered to them for the beanie baby they had gotten me.

Flash forward over a decade later. I referred to this period as “The Dark Winter.” Because I had been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) years before, I knew that tough spells could always creep in. Even though I understood this through years of cognitive behavioral therapy, including learning lots of tactics to combat the OCD, it doesn’t diminish the pain that can come along when fighting a battle with mental illness. And I certainly felt like that winter was a battle. Juggling school and work full-time seemed like a piece of cake compared to what I was feeling inside. Even though I was around so many people, I felt like I was on a deserted island. What made it even more difficult was that I had zero explanation for why I felt the way I did. I had to go back to treatment. It felt like surrendering.

That winter, before I left every morning, my mother and father would leave a Post-it note for me with some sort of line of love and encouragement. These notes took them about 10 seconds to write, but felt like 10 extra breaths of fresh air. When we were little, my sisters and I often saw Post-it notes around our house saying anything from “I love you,”  to “Don’t forget to take your medicine and vitamins and brush your teeth!” or even ones stuck to the back of the door reminding us to lock up when we leave. But this winter, the Post-its meant more than my parents will ever know. They served as a symbol of hope that I wouldn’t feel this way my whole life. I saved every note that winter.

I finally understood why my parents emphasized these little things in life – because they knew a little goes a long way. The simplicity of a handwritten note can change a person’s day in ways the writer may not even realize. It’s important for all of us to keep in mind that “simple” doesn’t mean “thoughtless.”

Let’s all take those few seconds of our days to do something simple for someone – whether it’s holding a door open or picking up a dropped cereal box at the grocery store. Never forget that these small things have the power to change a person’s day for the better in ways we may never know.

A pile of colorful post-its with handwritten notes.

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An Angry Letter to My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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Honestly, I don’t usually feel a lot of anger. I spend a lot of time feeling anxious, euphoric, depressed and content, but don’t often find myself angry. But as life goes on, I’m finding I’m pretty unhappy with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). While I’ve previously written about embracing my mental disabilities (and these writings still hold true), right now I just need to vent to my disorder about what a pain it can be. So, here it goes…

Dear OCD,

Seriously, stop being so mean. I’m tired of you being a [insert not-so-nice expletive here]. I wish you’d just cooperate with me and get out of my life for a little while. You do disappear sometimes, but just not enough. You’re always lurking behind every corner.

And I hate you for that.

You’ve tried to ruin relationships I’ve had with both others and myself. You’ve made me question my sanity, my intentions, my sense of being and the world around me, many, many times. It’s the nature of what you do – “the doubting disease” being your other name.

You used to make me engage in more obvious compulsions. These days, most of them are silent and internal — covert. In some ways this is more torturous. Now, others don’t see the repetitive pain inside my head.

I used to think the worst part about you was the anxiety, but lately I’ve decided it’s the guilt. The guilt and the doubt. The constant state of confusion you leave me in. It’s torturous and I’ve described it countless times as thorns scratching and poking through my brain.

While you change your shape and form, I’m often able to recognize you and your irrationality. However, just because I know you’re full of lies doesn’t mean I can always escape your grasp. Medicine helps alleviate you, but only a little. My therapist and I are going to work harder to stomp out the fires you’ve been creating inside my head.

You make me feel uncertain and fearful, and oftentimes, it leads to self-loathing. But I’m going to keep fighting you. I’m tired of your games, and it’s my right to tell you I’m pissed.

Sincerely,

Someone who’s exhausted

P.S. I believe I’ll be OK…it’s you who should be worried.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could write a letter to the disability or disease you (or a loved one) face, what would you say to it? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Lena Dunham’s Instagram Post Challenges Stereotypes About Women Who Medicate

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Lena Dunham, the star and creator of the hit HBO show “Girls,” just made an important point about psychiatric medication and popular culture.

Dunham, who’s publicly spoken about how she lives with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), posted a photo to her Instagram account Thursday addressing the problematic representation in film and media of women who take medication for mental illness.

Her post reads: 

Lately I’ve been noticing that nearly every pop cultural image we see of a woman on psychiatric medication is that of an out-of-control, exhausting and exhausted girl who needs help. But guess what? Most women on meds are women who have been brave enough to help themselves. It’s important we see normalizing portrayals of people, women, choosing to take action when it comes to their mental health. Medication didn’t make me a hollowed-out version of my former self or a messy bar patron with a bad bleach job. They allowed me to really meet myself. I wish that for every lady who has ever struggled. There’s really no shame. Night, dolls.

Since Dunham posted the photo to Instagram on Thursday night, it’s been liked nearly 49,000 times. Many people commented to express gratitude for discussing this issue.

“I’m campaigning for this myself. It’s appalling how many times I’ve been told to cheer up, etc., and that I’m being a drama queen,” Instagram user ameyyloux wrote. “[There’s a] lack of support and understanding from tutors at university who see mental illness as a choice and an excuse not to do things. I chose to get help. I chose not to end my own life even when I wanted to.”

“Awesome to hear this as someone who took meds,” Instagram user onehitwanderlust said. “Thank you Lena Dunham for helping to spread awareness.”

Related: How One Mom’s Brave Selfie Started a New Kind of Mental Health Movement

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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5 Things I’d Tell My Son If He Was Diagnosed With a Mental Illness

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Without a doubt, motherhood is both the most exciting and terrifying experience I’ve ever had. It’s something new every single day. To be honest, reading about it when I was pregnant never really helped me — it only scared me more. When I  first found out I was pregnant with my son, I was flat­out petrified, scared I would somehow inadvertently ruin this little person’s life. I thought everything had to be perfect or else my son would end up scarred for life.

I mean, look at that face.

Jennifer's son is wearing a blue hoodie standing outside by a fence. The photo captures him mid-jump.
Jennifer’s son.

Looking back, that also could have been my obsessive compulsive disorder at play. Take a mental illness, mix it with some pregnancy hormones and not being on any medication? That’s one recipe that was a hell of a treat!

But I digress.

All I could think about, even after he was born, was that I would never be able to give him everything he needed. It broke my heart to think about that. I ended up becoming severely depressed, believing my child would be better off without me. That my husband would find someone else, and my son would have a mom who could truly give him everything he needed and take care of him the way he needed to be.

To be honest, I was afraid of passing on OCD to my son.

But I know that one day he will learn about my mental illness diagnosis, and I’m not so scared of it anymore. In fact, there are things I want to tell him, things I want him to know.

If he were to ever receive a mental diagnosis himself, this is what I’d want him to know:

1. Feel no shame.

Even in this day and age, this can be incredibly hard for a mental illness patient to accept themselves. In many areas, there’s still a large stigma that surrounds mental illnesses because many don’t take the time to understand them. And when people do not understand, they judge.

But having a mental illness doesn’t make you any less of a person, or any less deserving of help, happiness and a good life. You have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just like any physical illness. Do not let the opinions of others drag you down. You know who you are — own that, work that, be that. You’re a beautiful human being with an incredibly loving soul. Don’t let your illnesses outweigh the amount of beauty you hold within your heart.

2. Ask for help.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It’s an incredibly brave thing to do. By asking for help, you’re taking the first step in your recovery. Your family and friends love you very much and want to help you get better as soon as possible. Ask them for help, talk to them about how you feel. Don’t be ashamed.

3. You’re no different. 

Close your eyes for a moment and entertain this thought; imagine you’re lined up with nine other people who aren’t living with a mental illness. Now, take a look around the room. Do these people look any different from you? Can you know anything about them just by looking at them? Are you able to see their sufferings? Do they look sick to you? No.

You’re no different than any of these people. You are amazing, unique and beautiful in your own way, just like every other person here on this great and grand planet.

4. Even people with mental illness deserve happiness.

Don’t ever give in to the notion that you are less of a person because of your illness. We aren’t the illnesses we live with, they do not define who we are as a whole. There are so many unique parts of our individual personalities that make us who we are, and while yes, you may live with a mental illness, it’s such a small part of who you are in relation to our entire being.

What do you enjoy? Make time for yourself to do it each day. Come to love yourself. Know that you deserve love and happiness. Be proactive in keeping yourself healthy. Smile often and love without limits.

5. Practice self-care. 

Always take care of yourself, first and foremost. In your life, you need to be the most important person. Never put yourself on the “back burner,” so to speak. If you need five minutes to take a breather, you take it. If you need a personal day to get yourself back together and gather your thoughts, you do it.

Every day you wake up and step out of bed, no matter how much you don’t want to, you are making great strides in your recovery. No step is too small when it comes to the path you’re taking on the road to wellness.

Be yourself, and don’t ever try to hide who you are from the world. You deserve love, laughter, happiness and more. Pursue your dreams, chase them with fervor. Never hold onto anger and rage. Practice forgiveness and accept friendships. Treat others how you want to be treated. Give love freely, spread it far and wide.

And finally: Laugh as much as you can. The world is far too solemn a place already.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

A version of this piece was originally published on Positivity in Pain.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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