Figuring Out 'Normal' When You Live With OCD

My best friend and I go to the same psychologist. She coined the phrase, “What would Bob do?” for when we aren’t exactly sure how we should react in a situation. This might seem extremely silly to some people. It may very well be, but it is actually super helpful when you have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). We are sometimes instructed by psychologists to think, “OK, what would a ‘normal’ person do in this circumstance?” Then, ideally, we do that and not whatever compulsion we felt we had to do.

It seems so straightforward, to do what a person would do. However, when you’ve had OCD for awhile, it actually isn’t because you can’t really remember what people without OCD do. One time I asked my husband how he showered, step by step. This way I could see if, for instance, my hand washing in the shower or the order of how I washed myself was strange. (It was.)

You start to get personal rather quickly with your psychologist when you have OCD, to the point where you aren’t even phased when he asks you, “So, take me through how you go the bathroom, step by step.” For that matter, you better hope you don’t have an enemy in group therapy because they probably know far more about you than any casual acquaintance should.

Back to the point, you start to forget how people act after you’ve had OCD for a good number of years. Perhaps, you do remember and it suddenly (or not so suddenly) disgusts you. How can people use the same towel over and over again for days on end? Not using soap after you go to the bathroom? Are you kidding me? Your child was sick with the flu and you came out to this social gathering to escape the chaos? Get away from me!

fThis hyperawareness and anxiety about how people live their lives (in comparison to the excessively vigilant person with OCD) can make us (those with OCD) seem aloof, snobbish, antisocial, mean or just plain weird. This is especially true when others don’t know we have OCD. In reality, we are just battling with our own minds, which are often telling us to freak out, run away, hide at home or somehow compensate for the lack of compulsions in others.

For instance, let’s say that “so and so” came over and used my bathroom. She told me her daughter was home sick. Then she touched my counter, sat on my couch and opened the front door herself. When she leaves, the OCD tells me I must now sanitize the bathroom, change the hand towel, wipe down the counter and door knobs and spray the couch with disinfectant. What should have been a simple, pleasant social interchange became an anxiety causing, compulsion inducing nightmare. I would probably also worry for the next two or three days that I was becoming sick, which would then limit where I go (so I don’t get others sick), what I do, etc.

This is how the OCD mind can work. It likes to jump to the worst possible conclusion. It then tries to prevent it from becoming reality, all the while imagining how awful it will be when or if it does happen. So please excuse us if we seem distant, strange, aloof or snobby. We are probably just worried about our physical, emotional, mental health and well being. It probably isn’t what any normal person would do, but that’s the struggle. Who is “normal”? And is “normal” the right way to be?

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on The OCD Mormon.

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