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How to Come Out to Your Loved Ones About the Taboo Parts of OCD

Those of us with OCD are often faced with the seemingly impossible task of telling loved ones we might, for example, have thoughts of harming them or others. We might fear contaminating our husband or wife, or perhaps abusing our newborn baby. While these thoughts are indeed intrusive thoughts and fears – meaning we would never act on them – it doesn’t make talking about them any less scary.

After I received my diagnosis for OCD, I tried coming out to my mum, but only managed to tell her a tiny fraction of what was actually going through my mind; it was honestly just a drop in the entire ocean that is my thoughts. Earlier this year, I revealed everything, including my biggest obsession that had haunted me since childhood: the fear that I might be a pedophile.

I’ve always expected everyone I’ve ever told about my OCD to run away, and every time I’ve opened up I have been completely wrong; telling people has only made my relationships stronger. On top of this, my guilt has lessened somewhat and by speaking out about my fears, I have actually come to learn how “normal” they are. I was sexually abused as a child, and later went on to obsess if I would become an abuser too. Recognizing what led and contributed to my obsessions helped me understand myself a lot better.

Understanding is just one part of the process though. The other, I believe, is acceptance.

I am still so scared of the possibility that I might harm a child that I have devoted my entire life to avoiding children. If I see a child anywhere, I either freeze out of pure fear or run in the other direction. My OCD is a severe case, not only because it was left untreated and diagnosed for over 15 years, but because I never ever spoke out about what I was going through. That is why I am advocating this OCD Awareness Week that we all come out to our loved ones.

That said, coming out about your OCD is a choice, not something the must happen, and this choice is entirely yours to make. It is a decision that requires careful thought, time and patience. You must consider if you feel emotionally strong enough to talk about your illness with others, whether or not you will be heard and understood.

So, let’s look at some of the steps you can take to coming out about your OCD:

No. 1: Using Someone Else’s Battle to Tell Your Story

If you feel you can’t talk to your family or friends about your own personal struggle with OCD, use someone else’s. Find a video on YouTube that explains what it is like from a personal viewpoint to struggle with OCD. There are so many talented vloggers out there, but my personal favorite is Kat Nicole. Kat makes of vlogs on all types of obsessions, but I personally related to her highly commendable video on sexual intrusive thoughts and harm OCD.

Another valuable resource are the countless number of articles out there on OCD. Perhaps you could read one to your loved one or even print out/send a copy to them by email or social media. Showing a video or reading an article to your loved ones is a fantastic way to open up a conversation about OCD without actually doing the talking yourself. Perhaps you could show the person a video and before opening up with your own struggle, ask them how they felt in regards to the video. This will allow you to get a feel for their level of understanding and give you the confidence you need to talk about yourself. If you see your loved one understands someone else’s battle, they may understand yours too.

A novel or a memoir is also a fantastic way to open up about your OCD, particularly if your loved one enjoys reading. After you’ve found a book you relate to, you could suggest it to your loved one, saying the book means a lot to you. Once they’ve read the book, you’ll have a unique opportunity to discuss it with them, bringing up your own struggles, should you feel the time is right.

Here’s a small list of books on OCD that I highly recommend reading for the purpose of sharing your story with others:

  • “Pure” by Rose BretĂ©cher (Memoir)
  • “Because We are Bad” by Lily Bailey (Memoir)
  • “Being Me with OCD: How I Learned to Obsess Less and Live My Life” by Alison Dotson (Self-Help/Memoir)
  • “Every Last Word” by Tamara Ireland Stone (YA novel)
  • “Check Mates: A Collection of Fiction, Poetry and Artwork about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” by People with OCD

No. 2: Write Your Story Down on Paper

This was the route I took. I’ve been writing odd bits here and there about my OCD for years now – all post-diagnosis. I try to keep a daily journal, which helps me sort through my thoughts and understand myself better. I often read back what I’ve wrote the next day, and I can see very clearly, from a secondhand perspective, that what I live with is perfectly understandable. Writing gives me a therapeutic release, and as I am in control of the words, I always get to choose if and who I want to share them with. Many times, I’ve read out extracts from my journal to friends and family, and they have all been incredibly compassionate with me.

Just a few days ago, I read out my previously published article on The Mighty to my partner’s mother as a way of coming clean to her about my OCD. Reading my story out loud allowed for me to be heard the way I wanted to be heard. Having your story in front of you as a kind of script is a real confidence boost because you know exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to phrase it, without the need for rumination, which is already a massive part of OCD.

No. 3: Bring Your Loved One to a Therapy Session

Obviously this one only works for those already in therapy, but if you are able to use this method, it can be a very positive one. Your therapist, if s/he agrees with this method, is likely to steer the conversation where it needs to go and will be there to answer any of your family member’s questions. This route is particularly useful for those who are struggling to talk about their diagnosis outside of their therapy sessions. Bringing in a loved one to such a safe, familiar and comfortable space can hopefully allow you to walk away feeling a little more positive about and confident about your recovery, with your loved one now by your side.

I strongly believe a lot of good can come from opening up about our struggles — not only in terms of self-acceptance but also in healing relationships we may have lost in the past due to our guilt or fear of not being understood.

This OCD Awareness Week, if you can do one thing for yourself, try to make it this: begin the journey into self-acceptance by reading and learning about your disorder. Enlighten and educate yourself so one day you can tell your story, should you wish.

I’ll leave you with this gorgeous quote from Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood.” It’s not quite as magical or as instant as this, I’m afraid, but it’s a damn good start.

“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”

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