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5 Ways to Love Someone With OCD


You may not know this about me, but I struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  I want to be loved. I need to be loved. I know sometimes it is hard to love me, but I need to be loved.

Here’s what I want those who love me to know:

1. Understand routine is important to me.

In my head, I have already planned and mapped out how many minutes of sleep I can get based on what time I go to sleep (not to bed). I have also figured out what time, by the second, I need to leave my house in order to get to school/work and how fast I need to drive to beat traffic. I complete my hygiene and put on my clothes in a specific order. Otherwise, I’ll walk out of the house headed to work in house shoes or leave the door unlocked or the garage open. Sometimes, just giving me a few minutes to complete my routine means the world to me and makes me feel loved.

2. Understand my brain processes millions of thoughts a minute.

About 20 percent of these thoughts actually make it out of my mouth. The other thoughts are running too fast or I get anxious to say them. This happens because I don’t think you want to listen to them or that I’m not making sense, which is why I may talk fast and in run-on sentences! Sometimes, just repeating back to me what I said is helpful. This let’s me know someone is listening and that I am making sense, even if the actual words I am saying make no sense. Realizing someone is right there, present with me in that moment, makes me feel loved.

3. Understand that change sometimes gives me panic attacks.

You probably don’t realize this because I plan for change way in advance so I can anticipate every possible outcome and plan accordingly. It is not that I do not want or like change. It just sometimes completely throws my routine, one I had mastered and perfected, off. Now, I have to create another one. Please, explain to me why the change is happening. Please, give me an opportunity to ask questions about the change. Please, do not take it any of this personal. My concern with change is more that I will make a mistake or let someone down. I need an opportunity to “reprogram” and create a new routine. Having someone listen and empathize with me through this process makes me feel loved.

4. Understand I am always absorbing information and knowledge.

This is not to be a know it all, but I have to be prepared for everything and have an answer for something if I am asked a question. If I seem boastful because I know something, then it is usually not because I want to look better than someone. It is more of a personal success of a challenge I created for myself. Please, allow me an opportunity to share my perspective and insight with you. It does not matter to me if you apply what I am offering or even agree with it. Having someone acknowledge the work I have accomplished in acquiring all of this knowledge makes me feel loved.

5. Understand sometimes it is hard to be me.

A person’s individual struggle with OCD is similar to others, but they are not all alike. It is sometimes exhilarating and thrilling to be able to get the questions right during trivia, a board game or to be considered a walking dictionary or encyclopedia. It is also frustrating when it takes me extra time to complete a task than it does other people. Another frustration are places like yard sales, where things are not lined up or in symmetrical order is hard for me to take. You don’t realize how hard it is not to go somewhere and fix a painting that is hanging crooked on a wall. For me, not fixing the crooked painting is progress! Expressions of love, giving me a hug, leaving me a note, sending me a text message or just sitting down with me are ways that help me not obsess so much and it is an eternal reminder I am loved.

Of course, this is only a small percentage of the ways to love someone with OCD, but you have a starting point.

Image via Thinkstock.

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When I Realized I Was Not the 'Cure' for My Daughter’s OCD


When my children get sick, there’s an involuntary reflex that goes off that makes me not just want to help them, but to cure them. When my daughter started to have worries and severe anxiety four years ago, the first impulse my wife and I had was to get her help. When she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), we made it our mission to cure her.

In this approach, we did a lot of things wrong. We accommodated. We participated in OCD rituals. We gave in.

I realize now I was driven by the thought that I could change what she was feeling. I initially approached OCD like a virus and told her to, “Get plenty of rest,” or “Try to relax.” I did things to distract her, turning on the television or letting her sleep in our bed.

Of course, what I really did was let OCD run our lives. I think I did this because I thought we had the power to beat her disorder. My wife and I just needed time to find that magic cure.

As we began to read about OCD and learn about how effective OCD treatment works, we started to change our behavior. We pulled back from accommodating. We practiced exposure and response prevention (ERP). We focused relentlessly on her therapy.

Man and daughter smiling with city skyline in background

Somewhere, during those long months of OCD homework, it hit me. The things we were doing showed that I couldn’t cure OCD. I realized defeating OCD was something my 8-year-old had to do herself. This realization was like a weight being lifted.

It changed my focus so much so that I stopped thinking about being a miracle worker. I began to think of myself only as a cheerleader, advocate and educator. I suppressed my need to fix and focused on helping.

Four years later, these are roles my wife and I still play. Today, my daughter has better tools to fight and control her OCD. When those worries flood her mind, I know my role is it help her focus and then encourage her to do ERP so she stays strong.

I do not care that I wasn’t the cure. I’m content knowing I am one of the reasons she was, and is, able to fight back.

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When I Realized 'Harm OCD' Had Been Tricking Me All Along


I don’t recall exactly when it happened. 

I was sitting there, struggling with Harm OCD. Utterly unwelcome thoughts of harming others buzzed round my head like a cloud of mosquitos. They had become inescapable. I could do little more than despair. 

And then, suddenly, it came to me. 

I was being “had.”

Bamboozled. Hoaxed. Duped. Mislead. Deluded. Deceived. Hoodwinked. Suckered.

A card trick can be convincing. This is especially true when the trick is performed at close quarters, when the very nearness of the sleight-of-hand adds to its credibility. Imagine the result, then, if the magic trick is performed – effortlessly, flawlessly – inside your own head.

That has to be the most convincing trick of all. 

And I had been convinced for a very long time.

My wife had very serious health problems after the birth of our first child. For months on end, I was filled with fear. At work, at home, I simply could not shake it. The simple day-to-day act of living was exhausting. Then, out of nowhere, thoughts of harming others began popping into my mind. 

They were utterly alien things. But there they were — in my own mind. I was shocked. “What kind of person has thoughts like this?” I asked myself. And then, as the thoughts continued, “Maybe this means I’m the kind of person who eventually acts out such thoughts. God help me, they just keep coming! Why is this happening to me? How can I stop it?” 

And then, in a last ditch effort at flexing what I believed to be true about myself, I decided, “Maybe if I constantly oppose these thoughts, if I actively reject each and every one, that means I’m a good person. That has to mean I’m not the sort of person who acts on such thoughts — even if I do have them for reasons I can’t explain. But there comes another one. And another. And another.”

This went on for a long time. Eventually, however, that brief but telling insight arrived. Harm OCD did not deserve herculean efforts at vigilance and self-scrutiny. It was a simple parlor trick.

But you’re waiting for me to show you the trick. Of course, you are. Now, watch closely:

Do not think of a red rose.

That’s it. Show’s over. You’ve been a great audience! Goodnight, Padooka!

What? You want me to do it again? OK, keep your eyes on the cards. Here goes:

Don’t. Think. Red. Rose. 

Got it? Did you manage not to think of a red rose?

It’s impossible, right? In order to process my statement, you visualized anything in the statement that required visualization. You did this automatically, unavoidably. The result: the statement “Do not think of a red rose” effectively inserted a red rose into your mind — even as the statement created a sense that you should somehow be able to accomplish what it asked of you.

Now, do me a favor:

Do not think of something awful. 

You see where this is headed. 

I might be driving down the highway, listening to public radio. Nina Totenberg has just finished a report on the growing problem of (fill in the blank) in our society. I think, “Gosh, how upsetting. (Fill in the blank) is so awful. Imagine what victims of (fill in the blank) must go through.” Pause at a red light. “For that matter, imagine what persons guilty of (fill in the blank) must go through. I suppose they have thoughts of (fill in the blank). Hmmm. That’s strange. I guess I just had a thought of (fill in the blank). But I’m OK. I’ve never had thoughts of (fill in the blank) before, right? My memory is so bad though. I wonder if I have had thoughts of (fill in the blank) before. There may have been that one time… And then that other… I guess I have had a thought of (fill in the blank) pop into my head. But just because I had a (fill in the blank) thought once or twice before — that doesn’t mean I’m a (fill in the blank) person. I mean, you would have to struggle constantly with (fill in the blank) thoughts to be a (fill in the blank) person. And I’m just not going to have any more (fill in the blank) thoughts. Well, there goes another one. But that’s the last one. No more!”

Two days later, I’m a total wreck, shambling through work, afraid to tell anyone what’s going on. “Oh God, please help me not to have (fill in the blank) thoughts,” I pray. “I keep having them over and over again. I dread them! I guess this is what it feels like to be a (fill in the blank) person. I guess that proves I am a (fill in the blank) person. But I don’t want to go to counseling for (fill in the blank)! I’ll keep fighting it. I won’t give up.”

Given the mechanism I described previously — don’t think of a red rose — it seems like a sick practical joke played on an extraordinarily naive person, doesn’t it? Not an especially clever joke either. Nevertheless, when applied to me — a person predisposed to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a person already worn down by stress — it worked. For months on end.

Distractions would come along. They might claim my interest for extended periods of time — so that I forgot to remain vigilant and the very absence of this vigilance removed the mental leverage necessary for the trick to work. But then, one day, I would realize, “Hey, I haven’t had one of those (fill in the blank) thoughts for a while.” And (without my realizing it) entertaining that very sense of relief conjured up an example of the very thoughts I was so very glad to be rid of. And there it was in my mind again. And I become horrified again. And I fell for the trick again.

Once I caught on, however, I realized my vigilance necessarily required visualizing the thoughts I wanted to avoid. Vigilance, then, could not be the answer. The only answer was to seek help for the stress I was under, to carve out a space in my life for getting well, and to immerse myself in sources of the Good. In my case, that involved rereading the entire Narnia series. And taking Luvox for the OCD.

Today, if the Red Rose Hustle hovers at the edge of my consciousness like a dark cloud, I ignore it as best I can. Because I’m onto him, the magician has lost 90 percent of his mojo. Sure, he keeps trying. And sure, as a person prone to OCD I am peculiarly susceptible to his sort of trickery. But if I don’t assume victory consists of total mental health and happiness right this very minute, but assume instead that victory consists of knowing your enemy, knowing his tactics and rising above his ridiculous machinations — well, then I’ve won. I still struggle at times, but I’ve won. 

Not only am I part of an elite group — those who suffer from One of the Top Ten Debilitating Disorders Worldwide — I’ve moved up into an even higher echelon: those who don’t put up with any crap from One of the Top Ten Debilitating Disorders Worldwide.

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My Life With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Isn't What You Think It Is


My desk is cluttered. I don’t care.

My laundry sits for days before being put away.

Being tidy isn’t always what obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is.

It’s counting the window panes.

The numbers in the tiles.

Who would have imagined you could put so much thought into the stripes of the bathroom rug?

It’s pausing at the end of every period to make a noise, and counting every single loop in every single letter.

“No, that’s not it. You don’t get it. No! I’m not mad at you! I’m not mad at anybody, except me.”

Did I lock the door?

Yes, I checked.

But check again.

No, I locked it.

This mistake could cost you your life.

All right, I’ll check, but this is the last time.

My hands are dirty.

I need to wash them.

I’m dirty. I need another shower.

I need to change my shirt.

Did I hurt someone? I don’t think so… I did. I must have.

What if I did and I don’t remember?

I can’t stop shaking. I feel awful.

You should. You did terrible things today.

I don’t think I did.

Then that’s even worse.

You can’t even tell that you did.

Stop it.

“Why are you doing that with your face?”

“…I…I have something in my eye.”

Just tell them the truth. It’s a tic.

But it’s weird. I don’t want to.

My face is so sore. It’s been twitching all day.

“What’s wrong?”


“Why are you making those noises? Are you sad?”

“No, I have to make them. I can’t help it.”


“I don’t know.”

“Why do you walk like that?”

“I have to touch the ground right. I have to do the right rhythm.”

“That’s weird.”

“Well, it’s me. And that’s my life.”

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When OCD Leaves Me Tired


I made sure when I moved in that my bed was pushed up against the window. This way I could always wake up to the sky. Blinking away sleep, dreading kicking off the covers, I would look up at the sky and wish I could drift away like a cloud.

Down here, it is dirty. The gutters are clogged with old leaves and litter. Up there, everything is clean and distant, airy and light. I wish I was a cloud or a single rain drop, suspended so that it never has to hit the ground.

Down here, it constantly feels like rain. Like, a thousand particles of the world, a thousand ideas, a thousand truths hitting me all at once. Pouring down my shoulders, while I walk to work, to class, to get groceries. I should pause to think, pause to think, but it hurts. I can’t think when it hurts. It hurts.

Down here, I feel lonely even when I am not alone. Down here, my hands are a burden. Touch this door five times, knock on that table five times. Nothing feels right to them. If I had wings, then I would brush it all away.

It’s starting to feel like every day is an ongoing argument with myself. To get out of bed, to get to work, to feel good, to not do this compulsion, to resist the voice in my head that tells me everything will fall apart if I don’t brush my teeth twice.

Nothing seems to come easy anymore. I can’t put my finger on when it started feeling like this, but I’m tired. I’m so tired. I used to tip my head back to look at the sky, now when I walk I just stare at the concrete. Shouldn’t I be doing better?

This feeling used to come and go. A week of the blues and then I’d be all right for another couple weeks. During those good weeks, I would stock up on happy thoughts for when I got back down. A fistful of flowers. A smile from stranger. I even got a permanent reminder: a tattoo of a cardinal on my arm as a symbol of hope in even the darkest of times.

Sometimes, when I’m lying in bed at my worst, I look at it and imagine it saying, “Why are you so unhappy? You don’t belong in the sky. Even birds come back to the ground to rest.”

I need a rest.

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How We Helped Save Our Son From the OCD Monster


Although I used to be a travel writer, I took my most frightening journey only recently, with my family, without ever leaving our small Quebec village.

After my father died in 2012, my son was so shattered that he transformed from a happy-go-lucky 10-year-old into a near-stranger dominated by bizarre rules of magical thinking all designed to bring his grandpa back to life.

For such an even-keeled kid, my husband and I were alarmed that losing his grandpa would plunge our son into an existential crisis. A tidal wave of grief was forever smashing him down and he couldn’t find his way to the surface. But as winter turned to spring, I started noticing his grief easing up a little. He was no longer crying into his pillow at night and had started laughing again. Except, now he was doing something else I found peculiar.

One evening I was sitting beside him while he seemed to be unconsciously tapping each elbow onto the back of the couch. Four taps of the left elbow, four taps of the right. A few tapless minutes would pass and then he’d start the routine again. Over the coming weeks, what we called “making things even” became more complex, seemingly full of complicated rules. One day he started turning his head as far as it would go over his shoulder, then he’d turn his head to the other side over the other shoulder. But it didn’t stop there. He’d go back and twist his head twice on the first side, then twice again on the other side. It looked like an exercise for old people. “Do the kids in school notice you doing that?” I asked him one day while he was building a Downton Abbey-esque estate on Minecraft.

“Yeah, sometimes,” he said, not looking up from my iPad.

“What do they think about it?”

He shrugged. “They just think I’m stretching my neck.”

One evening I decided to Google, “kids making things even.” I doubted my search would lead anywhere since those words together seemed so arbitrary. But I was shocked to find link after link with that very phrase, including one that led to something called “symmetry rituals.” My ribcage tightened. That’s exactly what Quinn was always doing, performing rituals to make everything symmetrical on both sides of his body. I found a forum where a teenage girl was describing how if she tapped her left forearm, she’d have to tap her right forearm. How could something seemingly so random be so ubiquitous? I looked up at the url and inhaled a deep startled breath. It was a website for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

I spent hours researching OCD and was relieved to discover that cognitive behavior therapy actually causes chemical changes in the brain and by changing your behavior, you change your brain wiring, finally getting relief from OCD. By performing “exposure” exercises, the brain re-circuits itself until the obsessions and compulsions lose their appeal. It’s hard work but it’s pretty much the only option. We started Quinn on the exercises (called ERP — exposure and response prevention) immediately.

Although we saw gradual improvements with ERP, sometimes Quinn didn’t respond to it at all. I wondered if the giggly little boy who Quinn had been would ever come back. As the weeks passed, my husband and I became so hollowed out we were like ghosts you could see through. One morning, after seeing the “OCD Monster” enslave Quinn with yet another ritual — one that immobilized him — all I could do was run out to our parked car, roll up the windows and start sobbing, howling over and over for the sad lost echo of my son. That night, Rob and I realized we needed to tell all our friends, everyone we knew.

I sent an email to all our friends and neighbours explaining why they hadn’t seen Quinn around on his bike lately, or us out on our street. “…We know the Quinn is still in there somewhere. If people could visit once in a while that would go a long way in lifting our spirits. We need our friends and we need Quinn back. There’s nothing more important to us than getting our son back to the happy kid we used to know…”

After writing that letter, the phone began ringing almost immediately. Emails flooded my inbox. People started knocking on our door and as it turns out, the OCD Monster hates visitors. Our story had been released, had wings, which meant love and support were coming back to us.

One day, I couldn’t find Quinn in the house. I went outside and thought I heard singing. The singing got louder as I walked down our laneway. When I got to the end of our laneway, I looked up. Quinn was at the very top of our pine tree. When he saw me he stopped singing and called out, “Hi, Mummy!” and started climbing down. He jumped off a lower branch and landed in front of me. His face was flushed pink. I asked what he’d been doing. In a steady strong voice, looking me in the eyes, he said, “I sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ to Grandpa and I let him go.”

I stared at him. A blue jay squawked nearby. “You what?”

“I sang the whole song. Then I let him go.” He said this matter-of-factly. He was smiling. There was a calm in his face I hadn’t seen in weeks. He began walking up the lane, saying he wanted to go to soccer practice. I stood there watching him as he made his way up the lane kicking a stone like a soccer ball. Could it be true?

I’d realize later that letting his grandpa go up in the tree healed something that was broken in his heart. The OCD Monster was still quietly slithering in the pathways of his brain, but the fight was now on.

It has been three years, and thanks to ERP and community healing power, the OCD Monster has never made a comeback.


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