To Anyone Who Feels Guilty About Their OCD

My boyfriend is probably the happiest person on earth. He sings in the shower, he dances even when there’s no music playing and he rarely ever cries. So when his voice caught as he said, “Your heart is racing,” and when he kissed the sore and broken skin on my hands and begged me to take better care of them, all I felt was guilt. I wasn’t getting better quickly enough. I was letting him down. I was letting everyone down.

Now that I’m in recovery from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), I receive far more proud smiles than dejected sighs. My friends and family tell me how relieved they are that I’m no longer in the “state” I used to be, but recovery is not the straight line we all hope to walk, and sometimes rituals I overcame months ago sneak back into my life without my permission. To people on the outside, a bumpy recovery might look more like relapse, and it can be hard for a concerned loved one to hide their disappointment.

It can be even harder for new people in my life. My boyfriend didn’t know me three years ago; he has know idea how severe my OCD used to be or how much progress I’ve made since then. I fear all he sees is a person who’s still struggling, and it hurts him.

But if there’s one thing that really sucks for many people with OCD, it’s the feeling of guilt that comes with upsetting other people. When I feel my OCD is upsetting my loved ones, I feel guilty. When I feel guilty, I need to make things right. My guilt triggers my desperation to reduce harm, and this usually comes in the form of OCD rituals. The guilt worsens the rituals, which increases my loved ones’ concern, which triggers the guilt, which worsens the rituals… you can see how this might be a problem.

So this is my plea to anyone with OCD: Stop feeling guilty! You are a caring person and the thoughts that consume you are not your fault. Your loved ones will be upset at times, but they are upset with your OCD, not with you. Separating yourself from your OCD — and reminding yourself who the real bad guy is here — is one of the most important steps in your recovery.

The next time you feel guilty for your OCD, remind yourself how far you’ve come, how proud you’ve already made your loved ones and how proud you’re going to make them as you continue to recover.

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