Living With a Secret: What You Need to Know About 'Pure O' OCD

Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

When you hear people talk about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you often come across the usual comments. “It is someone who washes their hands 50 times a day, or someone who checks the lock multiple times before leaving the house?” These compulsions can, of course, be common amongst those living with OCD, but what about if you struggled from a different type of OCD — a type fueled by intrusive thoughts and mental compulsions? A secret OCD that is never really spoken of, as the thoughts behind it are so taboo.

This is Pure O — a type of OCD where those living with it, like myself, experience horrible unwanted thoughts, often about the things we fear the most. Common intrusive thoughts often include fear of harming someone violently, harming your own child, being attracted to a family member or even fear of being a pedophile. Now imagine these thoughts do not disappear; they stay with you in a constant loop, a never-ending cycle of anxiety and dread. We know these thoughts go against our morals and beliefs, and we do not want to think these awful things, but our brains are stuck. The thoughts just keep coming.

The problem with Pure O is that it is just not understood. Try to find any research on this type of OCD and I guarantee you will struggle to find many studies. Why? Because it is a secret illness for most of us who live with it. We worry about being judged and stigmatized for having these thoughts in the first place, and finding help is just another milestone we must get past. Because of the stereotypes usually attached to OCD, we are repeatedly put into a very narrow category which isolates us even further from help.

The people who do seek treatment for their Pure O often report being misconceived by their doctors. I know myself that I was judged for having these thoughts, and my illness just was not recognized. It took me exactly 14 years from my first ever intrusive thought to come across a doctor who understood what Pure O was. I am so thankful for this, but was it just pure luck? Was it fair that I was made to struggle for 14 years? How many people are out there, struggling right now, because they are unable to receive the help they desperately need.

Go onto any OCD forum and you will see hundreds if not thousands of people desperately seeking advice and help for their Pure O. More likely than not, the internet is their only source of help and support. They are afraid to confide in family members and doctors for concern of being misunderstood.

Once diagnosed, OCD is actually a very treatable illness. While there is no cure, it can be managed with effective therapies and medications. So why is this mental illness still being stigmatized in 2017? I believe it is the lack of understanding and education about mental health in general that is causing this crisis.

The media often sugarcoat or exaggerate mental illness, so it becomes more appealing to the reader or viewer, which in turn does not help the situation. Lack of understanding from doctors often means people do not get the correct help. Even if they do, access to mental health services — especially referrals to mental health teams — can be extremely difficult to obtain.

I hope that by bringing awareness to this debilitating illness, the stigma around it can be reduced, enabling people to get the help they need.

A version of this article was originally published on HuffPost UK.

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