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The Most Important People to Reach During OCD Awareness Week

It’s OCD Awareness Week. I wondered what I could say in this post that would be new or unique, yet still meaningful. I didn’t want to rehash old trains of thought or repeat myself yet again, so I started to think about what OCD awareness meant to me. What should it mean?

Obviously, those of us who are diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder are aware of OCD. Our immediate families are likely aware of OCD. Harking on about OCD awareness to people in those categories might be preaching to the choir.

Seeking out the undiagnosed

So, besides increasing awareness of OCD to everyone (which could really help cut down on stigmas and misuse of the term “OCD”), I think the most important people who need to be reached during OCD Awareness Week are the closeted strugglers. The people who know something isn’t quite right but aren’t yet diagnosed. The individuals who think OCD is just hand-washing, fear of germs, or checking and therefore don’t think they could have OCD under those strict definitions.

Those are the people I want to make aware.

Because OCD isn’t just hand-washing, fear of germs, or checking. Yes, it can be those things. Contamination made me realize I had OCD; I was one of those people who wasn’t aware for a long, long time. But the first time I sat in group therapy and listened to other people share their stories, I experienced “awareness.” I had my “aha” moment. I have had OCD for so long, I thought. I just didn’t know what it was. I thought it was anxiety or perfectionism or just me. But it was obsessive compulsive disorder.

Refusing to jaywalk, making sure I stayed under the speed limit or else, convincing myself I was going to have to pay a fine or go to jail for burning CDs, worrying about copyright issues and trying to fix things myself, having intense fears about whether or not I graded my students fairly in the college courses I taught… These were all just symptoms of a greater problem. If I had known about OCD’s long reach way back then, maybe I would have known how to fight back. Either way, I wish I had known.

I received a request to answer some questions for a class recently, and I really enjoyed thinking about and answering those questions. One of them was:

Do you think OCD needs to be controlled? Why or why not?

I wrote that I do think OCD needs to be controlled, because if you are not controlling it, it can begin controlling you.

I remember after one therapy session, I suddenly remembered the person I used to and wanted to be. For so long, OCD had been telling me what I could and couldn’t do. It was like I had been living in an abusive relationship with my own mind, and suddenly I remembered my old self. It was incredible. I realized if I could control the OCD, I could be that person again. I could wear vintage clothes. I could do the things I wanted to do. I could go shopping without hand sanitizer. I could write and publish things. I could be a better mom and wife. I didn’t have to live in fear and anxiety.

People have varying levels of OCD, but it’s been my experience that while OCD can wax and wane, it tends towards waxing when not being controlled. Even now, if I slip up or stop being so diligent, I can feel the OCD gaining a foothold and trying to reinsert itself into my life fully. So yes, engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy can be so helpful to manage OCD.

Why awareness matters

I believe that is true. I believe in making the various nuances and types of OCD known to others, and then making them aware that there are treatments available. I believe if we can educate people, maybe they can reach someone who is struggling and say, “Hey, maybe you have OCD. You can get help for that.”

It isn’t a hopeless condition, but it can sure feel that way when you don’t know what you’re up against. And it can easily get that way if you let it go unchecked. For these reasons, OCD awareness is so important. I hope you can help increase awareness in your own way as well. Every little bit helps.

Image via Thinkstock.

A version of this post originally appeared on The OCD Mormon.

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