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What the OCD Cycle Fails to Take Into Account

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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 the International OCD Foundation’s website.

Obsessions. Anxiety. Compulsions. Relief.

It doesn’t sound so bad like that, does it? In reality however, it’s so much more than what the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) cycle appears to be. OCD symptoms vary so much — in severity, frequency, and how they appear to each person. For me, my OCD behaviors are in a constant state of flux. The more stressed I feel, the more anxious I become. The more anxious I become, the worse my obsessions are, which leads to an increase in compulsions. This then leads to low mood and depression.

Although it is helpful to know the cause and effect, the cycle of thoughts fails to take into account external factors that make things worse. I know for myself, obsessions lead to anxiety, but that anxiety is not generally restricted to my OCD obsessions, it bleeds into all thoughts. Yes, my main worry may be about contamination and feeling dirty, but then my mind leads on to other obsessions. Am I sure the door was locked? (Even though I checked it 60 times and then some.) Am I sure the toaster was turned off? What if my son gets sick because I took him on the bus yesterday? Once one door is open, they are all open. So even with all the obsessive thoughts, and if I can complete my compulsions (which often I can’t because I am out) — does it help? Well, this is a difficult one.

The second I wet my hands and rub in soap, I momentarily feel better, a great swell of relief. However, even if I can ease the feeling of being dirty, what about the other obsessions I can’t do anything about? Well, guess what? They don’t go away, maybe I will feel more able to think in a rational way, but the longer I go without checking, the harder it gets to ignore the thoughts rattling inside my brain. So, in conclusion, it is only partial relief.

Then comes the Guilt. Guilt? That isn’t in the OCD cycle, or so they say, but I find it to be one of the most difficult things to get to grips with. I feel constantly guilty, overwhelmingly so sometimes, but what do I have to feel guilty about? Well, mainly my guilt surrounds my son. He may only be 7, but he notices things. Only today he said to me, “Mummy, why do you use so much soap? You don’t need to.” It’s like a knife being twisted in my gut. The heart-wrenching knowledge my behaviors are noticed. The fear he will develop OCD, the fear of being dirty, becoming sick — a life ruined when it’s only begun, and worse, it’s my fault. That guilt is always with me.

So how does obsessive-compulsive disorder feel to me? It’s one thing to talk about it objectively, the cycle of thoughts and all that, but how it feels? That’s something else entirely. It feels like an underlying hum of fear and worry that is always there, simmering under the surface, trying to break free just waiting for a lapse in control. Like ants crawling under your skin, your blood boiling, like waves that crash and tumble against the cliffside trying to break it down.

It is hard to describe to someone unless it is something you yourself are familiar with. The constant fight or flight mode that your body is in. Muscles tense all the time, the feeling of mental and physical exhaustion. It feels like a heavy load to bear, and a lot of the time, lonely. This is why I decided to start a blog, because I don’t want anyone to feel alone. I hope someone will read this and they will know there is someone out there who understands.

When people say it’s “only” OCD, it can be helpful, it only affirms to me they know nothing of true OCD. How can something be helpful when it inhibits everything you do in a day? There are often other side effects for those with OCD, although some may say they’re just facets of your personality.

For instance, I am a perfectionist. I used to think this was helpful, that it would ensure I got things right. Instead, nothing was ever good enough, no matter how hard I tried, however long I spent on minute details it was never right. It always felt wrong. Rub out, start again, again, and again. So much time spent trying to perfect something that realistically, there was little wrong with in the first place. Sound familiar? I think it is something a lot of people with OCD can relate to.

Everything I feel in a day always comes back to the OCD cycle. So when a therapist says  you need to break this cycle, take it with a pinch of salt. Although therapy works for some, it hasn’t yet for me. What works for one will not work for everyone and I urge you to speak with others who have OCD because shared experience goes a long way in finding ideas to help in easing symptoms.

For more information on my story, head to my blog OCD and Me.

Unsplash image by Thomas Griesbeck

Originally published: March 6, 2022
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