Channing's OCD explained in plain english

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I have spent the last three weeks researching the crap out of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have learned a ton and I want to drop some knowledge bombs.
I've also done a lot of explaining and talking about it with family and friends. In doing so, I've realized, people know as much about OCD as I did before finding out I had it - pretty much nothing. So in true awesome Channing style, I decided to go on the offensive about it and share more.

How does it feel to find out I have OCD?

I feel relieved to know that I'm not a bad person.

Discovering that my weird "quirks" and unusually morbid thoughts I've had my entire life were part of a disease I wasn't aware of has been life changing. I have postpartum OCD, but in my research I have continually come across studies that show that women who have PPOCD probably have had OCD most of their life and the symptoms got worse after having babies. I feel this, among many other causes of OCD, strongly applies to me.

To understand OCD better, its good to know that it is a two-part thing. First is the O - obsession. Most of the time, obsessions are made up of scary thoughts that start as a small "What if?". These are called intrusive thoughts, and everybody has them. The best way I've been able to describe them is this: 

Say you're driving down the road and you see a light pole. Brains are weird, and this time, your brain says, "Hey, see that light pole? What if you ran into that light pole?" People without OCD would say to that thought, "Hmm. That was a weird thought. Hope that doesn't happen.", and they would move on.

If that thought happened to me, I would have a hard time ignoring it. I would think:
  • "Oh, that would be horrible!"
  • "My kids and I would probably be seriously injured or die."
  • "If I killed my kids in this car, I would never be able to live with myself because that would mean I was a horrible person."
  • "Okay, this is crazy. Just ignore the light pole. IGNORE IT!"
  • "I can't ignore it because its right there in front of me!"
  • "Ahhh, its getting closer! I better move lanes."
  • "Okay, I moved lanes. From now on, only THIS lane is safe, because its furthest away from the light pole."

And those are not even the worst thoughts. Sometimes I worry that I will accidentally hurt someone. Like, what if I accidentally drop my baby over the stair railing? What if I made a friend's child so sick that they die? What if I go crazy, don't know it, and hurt someone? My life is in constant question - did I say the right thing? Did I do the right thing? Did I cook the chicken all the way? Did I use the wrong word when talking about a sensitive subject? Could I ever possibly do something unthinkable? 

I thought these thoughts were things I was capable of. I thought because they were coming from ME, it must mean I wanted these things to happen. Come to find out these alarming thoughts are results of OCD and it is actually super healthy they cause me so much anxiety and its very unlikely I will ever act on them. Unfortunately, this massive amount of doubt and questioning makes it difficult for me to believe I am a good person because it is impossible to be absolutely certain that I will not do bad things.

Does it sound sad? It is. That is why knowing that -1. these thoughts have a name and 2. the reason I'm having them non-stop is because the chemicals in my brain aren't working right- helps me not feel scared and ashamed of myself.

I feel happy that I am not normal.

Because those intrusive thoughts I mentioned are SO scary and SO intense, I feel like I have to do something to either prevent a horrible scenario from happening or to stop thinking about it. This is where the second part of OCD comes into play. The C - compulsion. Compulsions are the brain's way of trying to "fix" an obsession, or at least lessen the anxiety it causes. 

Compulsions are the most commonly known symptom of OCD. Unfortunately, they are pretty misunderstood. Compulsions have a pretty wide range. The most well known ones are organizing and cleaning. However, those are not the only ones! Compulsions can include:
  • excessive checking (the stove is turned off, the door is locked, the baby is breathing, etc)
  • reassurance seeking (asking for excessive reassurance from others/articles/blogs/doctors, etc)
  • counting
  • repeating phrases
  • probably a million other things that I can't think of
Until a month ago, I thought that everyone did the things I do; I thought I was normal. Now, I am happy to hear that most people can leave their home in a state of disarray to spend a few hours with their friends. I think its wonderful that people don't wash their hands in the hottest water they can stand to ensure the germs have died. I love that people don't feel like they have to be perfect to live their life where people can see them. It is so awesome that OCD is not normal because now I know that life is not supposed to be like this!

I feel grateful that I am not alone. 

Nearly 1 in 100 people suffer from OCD. That means that out of my 250 Facebook friends, its possible that 3 of them are on the spectrum of OCD. Welcome to the circus, guys!

But really. Life with OCD can be very isolating just by nature alone. If I can't leave my house to go a girl's night because I'm not done cleaning, its hard to establish and maintain friendships. If I don't feel comfortable bringing my kids to a play date because they were sick a week ago and I have no way of knowing they are completely better, its hard to build a sense of community for my family. If I spend so much time thinking about the perfect response to a text so that I make sure that I don't accidentally say the wrong thing, eventually the "perfect" response time window passes and it becomes "too late" to respond. Because my brain recognizes that these thoughts and their accompanying actions don't make logical sense, I can't explain to anyone why I can't come to activities, why I didn't text or call back. It gets really lonely.

So yeah, knowing that there are people like me is comforting because it assures me that even though I may not be "normal" in the accepted sense, I'm totally normal for OCD. Yay! I'm 1% normal! I fit in somewhere.

What do I want people to know?

I am not afraid to talk about it

I don't mind questions. I invite them! It gives me an opportunity to talk about this new big deal in my life right now. So don't be afraid to ask me about how I'm feeling, or even ask about my OCD directly. It doesn't offend me. Offer support, words of kindness, a smile. I love that! So yes, its okay to ask and talk about it. It also helps me spread awareness about OCD, which brings me to my next point.

I want people to be educated

Two days after I discovered I had OCD, I saw someone use the hashtag #ocdlife on a picture of their kid organizing toys. Now I don't know if this person or their child has a legit clinical diagnosis of OCD or not, but for my intent and purpose, let's assume they don't.

Everyone has preferences. Clean, organized spaces are pleasurable and relaxing to be in, and generally people prefer their rooms, homes, and belongings clean and orderly. Maybe you feel inconvenienced or annoyed when things aren't put away or when toys are strewn over the floor. Maybe you even feel the need to pick up and clean as part of a nightly routine or when it gets really messy. But I want to be perfectly clear about the difference between a preference and compulsion.

OCD is an anxiety disorder. That means that life with OCD has an underlying feeling of fear that permeates every aspect of being. Unless you experience BOTH sides of OCD - the obsession and the compulsion, it is impossible to understand the depth of fear that OCD sufferers experience on a daily basis. OCD is not trendy, its not cool or cute, or even convenient. Its downright terrifying. Its the irrational feeling that unless you load the dishwasher in exactly the right way, the dishes won't be washed properly, and everyone in your home will die of a totally preventable disease and it will be entirely your fault. Could you live with yourself? What if doing one little thing, like moving the bowls to the right place, would save your family? Would you do it? Even if it was annoying? If your cutesy little organizing habit is logical, convenient, and is absent of fear, you have a preference. Not OCD.

Basically, you wouldn't lay out in the sun for a day and hashtag your tanning selfie with #melanoma. So don't #ocdlife anything unless you actually know what that means. *rant over*

Don't feel bad if you've done it. I have too! Here's proof:  This post was on my personal instagram account literally days before I found out I have the real deal! #irony

Anyway, being educated about mental illness helps because it does three things.

1. It helps you understand me. This helps you not take things personally. It allows you a glimpse into my life and an understanding of how I might be different from the other 99% of "normal" people. Being aware of OCD helps you know me better - my worries, my quirkiness, and my strengths.
2. It helps me express myself to others. Knowing that people have a frame of reference allows me to be open, honest, and forthcoming about my feelings and capabilities.
3. It reduces stigma and shame. Because you know me and how amazing I am despite my OCD, suddenly, mental illness becomes more acceptable and understood for what it is - a disease, not a definition. Another plus is that you won't #ocdlife anything inappropriately and get on my bad side. Its a win-win for everyone!

I am going to get better!

If you're sick of hearing me talk about my OCD, you better unfriend and unfollow me right now, because this thing is stickin' around. OCD is considered a chronic (meaning: lifetime) condition that has no cure and never goes completely away. I know. I'm totally bummed, too.

The wonderful news is that OCD sufferers can be helped and symptoms can be alleviated. Through medication and something called CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), relief is totally possible and realistic. I am meeting regularly with mental health pros that are helping me and making sure I'm safe and healthy. Its hard for me to express the massive sense of relief I have felt since meeting with a counselor. Its like I put on a pair of glasses that helped me see everything clearly for the first time. I feel so.much.better.

Friend, if you read this far, thank you! Thank you for caring, for being open and receptive. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your kind comments, your prayers, your questions, and even just your presence in my life. It means the world to me.

Want to know more about what its like to be #ocdlife*?

Cool! I have a million places to point you! Explore any of the links I've included above and the resources below and enjoy your trip down the rabbit hole!

Postpartum Progess has an amazing collection of resources for PPOCD (including this well-written peek into the mind of someone with it), as well as PPD and PPA. I highly recommend checking their site out!

Dr. Christina Hibbert has a blog about mental wellness and has a great series of posts on PPOCD.

When A Family Member Has OCD by John Hersfield, MFT is a wonderful book that helps families cope with OCD and love the person who has it. 

*No, I'm not over that yet. Obviously.
© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.