My son Dan was fearful of driving and hesitant to take driving lessons. Having driven with him a bit, my husband and I could see he was a conscientious, cautious driver and we encouraged him to work toward this important goal, which he did. We didn't know at the time that he was struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whether you have OCD or not, driving can be scary. It's a huge responsibility, and one mistake could mean the difference between life and death. Every time we get behind the wheel our lives are at stake. When you think about it, it's a wonder any of us have the courage to drive at all! When you think about it.
I've been an advocate for OCD awareness for almost ten years now and while I feel that some progress has been made in the public's understanding of the disorder, we still have a long way to go. One of the more difficult concepts to get across, I believe, is just how debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder can be. Maybe because many people, on some level, can relate to some of the more common obsessions and compulsions, they also believe they "know how those with OCD feel." Perhaps these people are afraid of germs or everything has to be "just so." But in reality, unless they actually have obsessive-compulsive disorder, they have no idea of the torment those with OCD experience. One aspect of OCD that I believe falls into this category is indecision. For whatever reason, I seem to be coming across more and more people with OCD (and those with depression as well) who are affected by this issue. But not affected like those of us without OCD. While those of us without the disorder might agonize over important decisions and possibly even lose a night's sleep, those with OCD might be paralyzed with fear over any decision - large or small.
With Valentine's Day approaching, it seems like a good time to bring up the topic of OCD and dating. I've previously written about the heartache relationship OCD (R-OCD) can cause, and it's certainly not hard to see how having obsessive-compulsive disorder can affect all aspects of dating. Indeed, the presence of any illness can easily complicate relationships. Of course, each relationship comes with its unique issues, so there is no "one size fits all" playbook to handle the presence of OCD. There are, however, questions I feel should always be considered: When (not if) should you tell your sweetheart about your obsessive-compulsive disorder? Although those with OCD are very good at hiding their symptoms, I think beginning a relationship based on dishonesty is never a good idea. Your partner will realize something is up, and by this point, you will likely have already told a good number of lies to cover up your OCD. In my opinion, as soon as you realize your relationship is likely more than a one or two date thing, it's time to discuss your OCD.
I've written before about the fact that there really are no "OCD thoughts." As I explain in this post: "...when you get right down to it, there’s OCD, and there are thoughts, but there are no OCD thoughts." Certainly disturbing thoughts might be more vivid, intense, and frequent in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the content of these obsessions is typically no different from those who do not have OCD. You name it, most of us have thought it! It's our reaction to these thoughts that differs. I wrote the post mentioned above because I felt it was important for those without OCD to understand that people who do have the disorder do not have thoughts that are any "wilder and crazier" than the rest of us. There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding obsessive-compulsive disorder that I felt it was critical to set the record straight regarding "OCD thoughts." What I didn't think about at the time was how crucial it is for those who actually have OCD to understand that their thoughts should not, and cannot, be divided into "regular thoughts" and "OCD thoughts." Thoughts are thoughts. Period.
There is so much focus on family and spending time together during the holidays. Lots has been written about how to get along with those difficult relatives that, thankfully, you only need to interact with once or twice a year. You figure if you can just get through it, you're good for another year!
But what if that "difficult relative" lives with you? What if he or she is...
I've written before about issues that might arise during the holiday season for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you or a loved one has OCD, I recommend checking out my article. At the very least, if you are struggling you will know that you are not alone. As I reflect upon this past year, both personally, professionally, and globally, I realize that as with every other year, there were ups and there were downs. I feel lucky to have so many blessings in my own life; at the top of the list are my wonderful family and friends. But I've also had my challenges in 2016. Haven't we all? Isn't this in fact, LIFE? The highs, the lows, and everything in between.
As most of us know, overcoming obsessive-compulsive disorder is no easy task. It takes hard work, enormous effort, courage, and dedication. When those with OCD regain control of their lives, it is reason to celebrate. It is an amazing accomplishment - which is why when a relapse occurs, it can be heartbreaking. In this wonderful article written by Dr. James Claiborn, a relapse is defined "...as a return to the same level of symptoms as before treatment." Basically, the person with OCD is back where he or she started. Relapsing should not be confused with a lapse, which is a temporary and/or partial return of some symptoms. I am incredibly thankful that my son Dan has not relapsed since overcoming severe obsessive-compulsive disorder almost seven years ago. Has he lapsed? I'm sure he has. He still has OCD and while he has the tools to fight and manage his disorder, there are times when anxiety takes over and it's just too difficult to do what is necessary to keep OCD at bay. But it's not the end of the world, and I think Dan realizes this. Similar to a dieter who has one piece of chocolate cake, it's a lapse. You acknowledge it, accept it, don't beat yourself up over it, and strive to do better tomorrow.
It is widely accepted that the causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder involve both genetic and environmental factors, and this theory has been supported by research. While OCD has been known to "run in families," this doesn't really tell us whether genes or environment plays a more prominent role in the development of the disorder. Studying twins who were separated at birth affords us the opportunity to separate these two factors. Unfortunately, as far as I know, OCD has never been studied in this manner. There is no shortage, however, of twins with OCD who've been raised together, and I find their experiences fascinating. While their stories might not give us the answers we are looking for (in fact, I think they raise even more questions), they highlight the agony of OCD - times two.
In this article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, mental imagery is defined as: ...the experience of conscious contents that possesses sensory properties and therefore resembles actual perceptual experience. The perceptual properties can be visual but can also cover other sensory modalities such as tactile, acoustic, or somatic experience. In contrast to cognitions, mental images are not purely verbal or abstract. In other words, we see, hear, or feel something without the presence of the corresponding external stimuli.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. In addition to spending time with my family, I’ve just always loved the idea of a day set aside to be thankful for all that we have. Mindfulness at its best! I am so thankful that my son Dan continues to do well, eight years after severe obsessive-compulsive disorder completely debilitated him. I am grateful that Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015, continues to educate and inspire people. I am also thankful that as an advocate for OCD awareness, I am able to connect with those whose lives have been affected, in one way or another, by OCD. But there is so much work left to do. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is still widely misrepresented, misunderstood, and mistreated. It continues to boggle my mind that so many people are not even aware of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the first line psychological treatment for OCD as recommended by the American Psychological Association.