OCD - Explaining the fears to someone without OCD

This post has been thanked 2 times. 21 April 2014 - 13:31

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Location: London, England
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I've posted this before a long time ago but given some of the recent posts on the forum thought it useful to post it again.

It isn't easy for someone that hasn't experienced OCD first hand to understand just what we're going through. I also think that sometimes it can be harder for us to get our loved ones to understand than to get a relative stranger to understand the impact that it can have on our lives.

If I'm having problems with someone understanding I give them a very simple comparison to a fear that they might have experienced. For instance I might say something along the lines of:

"Have you ever been walking along and suddenly thought that you’d lost your purse/wallet? For a split second you get a really horrible feeling of blind panic and fear that can actually make you feel sick, but then once you’ve looked and found the purse/wallet that feeling quickly subsides and turns to relief. It’s a thought that popped in to your head for no particular reason and interrupted what you were doing at the time, but because your brain can manage to process the information/evidence that you’ve found it you are able to forget it and move on. Someone with OCD is unable to efficiently process that sort of information and so for them that initial feeling of blind panic and fear doesn’t subside instead it continues to escalate out of control as the brain desperately tries to find what it deems to be the correct information in order to calm down. And even though they might have the purse/wallet in their hand they’re still really not sure, furthermore as soon as they put it back in their bag/pocket the thought immediately returns and so they have to check again. They then get caught up in a loop of doubt and fear and it can go on for hours without subsiding. Unlike a simple worry, an obsessive or intrusive thought goes round and round in our head leaving little room for anything else, and it can rapidly become all consuming.

I also say imagine your worst fear and multiply it many times and this is how a person with OCD can feel. I’m petrified of heights but I would rather stand on the top of Canary Wharf than experience some of my OCD fears and thoughts as my fear of heights doesn’t frighten me anywhere near as much. Plus if I were to stand on the top of Canary Wharf, once I returned to the ground that fear would be gone and forgotten about but not so with my OCD fears.

OCD isn’t something that we choose to do, far from it, we do it because there’s a problem with the pathways in our brain that process this sort of information and it results in obsessions (the thoughts) and compulsions (what we do to try to reduce the anxiety). It’s an abnormal reaction to fear and we know that but part of our brain just won’t let it go. And the fact that we know this and can’t stop it makes it all the worse for us so increasing our anxiety. Telling us to stop just makes it worse as it increases the fear and doubt by antagonising the OCD instead we need those around us to understand that we can’t help what we do and to work with us and not against us."