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viewpoint

The dark side of OCD

| Wednesday, October 7, 2015

When I was a kid, my mom tells me, we were driving on a steep path up the side of the mountain. My mom, always the nervous one, said, “Don’t you ever look at those cliffs and want to drive right off them?”

My dad looked at her in shock and said, “No!” I looked at her with a profound sense of recognition and said, “Yes!”

Intrusive thoughts — the urges to do bad things precisely because you know they’re bad — are hard to explain to anyone who’s never had them. They’re thoughts like, “What if I stabbed myself with this kitchen knife?”, “What if I shouted obscenities during church?“, “What if I dropped this baby?”

Often violent or sexual, they take the form of whatever you’re most afraid of thinking. For some people, they’re a mere annoyance, a minor symptom of depression and anxiety disorders. But for others, they turn into a horrific form of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Primarily Obsessional OCD, or Pure-O, is what happens when these thoughts torment and terrify you without end. The name is misleading; the sufferer usually does perform compulsions, but they’re mental compulsions, like seeking reassurance, silently repeating a phrase or going over the incident in your head to prove that you’re not “bad.”

I spent two years suffering from this disorder without having any idea that it existed. Like many sufferers I’ve met, I believed I was disturbed and dangerous and that if I confessed the content of my thoughts to anybody, I would be locked up.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. When I finally did confess my thoughts to a therapist, she was compassionate and understanding. She taught me how to recognize these thoughts as just thoughts, not desires, and to move past them.

During Mental Illness Awareness Week, it’s especially important people be educated on these lesser-known disorders. Had I known then what I know now, I could have saved myself years of misery, fear and self-hatred. I encourage anyone suffering from these thoughts to reach out for help and to remember you are not alone.

Hanna Crooks
senior
Howard Hall

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Thank you for bringing attention to OCD which is often misunderstood and misrepresented. I’d just like to clarify that those with OCD never act on their obsessions and in fact find them repulsive. I’d also like to let everyone know that OCD, no matter how severe is treatable and the front line psychological approach to treating it is a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) known as exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. My son had OCD so severe he could not even eat, and ERP literally saved his life.Today he is a young man living life to the fullest. I recount
    my family’s story in my critically acclaimed book, Overcoming OCD: A Journey to
    Recovery (Rowman & Littlefield, January 2015) and discuss all aspects of
    the disorder on my blog at ocdtalk. There truly is hope for
    all those who suffer from this insidious disorder!