The OCD Experience: What’s Living With This Mental Disorder Like?
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1% or more than 30 million Americans have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is also estimated that those with mental health disorders are three times as likely to abuse substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and prescription painkillers.
People who suffer from OCD may turn towards these drugs to manage or cope with their symptoms. However, as a result, this can make things worse, causing further health issues, and leading someone further down the path toward addiction.
The following information provides insight into what it feels like to experience a mental disorder such as OCD, and ways a person could receive treatment.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that can range from person to person. OCD can be described as an experience where one has irrational fears and thoughts that lead them into compulsive behaviors known as rituals.
It has been observed in some individuals as an obsession with cleaning or arranging objects, but it also includes fears such as germs and dirtiness; these symptoms are known clinically under the term “obsessions.”
Compulsive behaviors such as hand washing or arranging objects in specific ways are what some people with this mental illness commonly experience or feel compelled to do because of an intense psychological urge that builds up over time.
What Does OCD Feel Like?
Though OCD can vary, one thing about the disorder is somewhat consistent: Overwhelming thoughts are often at their root. For example, let’s say you leave the house and lock the door. On your ride to work, you begin having thoughts that you left the door unlocked. These thoughts can become so powerful that you begin to believe that you left the door unlocked when you didn’t.
As a result, a person with OCD will check the door is locked multiple times, as the urge in their mind becomes so overwhelming. Someone with severe OCD will experience this type of feeling several times a day, interrupting their daily life.
Intrusive thoughts can be hard to ignore, especially for someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Someone with OCD can lose control of their thoughts entirely. In this case, the mind becomes completely absorbed by obsessions.
In other words, The OCD experience involves having thoughts or impulses occur unwillingly. You likely do not want to be having these thoughts or ideas, but you can’t stop them. As mentioned, these thoughts can disrupt daily life and cause issues at home or work.
Naturally, people tend to deal with obsessive thoughts by using compulsions or performing rituals, to make the obsessions go away. The vicious cycle of OCD roots itself deeply since these compulsions are intrusive.
This situation can cause someone to be riddled with anxiety. Anxiety and OCD often co-occur with each other, which is often the reason OCD can be so disruptive and all-consuming. The vicious cycle of OCD generally works in this order:
- Obsessive thoughts
- Compulsive behaviors
- Temporary relief
What Are The Symptoms Of OCD?
What does it feel like to live with OCD? symptoms can be classified into five themes. While these themes do not cover every single obsession, the five themes that fall within the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorder are:
- Fear of dirt or contamination
- Difficulty tolerating uncertainty; constant doubting
- Requiring things to be symmetrical or orderly
- Awful thoughts about the loss of control or potentially harming yourself or others
- Unwanted and unreasonable thoughts, including sexual, religious, or aggressive subjects
Examples of these obsessions include:
- Not wanting to touch objects other people have touched due to contamination
- Doubts that you turned off the stove, locked the door, or similar scenarios
- Severe stress when particular objects aren’t facing a certain way
- Cognitive images of you driving your car into people
- Urges to act inappropriately in public, thoughts about shouting vulgarities
- Sexual images
- Avoiding situations that may trigger OCD, including shaking hands or touching certain things
How Does A Person’s OCD Affect Their Lifestyle?
OCD can be an overwhelming experience for many people. One individual’s OCD may differ completely from another’s, but they deal with obsessions and compulsions that take up hours of their day, oftentimes to the point where it negatively impacts family or social relationships as well education/employment opportunities.
Obsessive fears can make it difficult for people with this condition to perform normal daily responsibilities. In many cases, OCD often co-occurs or has similar symptoms of other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and more. That’s why it’s important to speak with a mental health professional, so they can accurately provide a correct diagnosis and treatment plan.
Are OCD Thoughts Real?
People with OCD may have a difficult time realizing their thoughts are just that: Thoughts. People who experience intrusive, abnormal, and repetitive thought patterns often go unnoticed because they find themselves constantly focused on them instead of what’s happening around them or in front of them.
For example, driving to work every day when your mind is preoccupied with negative images about getting into an accident or washing your hands. Intrusive thoughts can take many different forms such as memories, sensations, urges, or ideas. As a result, uncertainty leads to a strong distress response.
Tolerating the distress and when the mind goes on high alert is difficult. At this point in an individual’s OCD experience, they feel a need to act out these thoughts in order to protect themselves if their thoughts or perceptions were ever confirmed true.
What Can Trigger The OCD Experience?
The cause of OCD is still an unanswered question. However, scientists have found links between inflammatory biomarkers and this mental illness which requires further investigation before it can be confirmed as a solid theory. Other than forms of mental illness such as this one being genetic, some theories about the causes of OCD include:
- People experiencing anxiety begin using compulsions as a learned behavior. Once associated with relief from anxiety, the behavior becomes repetitive and looks like an expression of OCD.
- Hereditary and genetic factors pass on OCD.
- People with OCD have functional and structural abnormalities in the brain.
- Symptoms associated with OCD stem from distorted beliefs that are continually reinforced.
OCD is likely the result of a complex interplay between many different risk factors. It can affect anyone, but it varies from person to person in their symptoms and severity.
What Happens If OCD Is Left Untreated?
The brain is a complicated organ. It’s not always easy to understand why some people with mild forms of OCD can adapt and others suffer from more severe symptoms over time if untreated. As you age, attempts at avoiding triggers might become more intense and lead to further health complications.
Compulsions can drive individuals subconsciously. As OCD compulsions worsen, you may find that you:
- Avoid gatherings
- Avoid going outside unnecessarily
- Stop visiting particular friends or family members
- Have difficulty focusing on work because you are consumed by thoughts
- Isolate yourself
- Engage in compulsions that interfere with hobbies and other activities
- Miss school or work due to avoiding triggers
OCD and addiction are common co-occurring disorders that require professional intervention. In severe cases, some people with OCD look to substances to numb their symptoms. Little Creek Recovery offers a dual diagnosis program designed to help people with OCD and addiction.
Treatment For OCD
Though there’s no finite cure for OCD, many treatments can help manage even the most intense symptoms. Treatments may include individualized therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure and response prevention training (ERP). The process is often gradual, and it begins with less intensive triggers. Consistent exposure can help prevent compulsions and reduce the anxiety that surrounds the triggers. For some people medication such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is also an option.
These therapies help people with OCD learn to change their patterns of behaviors, beliefs, and thinking. Clinical professionals help their clients by promoting control over their symptoms. During therapy sessions, the specialist may even expose their client to situations that trigger their obsessions, but give them the tools and resources they need to be able to reduce their avoidance and compulsive behaviors in real-life situations.
In addition, people can get relief through holistic practices such as yoga and meditation, which are useful in lowering stress and anxiety levels and regulating one’s thoughts and emotions. As no case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is the same, the best chance at living optimally with OCD is to talk to a mental health professional.
Most importantly, support groups are available for people with OCD. Evidence shows that meetings provide individuals suffering from mental illness with multiple benefits. Support groups consist of a community of individuals dealing with similar issues, proving that no one is alone on their mental health journey.
Find Help With Little Creek Recovery Center
Here at Little Creek, we strive to offer treatments that target OCD and other co-occurring disorders. We provide a range of mental health services designed to help our clients develop tools to manage their mental health while recovering from mental conditions and addiction.
If you would like to learn more about the services we offer, and how we can help you or a loved one get their life back from the cycle of OCD, please contact us today.