Have you ever felt like you were all alone in your struggles with OCD? Like the intrusive thoughts or compulsions you were experiencing were too shameful to share, or that no one could possibly understand? Sadly, this loneliness is a common experience. Symptoms of OCD may consume a lot of time and energy, making it difficult to reach out to loved ones, or may be disruptive and upsetting in a way that can impact your ability to socialize.
So what can someone who’s suffering do about these deep feelings of isolation? How can you feel more connected to others? To start, it’s important to understand that the most effective ways to counteract loneliness will differ from person to person. Too often, we compare our situations to those of others, but this only serves to make us feel more alone. Your journey is unique, and the following steps should be tailored to your own perspective and value system.
Step 1: Join an OCD community
It may seem simple, but it’s incredibly powerful. Hearing other people’s stories can have a profound impact. Everyone has their own unique journey to face, but we can all find comfort in knowing that there are many people who’ve faced similar challenges and found relief from struggling with OCD. To hear about how someone has found the strength to move towards their values, even in the face of fear, can be truly inspirational.
And thankfully, finding people who get what you’re going through is easier than it has ever been. On the NOCD platform, you can access peer communities where you can connect with others at a similar life stage or find motivation from people experiencing similar OCD themes. For NOCD Therapy members, there’s also an exclusive community feed where you can share the questions, victories, and challenges of treatment with people who understand.
Finding support groups specifically focused on OCD and related conditions is another great way to connect with the OCD community. NOCD offers dozens of support groups for members at no extra charge, with meetings nearly every day of the week. You can join groups focusing on specific stages in your OCD journey, from being newly diagnosed to living in recovery, or groups with specific themes, like co-occurring conditions or skills and values.
Social media offers additional opportunities to find connection with the OCD community. Accounts that advocate and raise awareness of mental health topics can be found by the dozens, and you can follow the ones that resonate with your experiences and value system. Whether you’re engaging in conversations or observing, this can be equally beneficial. Knowing there are platforms where you can safely discuss your experiences or hear others talk about theirs allows you to feel less alone.
Step 2: Tell your story
By making the brave decision to be vulnerable and share your experiences, you might give someone the inspiration they need in their own life. Too often, shame and guilt keep people with OCD from talking about their own symptoms. When you help yourself by opening up about your story with OCD, you’re also helping others by leading the way for them to share their own stories.
I always tell the people I work with in therapy that part of what we do in OCD treatment is “speak the unspeakable,” a saying borrowed from the many years of trauma treatment I’ve provided. Speaking the unspeakable means talking openly about the fears that have held us captive for so long. When we do this, it can have enormous benefits. Sometimes, just hearing an obsession in our own voice can help us see through what OCD is telling us. Saying things out loud often releases the powerful hold that they have on our lives.
Remember, everyone is different, and there’s no right or wrong way to share your experiences. Telling your story may look like just sharing some of your less personal experiences in a safe community, or with a close friend. It could also look like actively going outside of your comfort zone in therapy to say the hard things. Whatever it looks like for you is what matters.
Step 3: Do the work—and keep doing it
This may sound like a no-brainer, but many people feel they only need to go “so far” in learning to manage OCD. They may believe that doing anything more than what they’ve already done in treatment would just be too much. I know because I was one of these people. I thought that I had already done so many difficult things. I had accomplished things I never thought would be possible, and that made it tempting to decide that no more work was needed.
As time went on, I realized that the work of therapy never really ends. It’s a process. It changes and involves different techniques at different times, but it doesn’t end—and as surprising as it may sound, that’s actually a good thing. It means that we’re always growing. 29 years after receiving an OCD diagnosis, I am still learning and challenging myself. That ongoing growth is what it means to be “living in recovery.”
I am also not ashamed to say that I’m still a work in progress. I still have hard days where I give into compulsions or just don’t feel like fighting OCD. There are still some things I avoid. The key is that I try. I make an effort to recognize these behaviors and address them, most of the time. We are the sum of what we do “most of the time.” If I can resist compulsions for the most part, then I’m doing pretty well. The idea is that we’re constantly moving towards the goal of living our lives the way we want to live them, and not being controlled or isolated by any mental health condition.
Giving yourself grace at every step
It can be difficult to feel lonely. In difficult moments, it’s essential to practice self-kindness. Blaming ourselves for feeling alone won’t help us now or in the future. Giving ourselves grace will. The goal isn’t to never feel lonely again—after all, everyone feels lonely from time to time. The goal is to feel less isolated and less lonely more often, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about achieving that. As you practice reconnecting with the world around you, before you know it, you’ll start to live in the moment more often.
Finding support for feelings of loneliness
If you’re dealing with loneliness that feels difficult to overcome, know that you don’t have to face it alone. There is a whole community of people with similar experiences to yours. The stories of the OCD community prove that not only can you live a fulfilling life moving toward your values, but that treatment can be a powerful source of support in helping you get there.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a specialty-trained, qualified, and licensed OCD specialist can help you develop tools to face fear, guilt, and shame, and empower you to find connection with others outside of treatment. A successful ERP therapist will guide, support, and motivate you to achieve your goals. They will not only show you empathy and compassion, but more importantly, teach you to be kinder and gentler with yourself.
If you have any questions about starting ERP therapy or need more information about the treatment, please don’t hesitate to book a free 15-minute call with our team. On the call, we’ll assist you in either getting started with a licensed therapist at NOCD who has specialty training in OCD and ERP or connect you to other resources that might be helpful.