With a debilitating condition like OCD, sometimes it can feel like you’re always in survival mode. In my experience as both someone with OCD and as a therapist who treats others with the condition, we often have to be very creative, especially when it comes to getting the reassurance that OCD causes us to desperately seek. Meanwhile, shame and stigma may cause us to hide our symptoms as much as possible. We can become stealthy at hiding safety-seeking rituals. We find ways to avoid feeling discomfort.
We do all this in an attempt to protect ourselves, but what we may not realize is that not only does this ultimately make the condition worse, but it also takes a significant toll on us. Unfortunately, these are some of the many unseen difficulties that many individuals with OCD face. OCD can affect so many areas of a person’s life, and it would be impossible to list all of the ways in which it can have a negative impact.
The great toll untreated OCD takes
Living in a constant state of anxiety is not healthy. It is not uncommon for people with OCD to suffer from other mental health problems, like depression, as a result of their OCD symptoms. People with OCD may isolate themselves, and prefer to be alone. They may make excuses not to engage in activities that could cause them discomfort.
Their physical health can also be impaired. High blood pressure that is caused by stress is a risk, weight gain or loss due to compulsions, headaches, stomach aches, sleep issues, and irritability can all play a role in the experience of a mental illness like OCD.
People who struggle with OCD may develop substance abuse issues or other unhealthy coping mechanisms in an attempt to combat the intense feelings that OCD causes. Relationships with loved ones can be strained. School and work can be negatively impacted, and some may even drop out or quit.
Here are a few other example scenarios of unseen difficulties people experience:
Examples of unseen difficulties in OCD
For as long as William can remember, he has always had a fear of chemicals. It started when he was young; as early as age 6, he would avoid any cleaning products. As he grew into an adult, he started exclusively buying non-toxic cleaning supplies. He would spend hours researching the safest ones. These products often cost twice as much as regular cleaning products. This worked well for many years until he married his wife. She took over the shopping and began to purchase standard cleaning products. It didn’t take long for William’s anxiety to creep up and cause frequent panic. Rather than share what he was experiencing, due to shame and a fear of being seen as “weird,” he told his wife a small white lie: He told her that he was allergic to certain chemicals and that they would have to adopt his way of avoiding the things he felt afraid of. Of course, she was sympathetic and the “problem” was solved. However, William continued to live with this nagging guilt of lying to the person he loved the most, and by continuing his avoidance, the anxiety he felt due to OCD became worse over time.
Bethany is a hard-working, dedicated professional. She spent years earning her nursing degree. She has always wanted to help others, and this seemed like an important thing she could do to give back. Growing up, her sister struggled with multiple health problems and the nurses they encountered were always so helpful. This led Bethany to want to be that person in other people’s lives. But it all changed in nursing school: Bethany became consumed with thoughts about spreading diseases or getting one herself. She was particularly distraught over blood-borne illnesses. She always did all of the standard safety precautions, but it never felt like enough. Her work was severely slowed down by her extensive washing and decontamination rituals. One day at work, she was so consumed with the fear of getting blood on her that she almost made a serious mistake. This wasn’t the first time. Another time she was late getting to an emergency situation because she was engaged in her OCD rituals. No one at work was aware of what she was struggling with, and she was constantly coming up with excuses as to why she was late or why something took her twice as long to complete. She has missed over 10 days of work in the past two months due to stress, and no one at her workplace knows what is causing it.
Finn is a lawyer. He is consumed with worries that he will lie in the courtroom. He spends hours upon hours articulating exactly how he wants to ask questions. He can stay up all night prior to a big court date rehearsing how exactly he should ask things. Sometimes his clients tell him things that he is very uncomfortable with. He knows that what they tell him is confidential and yet he feels an intense urge to confess the truth, but he knows he would lose his job if he did this. He also feels intense guilt that he may have done poor work in the past and this may have led to someone innocent going to prison or someone guilty being set free. He lives in a constant state of internal turmoil. He walks around in a haze of exhaustion. He barely has time to do anything that isn’t work-related. His physical health also suffers; recently found out that he has high blood pressure and stomach ulcers, but he has never told anyone else about the struggles he deals with daily. His colleagues merely see him as exceptionally hard-working and stressed.
Jay has had OCD most of his life. It impacts the way he eats. He can only eat a very limited selection of food due to intrusive thoughts that have developed over the years. He is extremely particular about how his food is prepared and the safety precautions that are involved in making food. People have commented on his particular diet, but he often brushes it off. He tells them he just likes to be healthy, even though he understands that his eating habits actually have a negative impact on his overall health. He refuses to eat in his own home, going to great lengths to find only the “safest” and cleanest restaurants in town. This has led him to only have two places where he feels safe to eat. On a typical day, he will skip breakfast and lunch and will only eat out for dinner. Once he is home he will not eat, fearing that he cannot adequately prepare his own food, or that if he did it would just be too exhausting. Jay spends almost a lot of money on food each week. He eats the same food day after day because that is the only food that feels comfortable. He has tried to eat other food in the past to “snap out of it,” but it always makes him highly anxious, and he stops immediately. No one really knows about this issue, as he is too embarrassed to share it with anyone. When on his lunch breaks, he makes excuses as to why he won’t eat. Due to his extreme diet, Jay is malnourished and often feels sick or tired.
ERP can help
The good news is that OCD doesn’t have to take this toll on you forever. Once you find effective treatment, you can find your freedom back. You’ll see that OCD doesn’t have to dictate what you need to do. You can live a happier, healthier, and more meaningful life again.
Through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, you can learn to tolerate anxiety and discomfort and learn how to sit with the feelings that intrusive thoughts may cause you without doing compulsions. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment is an OCD specialist with training in ERP.
An OCD specialist will focus on the root issue—OCD. Treating that core issue, in turn, treats the anxiety and can help you address the other areas of your life where OCD is taking a toll. As you begin your treatment journey with an OCD specialist, they’ll provide you with a personalized and structured plan for ERP that’s tailored to your unique needs and goals.
At NOCD, our therapists specialize in OCD and ERP and receive ERP-specific training and ongoing guidance from our clinical leadership team. Your therapist will teach you the skills needed to begin your OCD recovery journey, all while supporting you every step of the way. They will guide you in taking small steps to reach your goals.
If you’re ready to tackle the unseen difficulties of OCD and want to conquer this debilitating disorder, we’re here for you. Our team of therapists at NOCD is passionate about treating OCD and is trained by world-renowned experts. To learn more about working with a NOCD therapist, schedule a free call with our care team.