Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

What does OCD feel like?

By Stacy Quick, LPC

Jun 30, 20237 minute read

This question can be answered in a million different ways, to a million different people, yet to truly understand obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), one must ask those who have experienced it firsthand. This debilitating disorder has been a subject of deep misunderstanding, puzzled some of the most brilliant scholars, and has become much more mainstream over the years, even becoming a household phrase that is used completely inaccurately.

I’ll try to give you an accurate picture of what OCD is truly like—not what common stereotypes would lead you to believe—drawing from my experiences both suffering from OCD and treating it for years as a specialty-trained therapist. 

Roger’s experience

Roger was healthy and happy as a child. He grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and home. His life was fairly “normal” if such a thing exists. He can think of no significant trauma, nothing out of the ordinary about his life. But there was something different, something lurking behind his ordinary life. 

Around the age of ten or eleven, he began to have things pop into his head that bothered him. He didn’t quite understand it. Looking back, he says, he now knows that these were intrusive thoughts.  Back then, though, he says that these were the most awful things he could ever imagine. He was confused and unsure what to do about it. He felt ashamed, like he couldn’t speak of the things that were going on in his head. He feared if he did that he would be called “crazy”—or even worse, that he would be “sent away.” 

Somewhere along the way, he was able to come up with certain things he could do or say to rid himself of the intense emotions that the thoughts made him feel. He was able to somehow “undo” the thoughts. It was as if he could magically feel better and make the thoughts untrue.

His go-to method of erasing the thoughts was to move his hand in front of his mouth, almost like a mental eraser. He needed to do this until it felt good enough. It was different each time, but usually, he had to perform this movement in a very specific way for it to feel complete. Once he did he could move on with his day, until the next time his distressing thoughts returned. Over time, however, the thoughts came more and more. It was as if each erased thought brought two more soon after, and his ritualistic coping behavior took up more and more of his time and energy. 

Later on, when Roger entered high school, he started encountering some social issues. It had become nearly impossible to hide his “erasing” rituals from others. He used to ask for passes to go to the bathroom when at school, but this had become excessive and they removed that privilege, unaware that he wasn’t just trying to skip out on class.

Eventually, he was able to settle on doing the “erasing” in his head, focusing very hard and mentally erasing the thoughts. This helped him to conceal it from others, but did little to help his concentration. Before he knew it, he was failing most of his classes. His days were filled with mental erasing. He was exhausted, becoming depressed and overwhelmed by the rituals that he once felt were keeping him safe and comfortable. 

Do these symptoms sound familiar? Learn how you can overcome them.

At NOCD, we know how overwhelming OCD symptoms can feel. You’re not on your own, and you can talk to a specialist who has experience treating OCD.

Learn more

Emmy’s story

Emmy has always been a bit of a worrywart. She was scared to venture out and try new things, stayed more to herself, and was considered anxious by most. However, she was still able to go on with her life and function with great success. 

That all changed in her early twenties. She had successfully completed her college program and landed an excellent job at a hospital. She studied business, so she wasn’t actually involved in patient care. The first week or so were great: she loved her co-workers and felt that it was a good fit. She was excited about her future. 

Then it happened. One day she was walking by a patient’s room, as she had done several times in the past. The thought hit her like a ton of bricks, “What if I just did something to that patient to cause them to die?” Her mind began racing. That was absurd, wasn’t it? What would she have possibly done? She hadn’t even entered the room, had she? She was overcome with a sense of terror. She ran into the nearest bathroom and began to cry. She wondered why that thought was even there, unless she actually wanted to do something to harm that person. From that moment on, she was bombarded with more and more similar thoughts. 

Before she knew it, she was avoiding going anywhere outside of her office. When asked to bring something to a location that required her to go near patient rooms she would make excuses and come up with creative ways to avoid it. And if she absolutely had to, she made sure to have a coworker with her as she passed patients’ rooms. Deep down Emmy knew this was just a ruse, though—a way to make her feel better and to avoid her horrible thoughts. If someone was with her, she reasoned that they could confirm she didn’t hurt anyone. 

Before long, the peace Emmy felt from avoidance seemed troublingly incomplete, and she sought other ways to feel sure that she couldn’t do any harm. She began keeping very detailed records of her day-to-day activities. Everything was to be written down, this way she knew exactly what she was doing, at all times. That was the problem, she never felt sure enough that she hadn’t missed something or that there wasn’t a snippet of time that wasn’t accounted for. She worried that during that precise moment when she failed to write down what she was doing, she may have caused someone to be harmed. 

Eventually, exhausted, and feeling defeated, Emmy rallied the other employees and requested videotaped surveillance to be put into place. She convinced everyone that it was for security purposes, but really it was for her own peace of mind. If everything was videotaped, then surely she couldn’t have done anything that would have harmed someone.

No matter what your journey looks like, there is hope

These stories are just two of the many heartbreaking experiences that people with OCD can struggle with. Some of these struggles may be harder to see than others, but all of them can be painful and confusing. The good news is that the symptoms in both of these anecdotes, like any symptoms of OCD, are very treatable.

Still, many people with OCD do not seek out help because of fear or embarrassment. Maybe they feel ashamed or guilty, or worry that they will be misdiagnosed, mistreated, or both. These are common fears. That is why it is so important to make sure that you see a professional who is very familiar with OCD and who specializes in treating the disorder. 

If you’re struggling with obsessions and compulsions and are tired of OCD calling the shots in your life, we can help you start your own recovery journey. Our licensed therapists at NOCD deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, the most effective treatment.

We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs—which means the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with a licensed therapist and get started with OCD treatment.

NOCD Therapy user on phone

Conquer OCD with NOCD Therapy

World-class OCD treatment covered by insurance

NOCD Therapy can help you live the life you want to live, not the life OCD wants you to live.

Learn more

We specialize in treating OCD

Reach out to us. We're here to help.

Use insurance to access world-class
treatment with an OCD specialist