Living with OCD
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) often develops in childhood and adolescent years. It can begin as a form of self-soothing, to situations where there is a feeling of being out of control.
OCD is often described as a disorder of the brain that adversely affects a person’s behaviour and causes intense anxiety.
OCD feels like your mind getting stuck on a certain thought or image, which plays over and over, no matter what you do to distract yourself. This leads to a downward spiral of anxiety, which alerts your brain to danger. However with OCD, the warning system in the brain does not work properly, causing your mind to alert you to danger when none exists. The anxiety emotion tells you to react and do something to protect yourself, therefore developing a ritual as a result of attempting to stop the discomfort.
OCD rituals are unique to each person; however the most common ones reported are connected with cleaning, checking and hoarding. For example if there was a fear around contamination, this may lead to a person with OCD constantly washing; either washing a certain number of times or until it feels ‘right’ to stop. In some cases this can lead to dermatitis or infections. Another way to control the fear of contamination is by not coming into contact with others; effecting work and the ability to leave the house. OCD can spiral very quickly becoming bigger and bigger until it takes over day to day functioning, and this is when it becomes a serious problem.
By repeating rituals there is a self-soothing effect, calming the thought process. Even though you may realise on some level your behaviour seems strange, the fear and anxiety feels very real and extremely intense, thus you will do anything, even something illogical in order to seek relief.
These compulsions can become extremely excessive interfering with normal life, leading to more anxiety when not completed or performed ‘correctly’. Therefore OCD is a disorder that can take over your life, and can be debilitating when forming or maintaining relationships.
Friendships can suffer as a result of OCD; it can lead to the person with OCD isolating themselves out of embarrassment, exhaustion or time pressure to complete the rituals. Both the pressure and exhaustion make it difficult to interact with others in social situations, leading to loneliness. Isolation worsens when the individual avoids leaving home because of the anxiety surrounding public situations, which may trigger the need to perform rituals.
In intimate relationships the partner without OCD is often put in an awkward position, trying to understand and accommodate behaviours which seem strange and illogical. Many compromises and sacrifices are made, often causing resentment and friction within the relationship.
However the partner with the OCD can often feel conflicted, in knowing they need the help of someone that they can confide in and trust, yet knowing that the other partner cannot truly understand how much the illness controls their actions.
The partner with the OCD can also feel angry when a ‘rule’ is broken or ignored by the other. This anger may lead to friction in the relationship; the person with OCD may become violent, hostile or passive aggressive. Additionally they also may feel guilty for disrupting their loved one's lives, turning anger inwards and self-blaming.
The partner without OCD can be confused and unsure on how to handle everyday situations, either using ‘tough love’ or changing their lives to accommodate their partner’s rituals. When you live with a partner with a mental health disorder, it can often feel that you share the disorder with them, and can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, being trapped or controlled. Equally it can be extremely debilitating and upsetting to see a loved one in torment and not knowing how to help.
After years of living with OCD, a tremendous amount of strain is put on the relationship. It can lead to feelings of resentment, especially if the partner without OCD has been restricted in their life, and their enjoyment of certain things has been affected due to their partner's fears.
OCD can cause relationships to fail; losing partners, family or friends who do not understand the disorder. However there are also many people who rise up to the challenges of OCD, and become closer and better people despite it.
OCD can place strain on not only a person’s mental health but physical health too; exhaustion from performing the rituals, stress and anxiety all play their part, and this can lead to heart disease, ulcers, infections and other stress responses.
The longer you suffer with the effects of OCD without support, the more you'll feel powerless and out of control; reducing empowerment, self-esteem and can lead to feelings of depression and further mental health problems.
When OCD is a part of your life; whether a sufferer, partner, friend or family member to the condition, you need to arm yourself with as much information and education about the illness as possible. By visiting health professionals more options can become open to you, medical treatments and therapy support can assist families, couples and suffers, so you can learn how to live your life with OCD, rather than OCD controlling your life.