OCD is a Superpower

Sorry if you thought this was going to be a motivational post. It’s not. OCD gives me the following not-so-awesome superpowers:

  • To create problems where problems don’t exist, simply because I’m worried they will happen and end up causing them.
  • To feel like something is not right, or perhaps horribly wrong, when in fact things are pretty normal and OK.
  • To constantly have to filter out lots of nonsense messages, and if I’m not lucky (which is most of the time) my brain continues to send them repeatedly, despite me wishing they would stop.
  • I can second-guess things like you wouldn’t believe. I second-guess, then second-guess my second-guessing, then second-guess that. Then I second-guess the notion that I’ve even been second-guessing at all.
  • To not be able to stop thinking about a problem until it is solved. This might sound like a good thing, and sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s a pain because whatever my brain decides is a problem, isn’t necessarily a problem at all. And sometimes it is a problem, but an intrinsically unsolvable one. Don’t try telling my brain that, though.

So yeah. Give me a cape already. I’m a superhero of doing useless things.

The Graves of Pandas

So I’m up late, reading about random things, and I find these studies. They’re interesting because my mom had symptoms of classic OCD, and also suffered from the autoimmune hyperthyroidism called Graves’ disease. She was being treated for Graves’ with radioactive iodine while pregnant with me, because she didn’t know she was pregnant. So far my thyroid levels have never been off, and the doctor checked them pretty religiously when I was a kid. I haven’t kept up with it as much as I should, probably, but I know they were checked well during both of my recent pregnancies.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1786794 — “OCD and the study of thyroid function”

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Children%27s+tics,+OCD+linked+to+moms%27+autoimmune+disease.-a0262583935 — “Children’s tics, OCD linked to moms’ autoimmune disease”

I don’t think I have thyroid problems right now, but the potential link between OCD and tics to autoimmune disease in general is interesting — but not surprising when one considers those fluffy, lovable PANDAS.


Eh, I don’t know about this eHow page. It says “How to Distinguish Between Autism and OCD.”

“Understand that both autism and OCD are characterized by obsessions and compulsions.” Really? “Obsessions” which are simply enjoyable, fixated interests are not technically true obsessions. There is also a difference between a compulsion and a self-stimulating behavior.

“Know that autism has been strongly linked to genetic components, while OCD is often a response to life experiences.” Um — as far as I understand, both often have genetic components. If anything, OCD’s genetic link is stronger — especially when you factor in the odds of people with Tourette’s having a relative with OCD. But it is true that some people with OCD develop it after a traumatic experience and it is an anxiety disorder, not a pervasive developmental disorder.

“Realize that most autism patients suffer from internalized obsessions, while OCD patients suffer from external obsessions. For example, an autistic individual might be obsessed with counting or finding synonyms to words, either silently or outloud, while someone with OCD might fear leaving the house, becoming violent or becoming contaminated with germs.” I realize this says “most,” but it should be noted that OCD rituals are capable of being purely internal. Though a person with OCD does have some type of concrete fear at the root of their compulsions (such as leaving the house, becoming violent, or becoming contaminated), compulsions are often mental and done in the person’s head, unbeknownst to any observer.

How to distinguish between good and eHow pages: Understand that both good and bad eHow pages are characterized by good intentions.

Know that bad writing has been strongly linked to genetic components.

Realize that most people who write bad articles thankfully only do so in their heads.

“Don’t Feed the Reassurance Monster”

…Or No Doubt II: Some Doubt.

I’m quoting from the following article, which is officially extremely awesome: http://www.steveseay.com/child-ocd-kids-parenting-strategies-tips/

It discusses dealing with OCD in children, and ways parents and other caregivers can help. Your time will be best spent reading the article in its entirety, but I will give a few of my favorite points:

“OCD is based on intolerance of doubt and uncertainty.”

“One example of an exposure-based strategy might be eating dinner while intentionally making statements related to contamination.  These might include, ‘Pass me the germy mashed potatoes’ or ‘I hope the roast beef has extra e.coli tonight.’  Although many people (with or without OCD) might be uncomfortable thinking about germs while eating, this strategy allows us to directly challenge OCD-related cognitions.”

“All primary caregivers (and all household members, if possible), should adopt consistent policies for responding to OCD.”

“Understand why kids do rituals.”

“Recognize the many forms that OCD takes.”

and of course:

“Don’t feed the ‘reassurance monster.’ In most cases, regardless of the form it takes, OCD is about wanting certainty in situations that are fundamentally uncertain. [. . .] When we, as parents, repeatedly provide OCD-related reassurance, we make it more difficult for our children to learn to be content in an uncertain world. Examples of ‘Feeding the Reassurance Monster’ include:

  • ‘You won’t get sick–you’ve gotten all the germs off.’
  • ‘Don’t worry.  We live in a safe neighborhood, so no one is going to break into the house.’

When you avoid these types of statements, you help your child learn to better coexist with uncertainty.”

This article is by the same guy (Steven Seay) I linked to in my No Doubt post, and covers some of the same points — but I thought it was worth posting for the extra info about kids specifically.

Someone With OCD

…Has intrusive thoughts. They might be concerned that they will:

  • Harm themselves or someone they love.
  • Catch an illness, or inadvertently spread an illness to someone else.
  • Accidentally get pregnant, or impregnate someone.
  • Make a mistake which will result in people getting hurt.

Intrusive thoughts are at the heart of OCD. Whether it’s being afraid you’re going to kill your father/mother/cousin/nephew or being afraid that your hands are dirty/something is off-center, though one fear is more socially acceptable, the same cause remains — an intrusive, unwanted thought.

This is, perhaps, the least understood part of OCD. People liken OCD to perfectionism and neatness and while that can be part of it, the problem, the whole reason there’s a disorder, is because people get thoughts they do not want, which disturb them, which they will do anything to get rid of.

What’s so bad about this misunderstanding? It causes people who have more horrible fears, such as those of harm or violent images, to be stigmatized — others believe that people with these fears will really DO these things, and that’s exactly the WORST thing to tell/suggest to a person with OCD. It feeds that vicious cycle of doubt even more. The person with OCD is already afraid of doing these things, and others have just added to the guilt.

If you’re worried you might kill someone, you’re probably not going to kill someone. Most people who kill someone just do it. They don’t obsess for a long time over whether they might, and the fact that they might, doesn’t fill them with fear. If you don’t want to do it, you probably won’t do it… and if you wanted to do it, you would probably know.

Dealing With Crises

So I know I’ve been posting like, way too much today, but this seems to be the case with me — I post in clusters. Anyway, I commented on someone else’s blog and got to thinking about the concept of how people with anxiety disorders deal with crises. This article by Dr. Steven Phillipson makes the following point:

“In general, when real life delivers a crisis, persons with anxiety disorders, and specifically those with OCD, tend to manage these crises somewhat more effectively than the population at large. The very nature of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the mind’s relentless and endless effort to process and prepare for the most extreme nightmarish scenarios. The anxious mind compels people to mentally anticipate the worst possible scenario and not the negative outcomes which life typically delivers. Our usual world predominantly delivers circumstances to us which don’t come close to matching the level of negativity that people with OCD consistently prepare themselves for.

What do you all think?

It reminds me a lot of my mom, because everyone who knew her says how calm she was in an emergency. Yet, she had symptoms of classic OCD and believed herself to have it, though she was never officially diagnosed. Those of us with OCD are inherently plagued by worry and doubt. How could that possibly translate into us being calm in a true emergency? It seems counter-intuitive, but when you think about it, it starts to make sense, because…

Put me in front of a box of ant poison, and my anxiety skyrockets. I start thinking about how the box is sealed, but maybe it was manufactured improperly and the poison is leaking, or maybe someone who touched poison also touched the box, or maybe someone whose hands were just dirty in some other way with germs or something touched the box, and how maybe if I touch the sealed box I need to wash my hands lest I get poison on my hands and then later touch my eyes or mouth without thinking, and die.

Or put me in front of a parked car that might back up and hit me, and I start thinking about if the car hits me and I fall on the pavement and get my skin scraped off. It’s very violent, bloody imagery — even though nothing bad has happened. It’s just the worst possible thing that could happen, and my mind often goes straight for that.

Yet put me in a situation where someone is injured, or seriously needs my help, and I actually deal with that situation a lot better. I wouldn’t call myself exceptional in a crisis, but I don’t flip out the way I do in all those non-crisis situations which cause me the bulk of my anxiety. I don’t feel qualified to speculate on whether I’m good or bad in an emergency — it’s really up to my closest friends and loved ones to decide that, but I think it’s an interesting topic for discussion.

Those of us with OCD are plagued with false alarms, often feeling like serious danger is present when in fact, there is none or very little. Could it also be true that may sometimes work as a benefit, taking away that “alarm” when an emergency which is not as bad as the one we expected occurs? We were prepared for something much worse, and so our anxiety is not allowed to cloud our judgment — so we may navigate the crisis with a level head.

Because You Don’t Know OCD

Because you don’t know OCD, you say…

…It’s not a big deal? I have nothing to worry about?

…That I like to fight? That I enjoy arguing?

…Why can’t I just stop?

…That I have no self-control?

But because of OCD, my brain…

…Reminds me that it thinks the problem is a big deal.

…Tells me that anyone who tries to convince me there’s not a problem or that I have nothing to worry about is lying or trying to trick me at worst — at best, they just don’t have enough information.

(…And yet I desperately seek reassurance, asking to be convinced that my worries are groundless. And although your reassurance may temporarily help, the anxiety just comes right back.)

…Won’t let me stop fighting and arguing, even though I hate it.

…Tells me I’m in serious danger if I ignore my worries.

When you get injured and you’re bleeding, your brain tells you it’s important and that you need to put a Band-Aid on. It may be hard to understand, but when my brain tells me that you’re probably trying to trick me, or that I might be poisoned because I touched a box that contains a mouse trap because maybe someone who handled the box had also handled mouse or ant poison and didn’t think it was important not to touch the box since the box contained a trap to kill mice anyway, my brain feels just the same alarm as if I’ve been seriously injured.

And yeah, that really happened yesterday when I touched a mouse trap box. I had to spend a minute convincing myself that probably I didn’t need to wash my hands, and that it would be OK.

No Doubt


In my opinion, this is one of the best articles I’ve come across to offer support for those with OCD. Why? It makes a simple, but very powerful point. It discusses doubt, and how OCD is, at its core, a disease of doubt; the specific doubt in question varies from person to person, of course.

From the article:

“Coexistence [with doubt] is possible, and it’s probably happening right now. You just haven’t realized it.

When we drive to the grocery store, are we guaranteed that we will arrive? Of course not. And yet many of us undertake that risk without even thinking about it. Chances are, if you really think about it, you can identify many examples in which you set aside your doubt and take risks.

Why is this so powerful? I can’t speak for everyone, but this is one of the few kinds of therapy that actually works for me. I need to know that someone believes in me. If I tell you I’m worried about something, and all you do is tell me how silly that seems to you, that does not help me. In fact, it makes my doubt worse. Instead, try actually acknowledging my fear and doubt by saying something like: “Hey, you know what? I see what you’re saying. But there are lots of other things you could worry about, that you’re not right now. Maybe you should try dealing with this in the same way.” It’s surprising how much of a difference that mere acknowledgement and acceptance makes. By saying something to this effect, what you’re doing for the person with OCD is letting them know you believe in their ability to accept and live with doubt, just like everyone else. You’re not telling them you think they worry too much, that they’re high-strung, crazy, or anything else insulting. Instead, you’re looking at their situation objectively and observing: “Although they do seem really stressed about this one insignificant thing, I also see that they dismiss lots of other insignificant things they could be worrying about, so I’m going to remind them they have that ability.

It’s easy to look at a person with OCD and think “They should just stop worrying” or “They’re being silly.” It takes a truly open-minded person to see: “This person is disproportionately worried about this one thing, but I know they have the ability to live with doubt in general because I can think of examples of other doubts that they are probably dismissing.

If we truly took the time to examine every doubt we have, we’d never have time to do anything else. Deep down, if you remind us of that… we probably know.

People with OCD are not crazy. We’re not delusional, and most of the time, we’re pretty rational people; we simply give in to doubt. What we need is understanding and acceptance. If simply saying “Don’t worry” were good enough, there wouldn’t be such a thing as OCD.

And yes, I had to title this post after my childhood favorite band.