OCD or Something Else?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

OK. I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack. The anxiety is so severe right now. I need some help. I’m going to go see a councilor at my college this Friday so hopefully he can help me get some relief. I’m a 22 year old male who is in his junior year of college studying history and secondary education. I’ve suffered from moderate OCD since the age of 5: Afraid of getting cancer, afraid of parents dying, afraid of turning gay, etc. I’m mostly a “pure-o” type and most of my compulsions involve reassurance seeking, checking on-line for information over and over again, counting rituals in the head and various repeating rituals like sitting down and standing up several times in a row or repeatedly getting in and out of bed, etc. I went through a break-up with a girl I really liked in August and since September I’ve had a truly distressing and frightening possible obsession going through my head. I’m afraid that I’m supposed to become a Catholic priest. I’m a practicing Catholic and I take my faith seriously. I’ve been asked by 4 priests over the last few years to consider going into the priesthood. I was asked this by a priest in September and since that time I’ve been asking myself if I REALLY want to get married or be a priest. At first it seemed mostly obvious that this was an obsession and that I wanted marriage since I’ve always wanted to get married and have always thought about having kids someday. The problem is that now I honestly have no idea what I want anymore! I don’t know if I want marriage or the priesthood. Both seem attractive to me and I could probably do well in both areas. I get VERY nervous on dates with girls now. I like dating but I have a tremendous fear that I don’t want to date anymore and that I only wanted a girlfriend as a sort of “status symbol” and nothing more. Why do I find the priesthood somewhat attractive? Am I kidding myself? Ughh! This is awful! I feel trapped, caught and very afraid. Why have I lost my desire for girls, I feel numb around them, like I have no more romantic feeling. Part of me says that I want to be a priest but I wish it wasn’t so! This is torture! I feel as if I’m going insane! Why do I feel like I want the priesthood and don’t want a wife? Do those priests see something in me that I don’t? Am I kidding myself? Am I just afraid of never having sex even though it might not be that big of a deal? I’ve lost interest in most things that I once found enjoyable to do and I feel like I’ll never be my happy self again. Am I just afraid of the priesthood and I need to “take the plunge” or is this OCD? My mind and some of my feelings are saying that I want to be a priest and I feel afraid of getting married but I wish I didn’t feel this way. OH THIS IS SO CONFUSING AND TORMENTING!!! I hope that I end up getting married in the end. Please, please help me!!!!!!

A. I would never attempt to diagnose an individual over the Internet but your symptoms are consistent with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). You also mentioned that you felt as though you might be having a heart attack. Individuals who experience panic attacks often report feeling as though they are having a heart attack. It would be best to see a physician or go to a hospital immediately when such an attack occurs. You would need to be medically evaluated. If you did not have a heart attack and no other medical condition exists, then the next logical possibility is that you have experienced a panic attack. Panic disorder and OCD commonly co-occur. Both are anxiety disorders. If OCD is not treated, then it tends to become progressively worse over time. It is possible that this is what is happening in your situation.

You mentioned that you have an appointment with a therapist in the very near future. You are doing exactly what you need to do. Getting help is the best way to deal with this problem. I would advise you to strongly consider temporarily suspending all career decisions (i.e. whether or not you want to become a priest, etc.). Why? Because your logical thinking capacity has possibly been compromised by your untreated anxiety disorders. After you begin treatment and your symptoms diminish, then you could reconvene career planning. Until that time, I would strongly advise against it.

Very effective treatments exist for OCD and anxiety disorders. For OCD in particular, the best and most effective treatment is exposure prevention response therapy. Be certain to inquire about this treatment during your evaluation. Medication as an adjunct to therapy can also be very effective.

It is a good sign of a successful outcome because you are open to treatment. The arts and entertainment channel (A&E) produces an excellent OCD-based television show in which they feature exposure prevention response therapy. The show is called Obsessed. It is not currently being aired but you can watch past episodes on their website. Please take care. I wish you well.

Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Dec 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). OCD or Something Else?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/12/29/ocd-or-something-else/