The check. And here you thought I was talking about the dinner bill, didn’t you?
No, for those hearty souls battling obsessive-compulsive disorder, “the check” refers to something different than picking up the restaurant tab. For those afflicted with OCD, the check could mean ritualizing about the pedestrian they may have hit, sprinting to the restroom to scrub cracked hands, or fleeing a dinner date to check whether the garage door is shut.
OCD, popularly known as the doubting disorder, affects 1 in 40 Americans. On average, it takes nine years for the average OCD patient to receive the correct diagnosis. Medication alleviates the symptoms for a fortunate few. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) helps some. For others, the journey to acceptance continues.
As we gaze at our mind with bewilderment, awe, and a little dismay, here are some tips to manage the unmanageable.
Your mind playing its usual magic tricks on you? Are you bemoaning the latest and greatest OCD thought? I understand but, as Robin Williams commanded in “Good Will Hunting,” “It isn’t your fault.” You are more than the meaningless thoughts; you are a partner, a brother, and a friend.
As your mind pummels you with intrusive, nonsensical thoughts, reframing is a useful cognitive tool. Through reframing, you can challenge ingrained cognitive responses. When a repetitive thought accosts you, your mind’s instinctive response tightens OCD’s vise grip. Let’s examine your response.
The involuntary thought “Something is wrong with my mind” taunts you. Your typical response is to wallow in a pool of belittling statement and self-pity. Instead, reframe the intrusive thought into a more neutral statement. Here is a model response: “I am going through a challenging time and have the skills and tenacity to persevere.”
People with OCD ritualize. For me, I put on a trench coat and do my best Forensic Files impression whenever I have an intrusive, repetitive thought. “Maybe it is true. What does this thought say about me? This must mean I am a horrible person,” my mind endlessly repeats. Now the only rituals I engage in are when I am doing my best Slammin’ Sammy Sosa impression during softball.
Mind over Matter
Some days I am a sweating, bubbling mess. The mind is winking and smiling devilishly at me. “Opposite day,” he cracks, or yells.
Slowly, I am learning to accept the false messages. The OCD radio may be cranked up but I can still compose emails and essays. The thoughts, the feelings, and that sinkhole pit in my stomach are brain tricks. Bring it on; I will thrive in spite of the tormenting thoughts and feelings.
Silence is (not) Golden
The buddy system isn’t reserved for overwhelmed summer camp counselors. Find an OCD friend. Attend an OCD support group. Join a mental health advocacy organization. As a mental health consumer, it is tempting to believe that we are the only ones enduring these horrific thoughts. We aren’t. There are confidantes and counselors sympathetic to your daily tug-of-war against the OCD thoughts.
OCD preys on self-doubt. As we seek reassurance and perfection, the self-doubt strangles life’s joy. Here’s a tip: analysis is paralysis. And another one: focus on the tip, not the check. You can’t overanalyze 20 percent.