As we know, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder typically deal with a lot of anxiety. What if I leave the stove on and burn the house down? What if my child becomes ill because I didn’t wash my hands enough? What if something horrible happens because I didn’t count to 100 after I had a bad thought?
What is so interesting to me about this anxiety is that fact that it is not based on actual happenings. Instead, those with OCD usually deal with the “what-ifs” of the past and future, but never the present.
When my son Dan’s OCD was still calling the shots, he was often consumed with worry about the past or future. But he wasn’t typically bothered by everyday stressful situations. Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic that makes you late for an important appointment? Relax, we’ll get there. A lost wallet or cell phone? It’ll turn up and if it doesn’t, we’ll deal with it. Computer crashed and you’ve lost important info? Don’t worry, it’ll all work out. Even during a family crisis (the death of his grandfather), Dan didn’t fall apart. In fact he handled it remarkably well.
In general, Dan seems to easily handle whatever comes his way. Many people who know him would be surprised to learn he has OCD. So is it an act? Underneath that calm, cool exterior, is he really a nervous wreck? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
Dan also likes adventure, as is evident in his choices throughout the years: He loves to fly and travel, and has rock-climbed, mountain biked, and skied black diamond trails — all happily. He has been on every type of roller coaster imaginable.
It’s hard to believe this is the same young man who could not leave a bathroom stall for four hours because “something bad might happen.” The same young man who could not eat or drink or enter certain buildings on his college campus. The same young man who was so overcome with fear and anxiety that he could barely get out of bed in the morning, if at all.
So what’s the explanation for this paradox? The best answer I can come up with is the simple fact that OCD makes no sense. The disorder is not rational and the anxiety it causes is not related to any actual event, but rather connected to the sufferer’s thoughts.
As Dan became more immersed in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy and more committed to mindfulness, his obsessions began to lose their power, and OCD took a back seat. From the back seat it went into the trunk. It’s not gone, but it’s weak enough that it usually can’t even lift that trunk lid. ERP works, and Dan is now in control of his life.