Most experts agree that it is time to seek treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder when the illness “interferes with your daily life.” While “interfering” can mean different things to different people, it is generally described as having obsessions and compulsions that take up more than an hour a day of your time.
A lot has been written about recovery avoidance in those with OCD, as it is quite common for those with moderate to severe cases to resist exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. It’s too difficult, and it’s too scary. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’d like to focus on are the cases of OCD that are not so severe. Many people with OCD, and their families, don’t even bother discussing treatment options because it appears their particular situation is just not “that bad.” Of course, because those with OCD are often adept at hiding their symptoms and their suffering, they might just be the only ones who are aware of the real extent of their disorder. Conversely, it could be that after living with OCD for so long, they are not good judges themselves of what is considered “normal” behavior.
To me, before things get “that bad” is a perfect time to seek proper treatment and get started on exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. In general, the less entrenched OCD, the easier therapy and recovery will be. While it is true that the disorder often waxes and wanes, it rarely, if ever, goes away on its own. The longer treatment is delayed, the more time OCD will have to latch on to its victims, making recovery even more difficult in the future. One thing we know for sure is that OCD is an insidious disorder that does whatever it can to undermine the sufferer’s desire to get well.
And let’s not forget that it is not only the person with OCD whose life is negatively affected by the disorder — family and friends are too. Loved ones might find themselves having to deal with irritability or anger that is out of character if they don’t accommodate the person with OCD. To keep the peace, and because it seems as if it’s the kindest thing to do, they enable their loved ones by participating in their rituals, and by providing reassurance. Unfortunately while this accommodation might provide some relief in the moment, it strengthens the OCD in the long run. Loved ones find themselves walking on eggshells or even worse, standing by helplessly as their loved ones suffer. It’s not hard to see how OCD is able to worm its way into everyone’s life.
The decision to seek treatment for OCD is sometimes shrouded by fear, shame, and embarrassment. Indeed it might just seem easier all around to ignore what is going on, especially if the person with OCD is able to live a somewhat “normal” life. For example, if a child is able to go to school, or an adult seems to function well at work, it might not seem necessary to seek help. I believe this is a huge mistake. If you suspect you have OCD, are concerned about a loved one, or aren’t really sure what’s going on, please make the effort to find a therapist who specializes in treating the disorder. At the very least he or she can provide you with a proper diagnosis and outline a treatment plan. The sooner the better, because it might not take long for “I can handle this” to turn into a life totally controlled by obsessive-compulsive disorder.