For the sake of privacy, I have chosen not to share my personal obsessions. However, one goal of this blog is to give a voice to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and to provide inspiration to anyone suffering with OCD. With the knowledge I’ve gained through my therapy, books I’ve read, and countless hours spent researching the disorder, I feel I am still capable of meeting that goal.
Today I want to provide you with a look into the development of OCD.
Many times OCD is portrayed as the “contamination disorder”. While that type of obsession is quite prevalent, it is only one type – and there are a number of ways this disorder can manifest itself.
Another common example of OCD is referred to as “Hit and Run OCD”.
As Jan was driving to work she noticed a man riding his bike on the road, she slowed down and went around him. Then she hit a bump, jerking the car and sending a burst of anxiety into her body. She tensed up but managed to refocus her eyes on the road. Her mind wandered, remembering the man on the bike. She continued driving, but the anxiety continued rising – “wait, am I sure I went around the bicyclist? That was just a pothole I hit, right?” The rumination began. The first compulsion already unfolding – recall the event, determine the facts – figure it out.
Jan played the scene back in her mind countless times.
“I was driving, saw the man on the bike, I slowed down and went around him, then I hit a pothole. Nothing to worry about. But why am I anxious? Okay, let’s go over this again; driving – man on bike – slowed down – went around – bump. I couldn’t have hit him. I would have known. This is crazy, I didn’t hit him. Why am I even worried about this?!”
The rumination process went on for a few more minutes until Jan resolved that she was certain she remembered going around the bicyclist and she would have known if she had hit him.
[It is important to note that anyone can have this thought (or any thought for that matter), “what if I hit that person”. But for non-OCD sufferers – the thought will pass as quickly as it comes. For the purpose of this example, I want to stress that Jan tends to be a relatively anxious person already. And Jan is an extremely caring and compassionate person, so much so that she often weighs herself down with the hyper-responsibility of keeping people safe. “This responsibility however, should not be mistaken as something [she chose] to enforce upon [herself] . . . It just comes as a trait of OCD. Just like people don’t choose to carry out compulsions. Instead, they feel forced and compelled to carry them out as a result of being under a crippling mountain of anxiety. It’s not as simple as just a choice.” (Ellen’s OCD Blog)]
As Jan drove home that afternoon, she spotted another bicyclist on the road. She remembered the scenario from earlier and felt instantly frustrated that she was facing the same situation again. The anxiety rose in her stomach –
“Okay, this time just pay very close attention when you go around him, then you won’t even have to question yourself.” As she neared the man, she slowed down considerably; she looked in his direction and made an obvious effort to pass him safely. She took a quick look in the rearview mirror and noticed he was safely cycling behind her. But the anxiety still grew – she took another glance and noticed he was gone. “Did he turn? I saw him just a minute ago, right? I made sure I went around him. But where did he go? Did I hit him? Oh dear, maybe I should go back and just make sure.”
This time simply figuring it out and going over the facts, wasn’t enough. It did not quench the anxiety provoking thirst. Jan decided to turn the car around and go back to the site. And the development of another compulsion arose – checking.
As she neared the location, she looked intently back and forth to survey the area. She saw nothing on the road, no sirens were going off, and everything seemed normal. Jan felt a slight relief in her stomach and she continued home.
The next time the event occurs, just checking might not prove beneficial and she’ll wonder, “What if I hit someone when I went back to check, should I check again? Should I go back?” The anxiety will increase, “If I hit someone and just fled the scene, I could go to jail. What will I tell my family? How can I explain what I did?” Then Jan would continue her checking ritual by tuning into the news to see if any “hit and runs” were reported and/or browsing the internet.
Over the next several weeks Jan might recognize more and more bicyclists and walkers on the roads. “What is going on, why is everyone out on the roads these days? Am I actually capable of hitting them, is this some sort of sign, the fact that I think so much about it – does that increase my chances of hitting them?” – This sort of thinking is referred to as “Thought-Action Fusion”.
[As the obsessions and compulsions cycle – the mind becomes innately aware of every possible feared situation. It’s not necessarily that all of the sudden there are more bicyclists and walkers out, although that could be true, it is more likely that the sufferer is just more aware of them now because of their fear.]
As Jan’s OCD grows, she will engage in other compulsions, seeking reassurance – asking loved ones, “Do you think I would notice if I hit someone?” They will almost certainly say, “Yes of course you would know. I wouldn’t worry about that at all.” Which may help ease her anxiety for the moment – until the next situation presents itself and she feels the need to ask again.
Untreated, Jan will eventually reach the avoidance compulsion. She will realize the only way to escape the anxiety of driving – is to stop driving all together. Slowly Jan’s life will get smaller and smaller.
And that, my friends, is how the OCD monster rears its ugly head!
If this post resonates with you today, please allow me to be the first to say – I am sincerely sorry! I know exactly what you are going through and the pain is real. Feel free to send me a message, and check out “C”, Monique and/or Ellen’s blog! I also suggest looking into ERP therapy which is part II of this post and will be coming soon.
Let’s start taking back the control from the OCD bully TODAY!