When people first develop OCD, their response to the disorder ranges from a nagging sense of alarm to outright terror. I’m not referring here to the sudden episodes of anxiety caused by obsessions intruding into the mind; but rather to the emotional reaction that occurs with the recognition that one has suddenly begun to have frequent, strong, irrational thoughts that will not be dismissed. “What is wrong with me! “Am I going nuts?” This is the natural reaction to a disorder that is the strangest in the realm of psychiatry. Unwanted, inappropriate thoughts forcefully intrude into conscious awareness, and the harder they are resisted the stronger they become.
As the months go by, the initial shock over developing OCD inevitably give ways to other feelings. Frustration. Anger. Hopelessness. Depression. Resignation. It is at this point in time that people begin to have some degree of choice in how they look upon OCD, and what feelings they therefore apply to it. This is all important. The emotional response that we foster in ourselves towards OCD plays a major role in how well we are able to deal with the disorder.
Sometimes people become angry about having OCD. They are not sure at what to direct their irritation–whether themselves, their bad luck, God, or fate. But it doesn’t matter who or what they blame, because the outcome of such a reaction is always bad. Anger and frustration prevent clear thinking; and a thought-out, sound strategy is critical for dealing with OCD. Furthermore, such feelings eat up energy, and inevitably lead to demoralization. And furthermore, anger and frustration are displeasing to God, and they dissipate spiritual growth. If you are angry about having OCD, it’s time to move beyond that.
Very often, people with chronic OCD sink into a condition of helplessness and depression over having the disorder. This is understandable. Some people live their entire lives with crippling obsessions and compulsions; yet never understand anything about the process that has entrapped them, nor have the slightest idea how to deal with it. Yet helplessness and depression is even worse than anger. It wears us down physically and grinds our self-esteem. Depression is actually a major problem for OCDers, with over a third of them developing clinicaldepression at some time during their lives, usually as a result of despair over their obsessions and compulsions.
Some people reach the point of being resigned to having OCD. This is, indeed, a more mature view. This is, in fact, a view that I routinely advocate. I encourage people to see their OCD as a medical condition like rheumatoid arthritis: A bio-physiological disorder that must be put up with and accepted, while at the same time treated appropriately. To be resigned to OCD is a good position to take. You’ve got OCD. No one is to blame for it. You deal with it as best you can. Viewing OCD with a sense of calm resignation is actually as good as it gets for secular individuals.
Fortunately, for people of faith there is yet another attitude to choose towards OCD. It is to be satisfied with it, content with it, and possibly, God willing, to occasionally even bear it with some degree of gladness as one’s cross. Saint Peter says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you…But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ.” I have not known anyone yet who actually rejoiced in having OCD, but we can at least aspire to be satisfied and content at having it. God has chosen OCD as a cross for us to bear as an opportunity to grow closer to him in love through faith. We shouldn’t complain about this. We’re not being nailed to a cross, after all.
OCD is a trial of faith pure and simple. This is the way we can try to employ our faith. First, we accept OCD as coming from God as part of his providential plan for our salvation. Then, we do not run away from it (e.g., by performing compulsions). Rather, we stay in the battlefield, bear the cross of fear, and let God have the victory.