STRATEGY #6 REMEMBER OTHER OCDERS
How alone it can feel when you have OCD. Those that have the disorder are usually acutely aware of its presence, and that there is something that is not working right in their brains. The great English psychiatrist Sir Aubrey Lewis wrote in 1935 of OCD’s apparent contradictions “between kindness and cruelty, logicality and unreason, fear and desire,” and of its overwhelming “variety of problems and the difficulty of stating them.” It seems no one but those who suffer from OCD can understand it.
It is therefore important to realize that you are not alone. Read the stories of great OCDers such as Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and Therese of Lisieux (described in detail in Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?). Read autobiographical accounts such as Bunyan’s unmatched Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Consider contemporary readings such as Jeff Bell’s Rewind Replay Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and internet sources such as “Serenity Bay” and “Cherry’s Website.”
It is also worth considering joining an OCD support group. Here you meet other people who you can respect with the same problem as yours. Check the OCD foundation website (www.ocfoundation.org) to find a support group near you. Group members often report that the simple act of being understood by their fellow sufferers is immensely consoling. Among other things, it helps them deal with the criticisms and bad advice offered by those who do not understand the disorder. A young woman who suffered severe religious obsessions and lengthy prayer compulsions had friends at church who were quite opposed to the idea that her prayers actually represented compulsions. She spent hours on the phone with her own sister explaining what she had learned about obsessions and compulsions, but to no avail. Her sister would counter, “It’s good to obsess about God. You should stick with the Bible and stop the shrink.” After much strong persuasion from group members that her sister was completely out of touch with this situation, Melissa was able to accept the reluctant conclusion of most OCD sufferers: There are some people who will never understand OCD no matter how clearly you explain it to them.”
Another benefit of group therapy is receiving advice from other OCD sufferers on what is reasonable and what is not. A recently married undergraduate student, Maria, was besieged by fears that food she purchased at the supermarket was tainted. She threw away meats, fruits, and bags of vegetables, only to return to the store to buy more. These compulsions were not only demoralizing, they were quite expensive. And after a few months, they were threatening her marriage.
Maria: My husband really got mad at me this week. He found out I threw away a half-gallon of good milk, and then I had to tell him that I threw away a roast, too. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I just can’t stop. When I get home from the market and take the food out of the bag, it doesn’t look right, or else it doesn’t feel right. So I go back and get some that is better. I know I shouldn’t…but, you know, maybe some of the food really is contaminated. I don’t think they’re very careful in those supermarkets.
Student 1: Maria, if we allow ourselves to believe that, we’re all in big trouble. I go to the market–everybody goes to the market. Nobody gets sick from the food. You need to stop going back to buy food. You need to break that compulsion.
Student 2: I used to work as a bag boy at a supermarket. For one thing, nobody got sick. For another, okay, some of the food probably has germs, but you can’t tell that from looking at it or feeling it, anyway. You can’t see or feel germs. You just have to make yourself eat the food like everyone else.
This feedback from group members she knew and respected allowed Maria to curtail her costly compulsions. When compulsions threatened, she was able to resist them by telling herself: “Remember what the people in group said. They wouldn’t lie to me. I just have to trust them.