Usually when we live with obsessive compulsive disorder, it is not a solo endeavor. Many of us live with family, whether that means parents, siblings, a husband or wife, children, etc. Some of you may have roommates. Occasionally we are living on our own. I was on my own when my OCD became severe many years ago.
Of course, we have the mental illness on our own. It is our burden and challenge. Those we live with (or don’t live with) do not and, really, cannot fully understand or comprehend what is going on inside of our minds when it comes to OCD. But OCD affects not only us individually but those around us as well because it affects our actions, thoughts, and how we deal with others.
Taking Personal Control of Your Treatment
Today I wanted to look a little bit at how we can personalize and take control of our treatment program. While the reach of our mental illness might be long and wide, it is up to us to try and reign in the obsessive compulsive disorder. It is not the responsibility of our spouse, children, parents, roommates, or friends. When we start demanding that those with whom we live and associate do compulsions or change their behavior to appease our anxiety and obsessions, we should realize that things are getting out of hand.
Believe me, this is hard. It is so hard. I am not perfect at restricting this impulse. In a way, trying to force others to do certain things is a compulsion in its own rite. In a similar way, seeking reassurance from friends or family members in order to ease our anxiety is another (difficult) compulsion that needs to be cut off as well.
Sometimes having OCD makes me feel like a wild animal, like I am a Jeckyll/Hyde type character. It’s almost like I can’t control my behavior towards family when the OCD gets intense. I demand things, behavior, or responses and then accuse or act as if my family members do not love me if they do not appease my OCD.
If this sounds familiar, this post is for you.
How do we become independent in our fight against OCD? How can we avoid dragging our family members into our obsessions and compulsions? And how do we survive if a strong and educated family member decides to stop appeasing our demands, our requests for reassurance, etc.? How do we handle when others stand up to our OCD but we are not so ready to do that ourselves?
Advice for Loved Ones
My psychologist recently met with both my husband and me, and he told my husband that the best way for him to be involved with my treatment is to provide positive feedback. He told him to assume that I was handling my exposures the best I could and doing the most I was comfortable with on any certain day. Apparently, in his experience, family members are best left standing on the sidelines, cheering on our successes, but not being overly pushy or demanding that their loved ones make such and such changes at certain days or times.
Just a reminder for loved ones (and those with OCD): dealing with a mental illness is not easy. Some days are definitely harder than others, and those days do not always come in regular patterns or when we expect.
Doing It on Our Own
So, once we have seen a psychologist and begun engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure-response prevention, we generally know what we “should” be doing or are supposed to do or not do. We have to avoid using our family members as crutches. Fighting OCD is, of course, a mental battle. We have to be on guard. We have to remember what challenges our doctor has given. And when the OCD sneaks in and tells us to do such and such or avoid X, Y, or Z, we need to say no and do the opposite of what it says.
These are individual battles we have to fight. We definitely have to stop involving our family in negative or OCD serving behavior. We can tell them when we succeed in an exposure and celebrate together. We can decide what level of positive involvement or reminders we want them to provide, but we have to refrain from asking for reassurance or demanding it.
Fighting OCD is almost like running a marathon (which I’ve never done and probably won’t ever do, but the metaphor is apt). We have to do it on our own. We can have a coach, supporters, and positive encouragement along the way, but we have to place foot in front of foot and run it on our own. Sometimes we will fall. We might need to walk or jog for a while. We may get side aches and cramps and feel like we can never finish. That’s when we need our coaches and support teams for encouragement and ideas. But then we get back up and keep going—independently, but hopefully with a loyal cheering section.