I just got some very kind feedback and questions recently, and I wanted to address some of those here because I feel like we could all benefit from a discussion of these topics!
Can we minimize our OCD jumping from topic to topic?
If you’ve dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorder, you’ve probably experienced how it can shift focus or change obsessions. For instance, I’ve had moral scrupulosity, contamination OCD, hit and run OCD, etc.
I don’t know that it’s necessarily “possible” to stop our OCD from switching topics, but I have learned that OCD, while changing focus, works in the same ways and patterns. As I believe Reid Wilson discusses in his book, Stopping the Noise in Your Head, the content or focus doesn’t really matter. It may seem like it matters, but when the obsession or thought arrives, just tell yourself, “That is content that I’m worrying about, and content isn’t relevant.”
Now, it will probably seem extremely relevant to you, but we need to train ourselves that it isn’t actually relevant in the long run. If you weren’t obsessing about this one thing, the OCD would just change tactics and topics. OCD just wants to keep you trapped in this cycle—it wants you in its pattern. You have to somehow shake it up.
This is another tip I learned from Reid Wilson (for real, get your tickets to ADAM Conf so you can learn from this man in person too!)—if you can’t really stop your compulsions at the moment, just change them up a little bit. Pause between hand washes and clap ten times, or jump up in the air in the middle of your ritual, or do anything else that messes up habit—create a rift in the pattern. Do at least that to mess with the OCD.
So, I think we are mostly stuck with the OCD changing topics, but as we begin to recognize and get better with our exposure response prevention or mindfulness or whatever therapy, we can more easily point out to ourselves when it’s OCD and cut it off because it takes over.
Can we feel promptings and spiritual feelings?
A lot of times, those of us with OCD have difficulty feeling or recognizing spiritual promptings. Frankly, I think a lot of people in general have difficulty feeling or recognizing spiritual promptings, but maybe those of us with esp. scrupulosity OCD feel more guilty about this because we think we “ought” to be feeling promptings more.
One thing that recognizing my OCD and doing CBT has done for me with my scrupulosity OCD and religious practices is made me much less worried. I do things less out of guilt and a sense of duty, or at least I don’t feel like I “have” to be perfect and do everything. It’s an exposure to not be perfect and to allow myself to fail or let things slide. And as I’ve lived like this more and more, the fear of not making it into Heaven or the Celestial Kingdom has lessened. I feel more confident that I’m going to be happy wherever I end up.
What does this have to do with feelings and promptings and knowing whether or not I “should” do something? Well, I guess I have chosen to rely more on myself. Not that I don’t pray and ponder about things. I do. But I guess that I trust that God is working with me in different ways than simply giving me overpowering spiritual experiences or whisperings of the Spirit. I think He knows that it’s hard for those of us with mental illness to hear in some of those ways because we have an extraordinarily loud brain roommate, if you will, shouting at us a lot of the time.
I study things out, think about them, take walks, and act. I trust that God will tell me or help me out if something drastically bad is going to happen or has happened. I keep the commandments, pray, read my scriptures, and then trust Him to communicate with or guide me if and when I need it in ways that I can (or maybe can’t) recognize.
How do you date with OCD?
I’ve gotten at least one question about relationships and OCD before, and I have to say that I’m not an expert in this area. For one, I didn’t date very much. My OCD wasn’t super bad or even recognizable to me when I was dating at BYU, and when it was bad, my now husband and I were “dating” but not in person. We were writing letters and calling on the phone long distance. Then we were both on missions writing letters back and forth. I was on medication when we were dating in person and married. I stopped taking the meds after I got pregnant. We were committed to each other once the OCD got super bad again, and he helped encourage me to go to the psychologist.
So when people ask questions about dating, I’m not very confident in my responses since I wasn’t really “aware” of my OCD as such when I was dating. There is relationship OCD (rOCD), and I would highly encourage those who are dating with OCD to check that out and be aware of signs that the OCD is morphing into that. Besides giving that advice, I sadly don’t have too much to say other than that I know it can be hard to be in a relationship while having OCD.
My husband obviously knows a lot about my OCD and OCD in general, and that helps a lot. He can usually recognize when my actions are “me” and when they are influenced by the OCD. He knows not to enable my OCD and to be bold about it, but he didn’t always know how to deal with it. It took a lot of learning and a commitment to help and stick with me. He went to group sessions for loved ones, accompanied me to OCD Con, read books, and is otherwise engaged in my journey. That helps so much, but the OCD still wears on him. We have gotten in verbal arguments about it. He’s encouraged me to get help and go back on meds or to the doctor when I haven’t wanted to do so. He’s had to be really patient.
OCD can be hid, sort of, sure, but when you are thinking about marrying someone or are married, it really needs to be discussed and considered. While it is a “solo” battle in that my husband can’t overcome the OCD for me, it definitely involves both of us in many ways (and our children). Everyone needs to understand what is happening and how to effectively handle it and the person with OCD (another reason to come to ADAM Conf—there will be talks on Supporting vs. Enabling a Loved One and How to Raise Anxiety Resilient Children).
I talk about my OCD with my children, and yes, sometimes they are rude or not understanding about it, but as they get older we have had better discussions about how other people struggle with mental illness like mom, and I believe their compassion and empathy is increasing for those in our society who are so often overlooked and misunderstood.
Hopefully these answers help! If you have any questions, go to the contact page and send them over!