In these unsettling pandemic times, many are questioning their mental health. OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – is a condition gaining more attention. Some people find they can’t stop thinking about an event or behaviour that is starting to disrupt their life. But what does it really mean to experience OCD and how do you know if you need help?
OCD: An Expression of Anxiety that Affects Functioning
We hear a lot about OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in connection with anxiety. OCD is simply a way that anxiety expresses itself. Rumination, or the experience of being unable to stop thinking about something, is just one example of what doctors might term OCD. OCD can take many forms. It might involve frequently checking something like a bank balance, or stock portfolio or social media messages even though they are unlikely to have changed since the last check-in. It could be incessant worry about becoming ill or having a disease without any evidence of that disease. Ironically, prior to COVID19, frequent hand washing and attention to hygiene was considered a symptom of OCD but since coronavirus these habits are starting to be considered as ‘normal’.
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OCD sometimes presents as undue or unnecessary attention on weight or diet, skin or sexuality. Some people believe their porn use habits are OCD or that they have a pornography addiction. The compulsion to put everything into a particular order and hoarding are further examples of how extreme anxiety can present itself as OCD. Anxiety in its most extreme form can cause you to somatise which is when you start experiencing physical symptoms that only have a psychological, not a physical, cause. And living with an obsession or compulsion is debilitating. It gets in the way of your functioning and enjoyment of life.
Obsessions and Fixations: A Signal to Use Your Senses
Fixations are a particular kind of rumination. A fixation happens when you cannot think of anything else but the thing you are fixated on. It is just a fault with perspective. Like a camera lens that is stuck, fixation on a particular idea, person or event means we don’t see what is in the background or foreground of that experience. There is no ‘depth of field’. A fixation on a particular health condition or potential illness, for example, can mean that the person doesn’t take into account the circumstances and history that might have lead to that particular obsession. Neither do they make a connection with others who might be experiencing the same fears or those who are getting on with living well with the actual health condition that is feared. It is a kind of blinkered and stuck view.
I prefer to interpret obsessions and fixations as flags or signals that can alert me to get back into contact with my senses. When I really notice what is going on around me, I realise that my circumstances are not as dire as I imagined them to be. Taking this broader perspective requires compassion for oneself and others. It means seeing (visually), hearing (with my ears), touching or getting close to, smelling, tasting and paying attention to what is going on both inside my body and around it. Noticing whether things are in balance. It requires me to use my body, the senses, and engage with the world and others as a fully functioning human being, not just a series of thought processes occurring in a small space behind my forehead.
Recovering from OCD and Fixations
Fixations often go away in time. The anxiety often just shifts onto something else. OCD is more of a pattern of behaviour that can lead to devestating results like an eating disorder, public humilation or the inability to be productively employed. But the solution to dealing with anxiety conditions generally lies in a combination of problem-solving and exposure to the cause of our anxiety. We don’t overcome anxiety through avoidance or tighter and tighter controls or constantly seeking reassurance. We overcome it through facing our fears with the support we require.
Just because you are struggling to stop thinking about an event, idea or someone in particular or finding it difficult to cease a particular activity it does not mean you have clinical OCD. But if you are feeling in any way uneasy, panicking or starting to doubt your sanity, it is time to get help. A GP will be able to refer you to a qualified therapist who can assess and treat the condition. You don’t have to manage on your own.
The COVID19 coronavirus has caused a lot of uncertainty for us all. If you need support to get perspective and adjust to better habits, contact me to book an appointment over Skype or in person in Sydney.