Recognizing OCD

Posted by Phil Cardenas on Nov 01, 2011

by Janet Singer

Acknowledging OCD Symptoms is the First Step

Let’s say you wake up one morning and your leg hurts. You hobble around on it for a few days, but the pain gets worse. You tell yourself you’ll give it “one more day” and if it’s not better, you’ll call your doctor. Most of us can relate to this scenario where we’ve had a medical issue, we’ve kept an eye on it for a little while, and then we sought help, and a diagnosis.

Seeking help for OCD

But what if you have symptoms of a mental health disorder such as obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD? While it would be ideal to follow the same actions as above, that is often not the case. The truth is many OCD sufferers will do the opposite of the above scenario. Instead of seeking help, they will suffer in silence and hide their symptoms as much as possible.

While we have miles to go in educating the public as to what OCD really is and isn’t, we are making some progress. Information on OCD and its symptoms is readily available on the Beyond OCD site; there are more books, web sites, and organizations than ever before dedicated to helping those with this disorder.  We know that OCD is a treatable, neurologically based anxiety disorder. But still so many sufferers avoid a diagnosis, treatment, or both. Why?

The OCD struggle

The reasons include, but are certainly not limited to, fear, embarrassment and shame. And it is never simple. OCD is an insidious disorder that does whatever it can to undermine the sufferer’s desire to get well.  At a recent conference I attended, I met a woman who had been housebound for eight years because of severe OCD. She spoke eloquently of her struggle and also talked about the never ending support of her mother. While I assumed she must not have known she had OCD and that it was treatable, she told me that was not the case. In fact, she came from a family of OCD sufferers, and while intellectually she knew that OCD was treatable, she never felt that her OCD could be beaten. She had no hope for herself.

Families fighting OCD

And so even in cases where the signs and symptoms of OCD are clear to the sufferer, it does not always mean they will initiate treatment.  This is one of the reasons why it is so important that family and friends also be aware of the symptoms of OCD. If you think there is a possibility your loved one may have OCD, learn everything you can about the disorder. Again, the Beyond OCD site, which includes these guides, offers a wealth of information. If we are able to convey our thoughts and concerns to the people we care about and let them know we are on their side, that realization might just bring them one step closer to fighting their OCD.

OCD red flags

But like I said, nothing with OCD is simple. While there are the more typical obsessions and compulsions that we commonly use to illustrate OCD (obsession with germs leading to the compulsion of hand washing, for example), not all symptoms of OCD are so obvious or clear cut. After suffering for at least a few years, my son Dan finally told me he had OCD. At the time, he had no symptoms that I would have associated with OCD.  His compulsions were mostly mental, and therefore not obvious. As I learned more about the disorder, however, it became clear that Dan did indeed have visible symptoms of OCD; they were just lesser known symptoms. He had a hard time making decisions, he was constantly apologizing for things most people wouldn’t apologize for (a type of reassurance seeking), and he avoided doing things and going to places that he used to enjoy. Granted, not everyone who exhibits these symptoms has OCD, but these behaviors should at least raise some red flags and warrant a visit to a therapist, preferably one who specializes in OCD. Trust your intuition. If you have a feeling something is wrong, you’re probably right.

The bottom line is that OCD can manifest itself in many ways. As with fingerprints, no two people with OCD will have exactly the same symptoms. A lot of people, including OCD sufferers, don’t realize this. For OCD sufferers who exhibit some of the lesser known symptoms of the disorder, it is unlikely they will even be aware that they have OCD until they see a competent therapist. The more knowledgeable we can all become as to how OCD presents itself, the more apt we are to recognize the often elusive signs and symptoms of the disorder. And once we know what we are dealing with, we will be in a much better position to fight OCD.

Janet Singer, an advocate for OCD awareness, is published regularly on various mental health web sites. She explores all topics related to OCD and shares what helped and what hurt in her son Dan’s recovery from this devastating disorder.  While there were many lessons learned along the way, Janet feels the most powerful one of all is that there is always hope. She is committed to getting the word out that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. You can read more about Dan’s story and follow her personal blog at: Janet uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy.


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