Just For Teens
To the Point: You Have OCD. Now What?
Having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder isn’t the end of the world. Obviously, you’d rather not have it. But just like other medical conditions such as diabetes and asthma, there is a treatment for OCD. You will be able to live with OCD and manage its symptoms. Just give yourself a little time to learn about this disorder and get the right “tools” to keep it under control.
Yes, you probably feel that OCD is unfair. It’s unfair that you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it’s unfair that it makes you feel bad. It’s unfair that it can make you feel and act differently from everyone else. But getting down about it isn’t going to help you get better. Getting the right treatment can. And no matter how much your parents want to help you, you’re really the one person who can make yourself better – with the right treatment.
What Is OCD?
OCD is a neurobiological disorder. This means that OCD has to do with the way the brain functions. Scientists have found that certain areas of the brain work differently in people who have OCD compared to those who don’t. You’re not “crazy.” You didn’t do anything to cause OCD. You’re not alone. And your parents didn’t cause it either, even if you really hate a lot of the things they do!
If you don’t already know this, with OCD, fears, worries and bad thoughts (sometimes they’re really disturbing) pop into your head and just won’t go away. These are obsessions. Or once in a while, you may have certain uncomfortable urges or feelings that make you feel like you have to do something “just right” or “just so.” What you do to try to make yourself feel better – like washing your hands over and over or redoing your homework until you run out of time and it’s not finished – those are called compulsions. Sometimes they’re called rituals. Unfortunately, the more you do these rituals to make yourself feel better, the more you have to keep doing them. They may make you feel better for a little while, but the obsessions just keep coming back. And you may feel like you’re doing compulsions all the time.
We have to say it again...You’re not “crazy.” You didn’t do anything to cause OCD. And you’re not alone.
Many people with OCD have above-average intelligence. And you’ll find that people with OCD come from all races, ages, and ethnic backgrounds. OCD affects both males and females, too. In the United States, about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 kids have OCD.
Some TV shows and movies feature stars who supposedly have OCD, and sometimes these characters are played for laughs. As you already know, OCD is a lot different in real life. And it definitely isn’t funny.
Before you go any further, there’s one important thing you need to know. OCD won’t go away by itself. And without treatment, it’s likely to get worse. That’s not a scare tactic. It’s the truth. That’s why when you’re tempted to say to everyone (including your parents) “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!” it’s really important that you take a deep breath and, if you haven’t already started treatment, ask your parents to help you find a cognitive behavior therapist. There’s more later in this section about finding a therapist and about how Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) works.
How Can I Get Over OCD?
You need Cognitive Behavior Therapy to get relief from OCD. This therapy is different from what you might expect – it’s not “analysis” with a lot of talking about your past. And it’s not something weird like “relaxation techniques,” diet plans or herbal remedies. It’s about giving you the practical tools you’ll need to outwit OCD. A specially trained cognitive behavior therapist teaches you to use what is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) tactics.
Managing Your Parents and the Others at Home
Parents always think they’re helping, but they can make you feel worse when they don’t know what to do, or are constantly telling you what to do. You can help manage the situation at home by not losing your temper when they nag. It can be really hard to do, but try to remember that they’re only trying to help because they care about you. It’s also important to remember that although you’re the one with OCD, others are affected by the OCD, too.
Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents – your home might include any number of these family members. It might seem like all they ever say is “Just stop it!” Funny, isn’t it? If you could just stop it, you’d be the first one to do it. No one on the planet would have to tell you to stop!
Sometimes family members try to help by doing your rituals with you or for you. The problem is that helping you with your rituals isn’t helping you get over OCD. It’s really up to YOU to manage the problem.
A well-known professional in the treatment of OCD has written an article called “How To Manage Your Parents When You Have OCD: A Guide for Teens.” He gives practical ideas to help you live with the ups and downs of OCD. One part of the article that’s especially good is where he describes common mistakes parents and other family members can make when trying to help you. It’s a good read.
You can show this article to your parents. Maybe they’ll pick up some pointers about what to do – and what NOT to do – while you’re trying to get over your OCD.
You can also check out two good books titled “Breaking Free From OCD: A CBT Guide for Young People and Their Families” and “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – the Ultimate Teen Guide.”
How Do I Know I’ll Get Better?
Wondering if CBT will really give you relief from OCD is understandable. Many thousands of teens, adults and children have committed to doing CBT therapy (which includes homework sessions between sessions with your therapist) and gained control over their OCD.
It’s not easy to beat OCD. It will take hard work on your part. You’ll need to be open to trying CBT and be honest with the cognitive behavior therapist you’re working with. You also have to commit to going to therapy sessions once a week or more and doing homework assignments between sessions.
In some cases, your therapist may recommend prescription medication for a while if you’re feeling depressed (and OCD certainly can make you feel depressed) or to help ease your anxiety and fears. This can make it much easier to do your CBT work. But the medication may just be needed for the short-term. And you have to have some patience – with yourself and with your family – as you go through treatment.
You can read personal accounts of how teens and adults have learned to manage their OCD. Their stories are in the Personal Stories section of this web site.
Everyone Thinks I’m Different -- “The One With OCD”
You ARE different. EVERYONE is different. That’s what makes the world interesting – everybody has different skills, different interests and very different personalities. If you think of all your good traits, you might be surprised at how long the list is. (Or you can get down on yourself and only think about the negative things, which we don’t recommend!)
OCD may seem to be overwhelming right now. The thoughts and fears are unwanted, and are sometimes almost too much to bear. No one should underestimate the pain you feel because of OCD. Obsessions and compulsions can take up a lot of your time, too, especially if you haven’t started CBT treatment yet.
But OCD isn’t YOU. You are a person who just happens to have a medical illness called OCD, just like some kids have allergies or asthma. But you just want OCD to stop being such a big part of your life. That’s why you need to get CBT treatment. You can learn to manage your symptoms, and feel more like yourself again. Remember, you have OCD, but don’t let OCD have YOU!!
Will I Ever Get “Back to Normal”?
No one can tell you how quickly you’ll get relief from OCD when you’re undergoing CBT therapy. We’re not talking about a lifetime of treatment; in fact, it might only take a couple of months if you make the commitment to work hard at therapy. (If you’ve had OCD symptoms for a long time, it may take somewhat longer to learn to manage the symptoms.) You can talk about timing with your therapist. He or she has experience working with teens and may have some insight about how long you’ll be in therapy, and what to expect when treatment is completed.
Once you get control over your OCD symptoms, you can get back to concentrating on school work, friends and family, music, hobbies, sports – whatever matters most to you.
Remember, OCD is not your fault, and no one wants you to suffer with this stressful disorder. You have the power to keep OCD under control, with a little help from those who love you and your therapist.