Skepticism PWNs OCD

Author Emily Dietle

My focus is on state-church separation & social issues. I'm an avid reader, and feel that one of our most valuable tools is the free movement of information and ideas. | @emilyhasbooks

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that affects between 2-3 percent of the population at some point during their lives.  I’ve been struggling with it since age five.  It started out small.  There would be an urge to touch something, usually in the center of an object, let’s say for this example it’s the palm of my hand.  First comes the urge to touch it, then the urge to touch the same spot again with what feels like the right amount of pressure.  This continues with a cause and effect thought, “If you don’t do X just right, X harm will come to X member of your family.”

In my teens the intrusive thoughts were relentless, and the urges to act were gripping.  It felt like the cause-effect relationship was real; some sort of supernatural thether.  I adapted and found ways to hide my weird behaviour over the years, but the social awkwardness and stress persisted.  By the time I was in my mid-teens, I was exhausted.

The fatigue was overwhelming.
I was fed up with the whole situation, and began paying closer attention.  Questions arose.  Was I actually influencing the outcome of people’s lives?  Could this be something else?  Do other people experience this?  Where was the evidence for the correlations I was making?  It didn’t make sense.  Once I sat down and skeptically examined my compulsions, it was obvious that it was all in my brain.

One internet search confirmed my suspicions, this was OCD, not some supernatural experience.  I could fight back.  During the next few months, every time an OCD thought attempted to override my sensibilities, I had to make myself mindful of what was actually happening.  At the time I still believed in the Christian god, but wouldn’t allow myself the weakness of prayer.  If this was to be overcome, I had to do it myself.

Any time an urge became almost too overwhelming, I had to systematically analyze the situation and use one statement, “This is merely the OCD,” as my strength.  It worked for a few years and I was getting better; increasingly less time was spent succumbing to the checking and rechecking, the ‘just-so’ touching, the thought patterns.

In my early twenties, I relapsed during a significantly stressful time in my life and started having difficulty working.  My anxiety levels went soaring, as did all of the obsessive behaviours, and I went to see a specialist.  Medication was offered as a treatment, but I wasn’t prepared for the transition process.  I quit taking it after six weeks, and was on my own again.

Over the years, I’ve been able to push through the nonsense that comes with obsessive-compulsive disorder by carefully analyzing my emotions and urges.  Breaking the habits of OCD began with being skeptical of the source of my drives and using reasoned logic to consistently combat and overcome them.  Even though it’s practically second nature to dismiss the OCD when it arises, I have to stay alert, especially during periods of extended stress.

At Skepticon IV, JT Eberhard had the courage to share his own struggle with mental illness [video].  By opening up about such very personal issues, it can give strength and a sense of community to those who are also struggling.  I encourage you to tell your story in order to help reduce the stigma and judgement associated with mental illness.

Thank you, JT.

If you are struggling to overcome OCD or social anxiety issues, feel free to PM me and please visit the International OCD Foundation and OCD Tribe for more support.

Image: smokedsalmon