Monday, February 7, 2011

Frustration with "Normal" People

Bad advice is everywhere when it comes to dealing with OCD.  Today I ran across one of those yahoo question/answer deals where someone described taking extra long showers with a great big helping of compulsive avoidance.  This person asked:  how can I make my showers more pleasant?  What can I do?  I never answer those sort of things, but as I read the answers that had been provided so far, I quickly changed my mind.

The answers angered me.  And it's not the fault of those answering - they just don't know better.  Answers like "try listening to music to relax yourself," "dance in the shower," or "maybe take a bath instead so even if you don't want to touch certain parts of your body to wash them, they are at least getting a little bit clean."  These are the kind of answers that I got from the first therapist I saw when this all began.  Answers like, "Why don't you try to do some deep breathing exercises to reduce your stress?" or "Why don't you talk to your boss about taking a few extra safety precautions so you're not so worried about the danger of working with chemicals?"  And while, for a non-OCD individual these answers might be useful, in the face of something as compelling and irrational as OCD, these answers are useless.  USELESS.

Other answers to this person's question ranged from "turn your shower into sexy time!" to "Omg!  Showers one of the best part of my day! If they were any more pleasant, I would never get out."  Again, useless.  And to me, extremely annoying, because they seem to trivialize the problem and the suffering that can occur.  Perhaps even worse are those that are well-meaning but actually only making the problem worse by suggesting the addition of new compulsions - answers like: "Try using a separate wash cloth to wash certain parts of your body first and then shower.  Or trying washing them with alcohol beforehand..."  Uh, as well-meaning as these suggestions probably were, they are the last thing that someone with OCD should do.  It's only adding to the compulsions, the distorted thinking, the idea that certain parts of the body are dirty and must be washed separately or differently or in some sort of ritualized manner.  One word:  NO.

Maybe this person out there doesn't actually have OCD (though if you are taking hour and a half long showers and avoiding showering for weeks at a time because the thought of showering is so dreadful, I highly suspect that you DO have OCD like myself and like many others out there).  Maybe I am over-reacting because her experience sounds so much like mine, and because her description of her routine conjures up powerful memories of my own suffering.  But if she does have OCD and doesn't know that there are excellent evidence-based treatments out there that work, she is suffering needlessly.

Long story short, I commented.  I recommend that, if she can, she should seek cognitive behavioral therapy with exposure and response prevention.  With that I included a link to the International OCD Foundation website, as well as a link to a post where I talked about my own showering rituals and how I was challenging them with the help of my therapists.

I hate to see and hear about people suffering unnecessarily when there are great treatment options out there.  I know too well the pain and the suffering of OCD (and in this case, the pain of OCD shower rituals and avoidance), as well as the confusion caused by others' thoughtless (or sometimes well-meant but uninformed suggestions) that only serve to heighten the anxiety and bewilderment associated with attempts to free yourself from the confines of OCD without really knowing WHAT you're fighting or HOW to go about fighting it.

That said, it's sometimes interesting to look at the statistics that Blogger provides about how is visiting your site.  I look at the search keywords that land people at my blog, and when I see some of them, I really hope that they stayed long enough on my site to realize that they have OCD and that there are very helpful treatments out there.  Because, while there are a number of reasons why I blog, one of the main reasons is that I hope by sharing my own story, others who are suffering like I was will realize sooner rather than later (or never), that they have OCD and that there is a way out!!

Anyways, if that individual who wrote that question on Yahoo, or anyone else out there for that matter, finds themselves here reading this, realizing that they have OCD and that it is a real and treatable condition, please get yourself the help you deserve!  It is entirely unnecessary to suffer when there are many resources out there and proven ways to treat this disorder.  Cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure and response prevention can help you infinitely!  I know they have helped me infinitely and look forward to the aid and hope they will provide into the future as I continue to make my way in overcoming my OCD.


  1. I continue to be amazed that even on "get over your OCD" forums, people will sometimes give what basically amount "helpful compulsion hints"
    Luckily I see less of that than I used to.

  2. I completely agree with this post. In fact - it's one of my big OCD fears. I am quite certain that telling everyone the content of MY OCD fears would result in many people thinking they are helping me but either reassuring me that I'm not in fact gay - or saying something like "Maybe you should give that some thought.". I find the lack of knowlege of OCD that the general public demonstrates frustrating, but if I didn't have it - would I make it my business to learn about this disorder? Probably not. Another reason I don't tell people about my OCD is because I don't want them to treat me differently ie: as someone who has a *scary* mental disorder.

  3. Ann - Yes, this is so true. Or, individuals who are simply trying to be compassionate end up offering what basically amounts to reassurance.

    Pure O - I can SO see where you are coming from. My compulsions seem to manifest themselves in such traditional ways, and yet I can hardly begin to explain why I engage in cleaning compulsions. Just like "pure o" fears, it's not even really about whether I am clean or dirty (or in the case of HOCD, gay or straight), but people often take the concerns at face value and offer support or explanations that might make sense - if those fears weren't based on OCD!

    I'm sure there are numerous things I regularly demonstrate my lack of knowledge in. I probably say unhelpful things when I am only trying to help. Like you said, if I didn't have this disorder I don't know if I would have made it my business to understand OCD. In the almost 2 decades that I've suffered from this disorder, I only recently, in fact, made it my business at all. Thus, I can understand why people make rather unhelpful comments, since I probably do the same in other situations where I am less educated, but all the same, it's still hard to see someone else just being led further down the OCD rabbit hole by well-meant but unhelpful advice!

  4. Great post! Its tough because regular advice that would work for someone without OCD is counter-intuitive. I run across this all the time with my daughter...reassuring her makes it worse, downplaying worries works to increase them, forcing her to do what she avoids makes scenarios better AFTER the freak-out panic subsides...with everyone else in my house I do the opposite. - I pat, rub, hug, console and smooth situations out to calm life down...that only feeds this OCD bully! Sorry you're getting well-intended mis-guided and pretty looney advice from people who think this whole OCD thing is just common sense!

  5. I think what you have said about us "normal" people and our attempts to "help" is so insightful and sadly true. My son of 13 has severe ocd and spend up to 4 hours in the bathroom on nights when he showers. He has so many "rules" and rituals that he has to do in certain circumsances and he gets so stuck cos he doesn't want to do them but won't move forward till he has so procrastinates and spends hours doing nothing. As his mom I cannot nag him to "get on with your rituals" as I see that is validating them and making them worse but he cannot will not believe in ERP and just won't brave it.

    I am trying to find out about tough love and how to help in a loving way that won't alienate him but I think it might be impossible to impose therapy on him if he is not receptive.

    Anyway, times are tough for him and us but blogs like yours give me hope and inspire me to keep trying to get him to help himself.

    All the best, JF

  6. Fellow - one more thing to add to your comment: I think that due to having OCD I have definitely tried to become less judgemental and quick to offer "answers" to those because I haven't walked in their shoes. I think this is one positive thing about having OCD, common for many of us who suffer. We are much more compassionate and less prone to snap judgements.

  7. Interesting take. Did the person asking the question explicitly state that they suffered from OCD or did you take it from the context? Many struggle to comprehend digital communication, as it lacks the nuance of spoken word. Those answering might have interpreted the question differently.


  8. Unfortunately, yes, the person asking the question did mention that they had OCD right up front and were looking for advice in how to deal with the shower problems that it was causing!



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