Exploring Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

MSc Psychology of Mental Health, Foundation in Counseling and Psychotherapy. Looking to get a better understanding of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Severe OCD (diagnosed 2014) with contamination obsessions.
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Joshua Summers
12:55, 27 Jun 20
Hi Sallyface, thank you for Taaalking with me.
So before we get into the details of what it's like to have OCD, would you mind telling me a bit about your mental health journey so far? (For example, did you always have OCD, or did it develop/evolve over time, etc.)
sallyface
20:13, 27 Jun 20
Hello.
I think I always experienced tiny Obsessions on some level, but it wasn't until my mid-teen years that they blew up and Compulsions emerged.
During that time, I was good at hiding my (undiagnosed but clinical) depression, but I couldn't hide my OCD at all since it manifested externally, in the form of obsessive environmental scrutiny.
My family's house had always been filled with animals of various kinds -- I grew up around animals and I adored them. Well, most of them... I never cared much for dogs, and their mere presence began to provoke a horrible, raw anxiety that I had never felt before.
It sounds silly, I know. But imagine five large dogs in one small household... it was incredibly unhygienic. My dog-avoidance Obsession rapidly escalated. Then, it expanded to include all of the people in the house -- my family.
At that point, with my triggers being dogs and my own family members, I spiraled fast and hard. I lost basic freedoms. I threw out most of my furniture, stopped walking on my carpet, stopped washing my laundry, and more, all to avoid contact with that which my brain deemed a threat.
In my experience, my OCD onset was insidious and all-consuming. It sprang from nothing, and then it became everything.
Joshua Summers
13:38, 28 Jun 20
Right, I understand. It sounds like an extremely intense and overwhelming experience.
And is your current situation similar to the on you described when discussing your journey so far? For example, are your current obsessions the same, or have they changed?
sallyface
14:08, 28 Jun 20
Yes, my Obsessions have remained the same for the past six years - avoiding contact with dogs, my family, and whatever they have touched, as well as anything I cannot personally confirm they haven't touched.
I'm marooned in a single room with very little non-contaminated space, but I manage to function on a simplistic level by utilizing gloves and ziplocks.
When I leave the house, I double each article of clothing and keep my hood up at all times. When I return, I undress ritualistically (boy, that sounds funny) and scrub my hands and arms clean.
Regardless of where I am, nearly every move I make warrants a ritual.
My rituals have varied a little over the years - they've become more efficient, but their content does not change. (i.e. Avoiding contact with anything that I haven't personally confirmed to be "safe" from contamination.)
Joshua Summers
14:20, 28 Jun 20 (edit: 21:15, 29 Jun 20)
This question might be a bit insensitive, as maybe it is something which is it is not possible to know - I am unsure as I have only had the mildest experiences of OCD-like thinking. But in the moment, when you are having these thoughts, why are you having them? As in what is the full story line of one thought? Does the consequence of ignoring the internal pressure to perform a ritual drive you to do it, and if so what is that consequence? Or is it less about the consequence and do you feel you are driven by something else in the moment?
sallyface
15:40, 28 Jun 20
No worries, nothing you can ask me would be insensitive. Even uncomfortable questions are welcome. OCD is a very ugly disorder, and I do not wish to be selective in how I describe the reality of it.
I do not know the origins of these thoughts. They feel entirely natural. To my understanding, an Obsessive-Compulsive brain has a broken threat detection system. Dog filth always bothered me, OCD began to interpret it as a threat, and now my entire life is built around avoiding it like the plague just to silence the (metaphorical) deafening alarm. Even though I do realize my methods of avoiding that contamination are, well, insane.
Indeed, the consequence drives me to perform the avoidance Compulsions. I can only describe the consequence of "disobeying" as the deepest dread imaginable. It's unbearable. It feels similar to grieving.
I also experience intense suicidal ideation following any ritualistic mishaps (i.e. whenever I become contaminated). If I don't rectify it in a timely manner, I start to feel as if I lose my sense of self. I can even become hysterical. It's the closest I've ever felt to pure insanity.
On a thoughts-related note: Some thoughts, called "intrusive thoughts", do not feel natural at all. Their mere presence provokes terrible dysphoria. Their content often comes in the form of spontaneous, vivid mental imagery. Without fail, they are always horrifying, unwanted, and unexpected.
It's as if my brain crafts these images specifically to torment me. Everyone with OCD or intrusive thoughts "see" different things. Personally, I most often see my loved ones harmed in some way. Evisceration, enucleation, decapitation, immolation... Sometimes by their hand, sometimes by mine, and I'm not sure which one is worse. I've also seen a lot of brutal self-harm and freak accidents that are even freakier than Final Destination. (The story-driven video game "Neverending Nightmares", which is made by an Obsessive-Compulsive, perfects captures the self-harm "visions" I see.)
And sometimes intrusive thoughts come in the form of literal thoughts, such as, "What if I (blank)? What if I jam this knife in my neck? What if I pour drain cleaner in my coffee? What if I threw a lit match on this propane tank?" I'd best describe this brand of intrusive thoughts as being similar to the phenomenon named "the call of the void", except instead of feeling the urge to do it, I obsessively ask myself if I feel the urge to do it. I never do. OCD basically interrogates me, haha. This can go on for hours.
Joshua Summers
21:23, 29 Jun 20
You use this word:
"disobeying"
Is this the word that you feel fits best? If so could you tell me a bit more about that experience, perhaps the kind of internal discussions that take place around the idea of disobeying (if they occur).
And even though it might sound silly, does what/who you are disobeying feel like it's part of you? Or is it somehow external?
sallyface
00:48, 30 Jun 20
I think "disobeying" fits quite well, at least, for describing what it feels like.
Personally, OCD doesn't feel like it's me; it definitely feels separate somehow. I don't write "the rules", I just know them. I inherently know what is "right" and what is "wrong", without any clear influence on my part.
In that way, I suppose OCD could be considered a separate, internal entity that demands obedience. Factually, though, it's just several parts of my brain that malfunction continuously, compelling me to do what feels "right". (e.g. Compulsions will keep me "safe" from the threat known as "contamination".)
Joshua Summers
09:34, 30 Jun 20
Is
"contamination"
Also the right word? As in is that a word that your mind uses to describe the threat? Or is the threat non-verbal and contamination is the best way you have to describe it?
sallyface
10:47, 30 Jun 20
Yes, that is the best word for it. I don't remember thinking of or describing this "threat" in any other manner.
Contamination is both a "threat" and a feeling. Whenever my bare skin becomes contaminated, I begin feeling strange, as if my mind's trying to separate it from the rest of me (this happens alongside the aforementioned dread & suicidality).
Think of when a limb falls asleep -- it's similar to that, except it's not happening in your limb, but instead in your mind. (Kind of tough to explain, but hopefully that makes some semblance of sense.)
This even happens in nightmares, and I will wake up panicking with this... pseudo-sensation. (Unlike real contamination, though, dream contamination fades once I realize it didn't truly happen.)
Joshua Summers
12:00, 02 Jul 20
So I know from our discussions before this Taaalk that you are receiving some form of treatment. Not necessarily in regards to the treatment you are having now, or even treatment at all, but when people and/or therapists/clinicians have talked to you about having OCD, do they ever say things that frustrate you? Where you know they don't understand what's going on?
sallyface
14:50, 05 Jul 20
From people - as in, the general public - I hear too much callous ignorance to cover it all. Daily. It's exhausting and incredibly alienating. I understand that it's all due to the lack of proper education, and inaccurate representations in media, but honestly, it does make me feel bitter.
The idea that OCD is anything other than a debilitating mental disorder is deeply harmful.
I've been told outright by one psychologist that "Everyone has OCD, it doesn't really require treatment." The same psych also ranted about how OCD shouldn't be diagnosable...  This psych was heralded as a prodigy and was well-respected by all. How, I will never know.
Goes to show that the public's bias also affects "professional" minds, to startling degrees. I missed out on early treatment due to this brand of ignorance. I often wonder if things could've been different.
After that, I saw a handful of other psychologists and psychiatrists that spoke of OCD as if it were a personality trait; something to be desired or utilized. One said that it would please employers. Another kept suggesting I try a specific brand of scented sanitizer (I do not use sanitizer). Another kept referring to my contaminant as "germs", despite my persistent correction.
Collectively, they never addressed it as a disorder. In fact, they normalized it at every turn.
Being misunderstood on a fundamental level is deeply frustrating - especially coming from the one class of people that should've been competent. Stereotyping seemed to fuel most of it, and yet, communication did not mitigate the issue, because their minds were apparently made - OCD is normal! Disregard the "D", I guess.
Of course, that's all blatant misunderstanding. It can be more subtle than that, in which case, communication typically serves. Though no matter what, I still get the underlying feeling that there exists a barrier between me and everyone else. Or like the assortment of words I am using is, in actuality, total nonsense, and that they're just nodding in agreement to make me feel better. I guess that's the feeling of spouting insanity.
That isn't to say that it's a useless endeavor. I think it's entirely possible to understand another person's OCD, given some time and the right questions.
Joshua Summers
17:54, 05 Jul 20 (edit: 08:00, 09 Jul 20)
Right, it sounds like a very frustrating situation on the whole!
Has anyone used words or ideas that have resonated with you? By that I mean have there been any professionals or people that you've met who you feel have really understood what you are experiencing? If so, what kind of words were they using, or what made the difference?
sallyface
17:37, 11 Jul 20
Huh. I hadn't realized prior to being asked this question. No, I haven't yet felt that anybody "gets it". Therapy has been especially alienating (probably due to my personal expectation that the attending professional(s) will be unlike the general public).
I'm sure that other Obsessive-Compulsives would. But their understanding isn't the kind I need. (By that, I mean, their understanding doesn't relieve much, since I have to seek it out, and in places far removed from my immediate life.)
Joshua Summers
18:03, 11 Jul 20 (edit: 18:27, 11 Jul 20)
What you write here is very interesting:
But their understanding isn't the kind I need. (By that, I mean, their understanding doesn't relieve much, since I have to seek it out, and in places far removed from my immediate life.)
Can you describe an understanding (or its context*) that you would need or that would relieve you in some way?
*By context I'm referring to when you say "since I have to seek it out, and in places far removed from my immediate life" - as in that seems to be less about the understanding itself, but more about how/where it happens. 
sallyface
19:34, 11 Jul 20
Sure. In theory, surrounding myself with other sufferers should give me a sense of relief, since we're speaking the same language. And it does - briefly. But I find that, in turn, it makes me feel more isolated in my day-to-day life. I've struggled for years to explain my OCD to the people around me, but they still don't understand even the basics. Their lack of comprehension impacts my life the most, and on a daily basis, and therefore, it'd bring the greatest relief if they were the ones who understood what I was going through.
Also... Something that I experience on online forums is a... fear(?) that I am the other posters. That I... I don't know, blacked out, and created other accounts to converse with. Of course, this is ridiculous! I wouldn't do such a thing, but OCD makes me question if I did. "Maybe it happened. I can't prove it hasn't." I'm sure this impacts how I feel about other people online, which likely affects how "real" and "meaningful" interactions with them are.
I get a lot of these little pseudo-delusions (thought distortions? not sure if there's a clinical term). I had an awfully vivid one recently, where the phone in my hotel room only worked one way (they could hear me, but I couldn't hear them). This lead me to question if, perhaps, I had died and didn't yet know it. (I had sleep paralysis the night before, with a figure beside me telling me "You're going to die," which didn't help, haha.)
Joshua Summers
08:21, 12 Jul 20
When you say:
Their lack of comprehension impacts my life the most, and on a daily basis, and therefore, it'd bring the greatest relief if they were the ones who understood what I was going through.
Why would it bring relief? 
sallyface
14:52, 13 Jul 20
Because they give me a hard time about the way I am, and treat me as if I am fabricating my disorder. As if I have conscious influence over my obsessions, and that if I wanted, I could "just stop" having OCD.
Better yet: I can outsmart OCD if I "just think about it", and ultimately cure myself. All with the power of thinking! Wowie.
They are also fond of the belief that my OCD is the result of my inherently illogical nature -- but I'm honestly a very logical person, who acknowledges that everything I do is excessive and ridiculous... rendering their perception flat-out wrong. Not that they'll listen. They've got it in their heads that it's all my doing, my fault, my fatal flaw. Doctors and science be damned, I guess.
All of this is draining... Each incidence creates more stress on top of my resting level of anxiety (which is regrettably high).
At the end of the day (spent around these attitudes), my mood is incredibly low. Honestly, I think it's sensible that this contributes to my suicidal ideation. (Hell, I'd be gone already if I didn't have a pet to take care of.) That's why it'd be such a boon to be surrounded by educated people.
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