A Clean Map to a Helpful OCD Diagnosis

by Bill Brenner on August 6, 2011

I found a great article on Newsmax.com that describes OCD perfectly. It also helps the reader figure out what to do with a diagnosis. A lot of it is what I’ve already written about, but it’s less personalized. In this case, that’s good.

Mood music:

What follows are excerpts and how I relate…

OCD symptoms are usually associated with a condition of debilitating and disabling anxiety. It’s not easy to diagnose OCD and determine what causes OCD, as this condition does not have many clear-cut signs and symptoms.

They got that right. My condition used to be rooted in debilitating anxiety. Just this morning I wrote about how my anxiety would disable me in times of global economic uncertainty. But many times my trouble looks like other things. There are days when I develop a dense tunnel vision and can’t see the world around me because I’m so focused on one obsessive thought. That is OCD, but it is also a characteristic of ADHD. I also get scattered and lose my ability to focus. That’s an ADHD-like trait, too.

Obsessions and tell-tale OCD symptoms alone characterize this condition and help doctors diagnose it. OCD in children is characterized by an unexplained fear of germs and contamination, and children tend to wash their hands repeatedly.

In adults, OCD manifests in the form of repetitive and unwanted thoughts, and the obsession eventually becomes a thought pattern that is very tough to get rid of. These thoughts can be in the form of words or images and cause anxiety as well as distress. 

The question “Do I have OCD?” can be easily answered if you think you are someone who is in the habit of thinking excessively about one thing all the time. You neither have any power nor any control to neutralize these images and thoughts. 

OCD symptoms include uncontrolled checking of things, excessively monitoring things, repeating the same words silently, excessive cleanliness, an innate fear of diseases, injury, and illness, and repetitive, continuous body movements.

I like the descriptions, because I know all too well that they are accurate. So let’s say you have these symptoms. Now what?

My experience is that you have to start with therapy. Getting your memory shaken until all the skeletons fall out is a vital first step. You have to learn how you got this way and what the triggers are. Along the way, you’ll hopefully get an accurate diagnosis. But as stated above, that’s not always easy.

My diagnosis was slow in coming, though I always assumed I had what I had. When I first started getting help in 2004, that first therapist resisted giving me a diagnosis. For one thing, it was still way to early to pin an acronym on my demons.The therapist also hated diagnosing people because she felt a diagnosis was just a label that never tells the entire story.

My third therapist finally gave me a diagnosis in the spring of 2006.

I sat there in her office, staring at the floor as I told her about the old therapist’s dislike of labels.

“Well, do you have obsessive thoughts all the time?” she asked.

“Yup,” I said.

“Does it make you do compulsive things?” she asked.

“Yup,” I said. “I binge eat all the time even though I know it’ll eventually kill me. I just can’t stop.”

“Does it cause disorder in your life?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I said. “Every day is an exhausting hell.”

“Well, then we may as well call it what it is,” she said.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Was I misdiagnosed?

It really doesn’t matter. I had a problem that was destroying me from the inside out. Putting a label on it helped me because instead of smoke and shadows, I finally had a way to see my struggle in a more concrete fashion. It had finally taken a form. I could see it, therefore I could punch it. Punch it I did, repeatedly.

It always gets back up and I have to keep throwing punches. But it’s better than trying to swing at shadows.

It’s a tricky thing, because in plenty of cases people do get misdiagnosed and the results are damaging. It can lead to prescriptions that don’t get at the root problem, making you worse.

In my case, the diagnosis was accurate. The treatment turned out to be right on, at least.

I think it was more of a relief than cause for a deeper spiral into depression. Because I had something to call it, I could move on to the next phase of recovery.

I still had many bad days after that. Some of my worst days, in fact. It would still be another two years before I could bring my addictions to heel.

The anxiety attacks didn’t cease until I started taking Prozac in early 2007.

But slowly, I got better.

It would be stupid for me to tell you not to freak and backslide after getting a diagnosis. It can be a frightening thing.

The biggest fear is that everyone will define you if you go public. That didn’t happen to me. At work, I’m judged on how I do my job, not on my disease. Of course, the OCD sometimes fuels some of my best work, which makes that less of a problem. 

To me, the lesson is to not let a diagnosis be the excuse to live a less than worthwhile life and give in to your darker impulses.

Like anything else in life, you gotta make the best of it.

Obviously, that’s easier said than done.

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