Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the anxiety disorders along with phobias, generalized anxiety and panic disorder. Today, OCD folks are often referred to as “anal”–but I suspect that few really know where that term originates. The anal stage is one of Freud’s stages of psychosexual development. It is the stage around age two or so where an infant becomes preoccupied with their feces—strange, but true. There are two phases of anal: anal expressive and anal retentive—expressive is playing with your poop (artists), and retentive, holding it in (passive-aggressives)–thus frustrating one’s parents. So think about that the next time you see Picasso’s Guernica, or van Gogh’s “Starry Night” They were just guys who never got over playing with their poop, or when you’re feeling frustrated by your micromanaging spouse or boss—they just never got over holding on to their poop.
In my book The Unwelcome Blessing I write: “An obsession is a recurrent disturbing thought. A common one amongst Christians is that they have committed an unforgivable sin such as blaspheming the Holy Spirit. A compulsion is a recurrent act or ritual such as hand-washing. Obsessive-Compulsives are constantly checking, counting, making lists and arranging objects in a futile attempt to keep their mounting anxiety under control. Perfectionists and workaholics are likely suffering from OCD.”
I have a touch of OCD–many of us do. However, those seriously so are living life in Hell–think of the TV show “Hoarders”–these are people who can’t throw anything away and so their homes become unlivable with piles of scraps, trash and junk–crap that normal folks would throw away and never think twice about. I’m glad I’m not like them, but then again I’ve been known to make huge stacks of old newspapers–you just never know when you might want to look back at an article.
Many years ago I had a client who spent two exhaustive hours most every morning checking his house before he could leave for work. He double and triple checked the stove, making sure it was turned off. He unplugged each electrical outlet. He checked the back door and every window to make sure they were locked. He made an entire sweep of the house for the second or third time only to get to the front door and wonder if he’d missed something. And so on occasion he checked it all for a fourth or fifth time. He was living life in Hell. He was a nice young man, and a serious Christian, but obviously he had a problem when it came to trusting the Lord as in: “I trust you God but just in case I better check things for the fourth time just to make sure you don’t allow my house to burn down while I’m at work.”
Those with extreme OCD, those being made absolutely miserable by it are best treated with an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) such as Prozac, Zoloft or Luvox–the latter med having the reputation as being especially effective for OCD. Extreme OCD is very likely the result of faulty brain chemistry and is best treated by one of the SSRI antidepressants. Clinical depression and anxiety disorders are closely related and treated by the same meds. There is a lot of comorbidity with OCD and other disorders–depression, addictions, Asperger’s and Tourette’s Syndromes all appear to be related. However, whereas meds can be helpful in reducing the symptoms, they are rarely a complete cure. Counseling and a commitment to lifestyle changes should go hand in hand with medication.
Folks who obsessively brood are stuck in an unproductive problem solving mode. Their brains are trying to work thru some dilemma, but instead of finding a solution their thoughts just keep running down the same track and around in circles that lead only back to the beginning. Obsessing is one of this writer’s major faults. I usually advise my clients that when they become aware of their obsessing that they intentionally change their thoughts to something pleasant–and sometimes I even take my own advice and short circuit the process. The thought that starts the obsessing bubbles up from the unconscious mind and its coming to the surface cannot be stopped. However, once one becomes aware of it, then you can choose to not think about it. I use the saying: “You can’t stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can keep it from building a nest.” I like that image and I suggest that they knock the bird off their head. And so much of the solution to obsessing is one of intentionality and choice.
There can be an upside to OCD. Many creative geniuses and artists are obsessive in the extreme–working compulsively on a creation until it’s done to their satisfaction. Some scientists can’t leave a problem alone until they’ve found the answer. I would imagine Einstein’s desk was a mess–but I suspect he obsessed about solving problems like the relationship of energy released to mass and velocity. Also, many folks who make gazillions of bucks are OCD in the extreme–picture Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg up all night writing code hours on end–or perhaps Warren Buffet pouring over stock market charts and company’s annual reports. Yep, I would say these men are examples of folks who used their extreme OCD quite adaptively.
Artists and scientists aside, what about the rest of us? Are we just doomed to obsess on the same old unsolvable issues like say, sinning, or perhaps counting very carefully to seven as we fill the tea kettle each morning? Me, I choose to put 11 blueberries on my morning cereal–every morning. You see, eleven is my number, but once in a while I’ll go all the way to 22. Then every so often I choose to do therapy with myself and randomly throw a handful of berries on my oat-bran flakes or shredded wheat. Now, understand that not counting the number of blueberries causes me some discomfort. But that is a tiny example of some of the OCD cure–bearing the pain of discomfort and learning to live with the feeling. You will find that the anxious feeling will eventually subside. When you do that you’ve done powerful therapy with yourself.
Another part of the OCD cure is serenity–the states of trust and joy–Joy of the presence of the Lord in one’s life. A feeling of serenity or Joy is antithetical to one of anxiety as in “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Learing to trust God in all circumstances does not come easy for most. I don’t think its supposed to be easy–not one of the quick and easy solutions we so much crave. It usually involves “a long obedience in the same direction” to quote the title of Eugene Peterson’s book and Nietzche’s aphorism.
To be a Christian gives one a leg-up. But the best step is to be a Jesus-follower–living inside of Him and allowing Him to live inside of you. However, if you have no belief in any power higher than yourself, prozac, or your therapist, “Good Luck!”
BTW, this is my 100th blog. I started blogging two years and eight months ago. Now 100 is a nice round number–a milestone number–but not one of my numbers.