OCD: Fear of abandonment/incarceration
When I wrote my personal OCD memoir, Truth be Told: A journey from the dark side of OCD, one of the central themes I tried to get across was that, from the time my OCD sparked when I was 11 and on through the next four decades, I was extremely fearful of abandonment and incarceration. It was terrible to be just a kid and to feel like I couldn’t tell my parents, my siblings, my friends, that I had horrible thoughts running through my head. I was so incredibly fearful that, if I told about the thoughts, my family would abandon me. I was sure if word got out that the men in white coats would come take me away and lock me up because only disgusting, harmful people think thoughts like I thought.
I was eventually diagnosed with OCD. I finally had an answer as to why I had such hurtful, mean, troubling thoughts going through my head. I launched myself into recovery and did everything I could to begin my journey to wellness. I went far beyond most people and started this blog, became a very active member on an OCD forum (helping others with their recovery) and writing not only my memoir but other books on OCD.
Still, even though I laid it out bare in my memoir, I never described exactly what my thoughts were. Oh, I came close. I suffered from a number of OCD themes but the two that caused me the most trouble were Harm OCD and Pedophile OCD (POCD). In my memoir I described some of my intrusive thoughts and images to a T, but others I sort of skirted around. The reason is simple: they are just too powerful, too raw for me to expose myself to the world over them.
Today I was on that online forum and I read a post by a fellow Canadian. She explained that she was 19, her boyfriend 22 and everything was going great. Their relationship was strong. But there was one fly in the ointment: she hadn’t told her boyfriend she had OCD and she was struggling over if she should tell him and, if so, what she should say.
I am not the only person with OCD to struggle with fears of abandonment and incarceration. I have read many stories written by OCD sufferers who are in pain because they don’t know if they can tell their loved ones about their thoughts. There is a high degree of risk associated with letting one’s guard down and letting the world, or a small part of it, know about the deepest, darkest secret we keep as sufferers.
Some people of course have let their family members and friends know about their OCD but they may still have kept closed mouthed about the exact nature of their thoughts. It presents a problem because we generally want to be honest with those we love but we can become terribly troubled by the thought of exposing ourselves so openly. It can be especially troubling when the OCD themes we suffer with have to do with sex or children.
The problem can become so acute that some OCD sufferers are too afraid to even talk to a doctor or therapist about their thoughts out of fear that the authorities will be called or the sufferer will be branded as some kind of deviant. This can lead sufferers to not seek help for their condition. I certainly delayed, by nearly 40 years.
I don’t want to scare vulnerable OCD sufferers, but the above concern has actually been borne out in real life. I know of several people who were put under authoritarian scrutiny because they expressed their intrusive thoughts involving sex and children to a doctor or therapist not well versed on the language of OCD. Those cases were eventually settled once the sufferers in question were able to access quality mental healthcare from professionals who knew what OCD was, but there was a lot of heartache, worry and grief suffered in the mean time.
It can be maddening to want, on one hand, to tell those we love that we suffer from a mental disorder that we are really having a problem with, to seek the love and support of those around us, while, on the other hand, to have a real fear that those very people will abandon us, run out, walk away, turn on us, for expressing what is in essence a problem not of our own creation. A lot of people suffer from OCD. Many of them suffer in silence, because of fear.
Should I tell? Who to tell? What to tell? How far should I go? These are all questions to which there are no easy answers. I do believe that the journey to recovery is far easier to take if you can walk it alongside loved ones. And they’re only going to walk with you if they know there’s a problem to begin with.
Whether to open about one’s OCD and how far to go is ultimately a personal choice. It can start with three simple words: I have OCD. That can be followed by a brief but broad explanation of obsessions and compulsions. You can even go as far as describing the general theme of your thoughts, whether they be harm, sexual, contamination or one of the several other OCD themes. You don’t, under any circumstances, have to describe the exact intrusive thoughts you have. If pressured, you can just say, “I’m not ready to discuss the exact thoughts I have but suffice it to say they cause me a lot of grief.”
It’s the same when going to see a doctor — the usual first step to take on the road to recovery. You don’t have to tell your doctor your exact thoughts. It is enough to know what obsessions and compulsions are and to be able to communicate that you think you have OCD, that you have intrusive thoughts and compulsions and that you want help.
Fear of abandonment and incarceration is common with OCD sufferers. It can keep them from connecting fully with family and friends and even prevent them from seeking the help they need for their disorder. It’s a risk to tell those we love what is going on in our minds. It is terribly lonely to suffer alone.