Of all the mental health disorders in the world, it seems like none are more misunderstood than obsessive-compulsive disorder. Sometimes I tentatively broach the topic with new friends or acquaintances, and I am met with a variety of responses, most of which leave me with the realization that OCD makes me feel lonely.
In the beginning, I felt very bothered and alone. There was a sense of isolation as I struggled with a disorder that is so thoroughly misrepresented in the public sphere. Saying “I have OCD” felt like I was asking for people to make jokes.
Maybe you’ve felt alone, too. Maybe you feel that no one understands your OCD or really cares about you. In this article, I’d like to share a few thoughts on dealing with the isolation of having obsessive-compulsive disorder and what I do when OCD makes me feel lonely.
Why Does OCD Make Me Feel Lonely?
OCD will always be something the general public thinks is funny. It will take a long time to change that. There are too many OCD stereotypes in movies and pop culture. There are T-shirts that say OCD is “Obsessive Cat Disorder,” “Obsessive Cycling Disorder,” or “Obsessive Camping Disorder.” And then there are the memes.
Seriously. The memes.
But above all, there’s a public sentiment that OCD is:
- A choice, something you can “switch off”
- Nothing more than personality quirks
- Not very disturbing, more like “preferences”
- Funny and welcoming of jokes
- Only relating to “typical” themes like hygiene, checking, and symmetry
In view of this stereotype, it’s unlikely that there will be deep and widespread understanding everywhere we go. Certainly, OCD awareness has done a lot to push back at this false profile, but we simply won’t be understood by everyone. It’s very true that OCD makes us feel lonely.
And that’s fine.
There are three things we can do to make it easier to work through our OCD in a world that doesn’t really “get it.”
Embrace the Humor
My anxiety is not funny, but I’m willing to laugh about it. Laughter has wonderful healing properties. The more I can laugh, the better.
No, I don’t laugh at myself in a self-deprecating way (that’s called shame). But I do laugh at this disorder, because the more I laugh at it, the smaller and less serious it becomes.
There are many memes generated by the OCD community (not by non-OCD sufferers who think they know what OCD is). I find these kinds of memes relatable and often very funny. If you need a good laugh, look some up. They’ll help you take yourself less seriously.
It probably seems like a weird piece of advice for me to say, “hey, I know you feel like you’re inches away from eternal loss and nobody understands you, but please go ahead and laugh about it.”
Yes, that sounds strange.
But hear me out: we don’t laugh at things that are honestly real and bad. For example, we don’t laugh during funerals as we look at the dead body in the coffin. That would be completely inappropriate, because it’s a real moment of real loss.
But our obsessions are fake news. They shout things that are unreal, bad things that will never actually happen. Our obsessions are fiction. Laughter is, therefore, a very appropriate response, helping us relegate these thoughts in the proper domain.
Let me express my point with an allegory.
Two prisoners are taken captive and put into identical cells. These cells are extremely isolated and the conditions are horrendous. There are giant rats, green slime, fleas, bad smells, and no bed. What’s worse, they don’t know why they’ve been imprisoned and they don’t know when they’ll get out.
The first prisoner succumbs to discouragement and loneliness. He sits on the floor of the cell and thinks about how horrible the rats and fleas and isolation make him feel. He tells himself it’s awful, terrible, no-good, disgusting, and unthinkable. He rants against everyone and everything and tries so hard to figure out why he’s been cast in prison that soon he can’t even think clearly.
The second prisoner is in an identical cell, but he wisely realizes that his survival will depend upon what he does with his mind. He is realistic–he recognizes that there are rats and fleas and slimy goop that make his life uncomfortable–but he knows if he maximizes these problems in his mind, they will completely overcome him. He doesn’t know why he’s in prison, either, but he knows that it will not be helpful for him to try to figure this question out. Instead, he determines to use his time in prison to the best possible use. For example, he can write a book or compose songs. He can see his prison as a crucible for creating a newer, stronger person. Even though the prison feels real, smells real, sounds real, and looks real, it isn’t real to him. He is free because his mind is free.
Thus, the joke is on the prison. We think the prison cages us, but if we have the correct mindset, we can transcend our difficulties. We can laugh at our worst experiences because we are not prisoners to them.
(By the way, does the prison allegory sound familiar? John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was written in prison, and it is believed that he overcame his depression, anxiety, and OCD during the 12 years he spent there.)
So let’s have a laugh at our OCD. Because we will win in the end.
Share with Discernment
In the beginning, I felt keenly that my OCD made me feel lonely. Then I learned that some people are kind, sympathetic, and willing to learn more about my OCD. However, not everyone is. I learned that there are a few bad apples who will take advantage of knowing that I have a unique struggle.
Thus, I’ve learned that it’s good to share about my OCD–but not with everyone.
Some of our group coaching members have experienced both sides of the debate, “to tell or not to tell.” What we concluded together is that if you have a toxic family or work environment where you think that having an anxiety disorder might be held against you, you should probably not publicize your struggle. If, on the other hand, you have a very understanding and sympathetic support team, it can be very helpful to share what you are going through.
We need God’s discernment to know who we can tell and who we can’t.
Most of us can share bits and pieces of our journey, telling more as we sense our friends’ interest and empathy. Often, people will be extremely gracious and supportive as you share. You may try prefacing your explanation by saying that you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder that tends to be very misunderstood in popular culture. This sets up your listener to pause, suspend their silly comments, and ask themselves, “am I one of the people who misunderstand this disorder?”
You might feel that no one understands your OCD, but they will. If you tell them. If OCD makes us feel lonely, we can begin changing this by speaking up.
Sharing with a few select individuals can do wonders to draw you out of your sense of isolation. If you’ve never told anyone about your OCD, I recommend warming up to the task by participating in online OCD forums. With the affirmation and support you receive from online strangers, you can feel more confident to speak with a real friend about your OCD.
Know that Jesus Understands
If OCD makes you feel lonely, the ultimate response is to remember that Jesus understands. Jesus knows exactly what you’re going through. You don’t have to explain. He is perfectly acquainted with every terrifying thought, every shed tear, every out-of-control emotional cycle.
David prayed to the Lord in his time of trial, saying,
You number my wanderings;Psalm 56:8
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
God counts and numbers the trials we go through. In fact, He records every tear that we shed. He does not waste our pain. We must believe that if we are going through the crucible of a mental health disorder, it is only because God has allowed it for our ultimate good.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.Romans 8:28
If God intimately knows everything about us–how many hairs are on our heads, how many tears we have cried–He also knows our struggle with obsessions and compulsions. He knows how hard we’ve tried to “just stop thinking,” and how that hasn’t worked out very well. He sees how desperately we crave and yearn for a mental “finish line” that never arrives. He feels our pain and terror when an ugly unwanted thought pops into our minds.
More intimately than anyone else in the world could ever know us, Jesus knows.
Thus I can say that OCD makes me feel lonely until the moment I remember Christ. With Him, I can never feel lonely. Even if my family, friends, and even my therapist seem perplexed to know what to do with me at times, I can trust that Jesus holds my hand and understands what they do not.
Having a mental health disorder can feel lonely and isolating, but there are things we can do to combat this. We can share prudently with people whom we believe will be open and supportive. We can choose to laugh at the silly parts of our disorder and use humor to transcend our mental prisons. And we can keep our eyes on Jesus, the One who truly understands us in our distress.
As you move forward in your recovery journey, I pray that you will be comforted by His presence, whether seen or unseen, felt or unfelt. Our Lord is with you; He will never leave you or forsake you. Even in your loneliest moments, He is stooped over you in compassion, His tears mingled with yours.
Best wishes on the journey,