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,
Thank you so much for taking the time to write all of this down, it has been very thankful. God bless you!
Seriously, thank you so much for talking about this! I came across your website a couple of months ago and I'm so glad I did. I've had a pretty rough season with my OCD and I've been stuck in a rut of rumination for months. I struggle with so many forms of OCD. One of them is magical thinking. I catastrophize so much about the past and fear that it will come back to haunt me in the future, like I'll have some personal doomsday that is inevitable. Which makes me struggle to be in the present. I can read every verse that says to not worry or how His mercies are new each morning, yet I still struggle to truly believe it after everything I've been through emotionally. I dwell on shame a lot and insecurity. I feel like I'm also never enough and that no one will ever understand me and that I'll just be rejected all around. I feel shame when I let the enemy rob me of my joy because I feel like God is disappointed with me for letting him have power over me. In general, I grew up around many extreme Christians who just tell me to "pray it out" and "every negative thought is from the enemy". I'm not saying the enemy doesn't contribute to my negative thoughts/emotions, but I would like to find Christian people who have a middle ground because I find those types of people to me a little bit more understanding. I think you have a middle ground perspective of Christianity and I really appreciate your take on it because I can relate to it on so many levels!
I’m so glad you stumbled across the website! I know what you mean about the “just pray it out” perspective (which usually just makes the obsessive person obsess more). Sometimes the best way to have faith is to leave our burdens with God and get UP off our knees. Keep pressing forward and trusting Jesus!
Thank you so much!
Your calling and work are a Godsend for me.
I looked up your page today because I had a trigger last evening that left me with a difficult morning. God has faithfully got me through it.
Being reminded what I am dealing with and what all of us who battle OCD struggle with is a vital piece in putting the OCD puzzle back together. You are correct in saying God allows this for our good. My OCD brokenness forces me to embrace his eternally dependable grace. His grace is my strength.
Again, Thankyou for serving Christ my beloved sister.
It’s always good to hear from you. And don’t worry about the occasional triggers and “down days.” We all have them. But you’re doing a world better now than you were a couple years ago, right? So keep your eyes off yourself and keep looking to Jesus. He’s doing a great work in your life, and you are bearing fruits for His glory! By His grace we will overcome!
Grace and peace,
Thanks for the article i: how not to isolate. I'm 65 & the onset of my symptoms started when I was in my 2nd semester of freshman year. The last few years have been hard. I am
Morbidly obese. Knee pain & fear of falling & the shame of "how'd I let myself get this bad?"
I'm so glad I found you & your ministry. I felt like I had out lived my usefulness. I fell 3 times
This past year…EMS had to come get me up…then I heard my husband talking to someone
About putting me in assisted "living" or a nursing home. During these last few years I have
Become like a bedridden hermit & allowed my drivers license expire. My husband recently
Retired from work. It is really hard to communicate…to the point of feeling like we are toxic
To be around & talk . I did not mean to write so much. I'm NOT looking for anyone's sympathy. Holidays are upon us shortly. I get sad & extra depressed. Because of the fear of contaminating anyone I am around. This has stolen so much potential for joy. I have never
Hugged our youngest great-niece, or one of my great-nephews. Sometimes I'm tempted
To journal; "what if" I did not have OCD & scrjpulosity ocd. How would I choose to spend my day? One Last question…i'm still having some trouble with your slide shares. I can't
Remember what is ok to down load & print. I know confidentionality comes 1st. At all
Times. I'll keep exploring & try to figure it out. Thanks again. May God richly bless you & your family & friends & staff.
Still hoping that I will be able to enjoy some joy in the land of the living.
Thank you for your honest comment. I know you are not looking for sympathy, but I do feel it for you. It must be very difficult, and I’m sorry you’ve had to suffer this much. Please know that you can regain your joy and happiness again. God can lift you up and place your feet on firm ground again. Keep looking up and trusting Him. It will get better.
And yes, regarding the group slides, you can log into your account in the academy and click on “group coaching.” Scroll down and you will find all the previous slides from our sessions. They cannot be downloaded but you can see everything online. Hope this helps!
Blessings and hugs,
I struggle very much with scrupulosity but I just don’t know how to discern if certain things are sins or not because sometimes I feel like I kind of know and could let it go more easily but others times I’m really not sure and I didn’t use to have this problem before I had ocd it’s just I don’t know how to let go of things that I think actually genuinely could be sin or not because then I feel like how could I just let a potential sin that just hurt God go like how could I just live my life like that with that knowledge of a potential unforeseen sin that could actually truly be sin and then I feel like now that is creating a genuine barrier with me and God or something like that or a bad mark on our relationship so I always have to ask for forgiveness to make sure or something like that. I just don’t know how to fix this issue of discerning if something sin or not anymore Bc I didn’t use to trip up like this before ocd happened in my life.
Just wanted to reach out to you to let you know how impactful your post is on how this affliction is accompanied by a whole lot of loneliness and isolation. This is something that, I would imagine, all of us who suffer from this have experienced. My biggest tug of war with Religious OCD is balancing treating this medically vs spiritually. I see a conflict between the two. Isolation just adds to the difficulties of dealing with this and your post is very enlightening.
Thank you for this article. I often forget that God is with me. He is my best friend. I don't have anyone to communicate with but you and God who understands. I don't have a counselor or spiritual director so I look for your letters.Thank you for your love and care.
Thank you so much Jaimie for this! Never felt so seen and validated until I found your website.🧡 I believe God was the one who led me to you. I struggled with OCD since 2019. Back then I didn't know it was OCD so I treat it as a miracle that I have a name now for my struggle.
It does feel lonely since I don't hear a lot of mental disorders here in our place or maybe I'm wrong (I'm from the Philippines btw, sorry for my English lol)
Anyway I just want to let you know that your articles are very helpful to me. I hope you keep on writing and bring hope to many OCD people like me. ✨💗 Maraming maraming salamat! (means Thank you very much in the Philippines)
God bless your ministry!💫
Thank you for sharing your successful strategy in coping with the loneliness and isolation of OCD.
You are fortunate. I suffer from religious OCD and thinking of Christ is one of the surest ways to make my loneliness so painful I want to die rather than live one more minute. Thinking of God the Father or His Son triggers the thought and the belief (false thought false though they are) that they don’t want me anymore than anyone else in my life does.
I am interested in how you view my experience of scrupulosity. As someone who suffers the condition, do you feel sympathy or do you feel that since what works for you only causes me more pain, that I am at fault. That I am not a true Christian like you or that I am lol caking g in faith or that I don’t live Jesus ?
People who suffer from OCD are definitely misunderstood by those who don’t, but I feel misunderstood and judged even by those who suffer from it. People experience religious OCD differently. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. I have experienced more pain and criticism at the hands of those who claim to understand my condition than those who make jokes about OCD. I care nothing for their jokes but being judged as a inadequate, lacking Christian by people who understand OCD is no joke really hurts.
You are right–my own experience won’t be the same as everyone’s, and that is normal. But do keep in mind that it is a very typical symptom of moral/religious OCD to compare ourselves with others and then judge ourselves if in some way we don’t “measure up.” The symptoms of scrupulosity have some variation, and it’s pretty typical for people to get worried if they don’t match others in every particular, wondering “do I really have OCD or is it actually a purely spiritual problem?” I don’t think we need to go down this route. We need to remember that everyone is different and that God will tend us where we are.
Thank you. May God bless you for comforting so many in their loneliness and struggling. ❤