The OCD Survival Guide – What to do now that you know you have OCD

The OCD Survival Guide – What to do now that you know you have OCD

This OCD survival guide is from a list of frequently asked questions, comments, and concerns, to help you recognize that you are not alone, what common OCD symptoms are, and most importantly, what OCD treatment is and how to find it.

“I just found out I have OCD, what should I do now?”

This is a common question among frequently asked questions about OCD for individuals that just found out they have the condition. Like anyone that has been recently diagnosed with a condition, you want to know what it is, how it occurs, how common it is, and if there is treatment.

If you are still wondering if it is OCD, take this online, free OCD test

Now that you know it is OCD, you need to understand what OCD is, and isn’t

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder composed of two parts: Obsessions and Compulsions. OCD is a chronic, genetic condition that produces significant distress when not properly diagnosed and treated. OCD can severely affect an individual mentally, emotionally and socially.

What are Obsessions?

Obsessions are repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that are negative and produce distress and discomfort. Obsessional themes for individuals with OCD can come in many forms; germs, order, symmetry, fear of harming, violent thoughts and images, sexual fears, religious and morality. In all cases, these thoughts create fear in an individual with OCD because they go against their identity and caste doubt and uncertainty into their lives.

What are Compulsions?

In order to relieve the discomforting feelings of anxiety, fear, shame, and/or disgust from an obsession, an action or behavior is performed to reduce or eliminate the distress. This is called a Compulsion. Compulsions, or any act to avoid or minimize anxiety or guilt, can come in many forms as well; cleaning, washing, checking, counting, tics, or any mental act that replays or checks mentally to determine if one did or is capable of performing any of the obsessional thoughts.

“I feel like I am all alone and no one understands me.”

How common is OCD? 

This is very common for someone with OCD. A lot of times this occurs because we are ashamed and embarrassed to tell anyone what is happening. For others it is because they never heard that OCD impacts between 1.5-2.5% of the World’s population. This means that out of the 7.5 billion people on Earth, there are 112.5 million to 187.5 million people suffering from OCD. 

YOU are not alone

A study by the World Health Organization identified that OCD is among, the ten leading diseases, which are associated with high levels of psychosocial impairment. OCD has become the fourth most common psychiatric disorder and the 10th leading cause of disability around the world. In the United States alone there are over three million individuals suffering from OCD (International OCD Foundation, 2018).

What causes OCD? 

Research has demonstrated that family genes appear to be partially responsible for the onset of OCD but what unlocks these genes is still unknown (International OCD Foundation, 2018). There is information suggesting that life stressors, trauma and even illness can unlock the OCD genetic code. What is for certain, once this genetic code is unlocked, without effective treatment, OCD becomes a chronic, lifelong condition that leads to a poor quality of life. 

Know that some people and parents usually want to dive into their family line to try and determine who has OCD and who ‘gave this to them.’ Know that even though you can recognize OCD in a family member, this doesn’t mean they were the first ones in your genetic line to have the condition. The condition could have started 10 generations ago. Therefore, although this is something we all wish we could know, your time and energy will be better spent learning about the condition and getting OCD treatment. 

What are the common symptoms of OCD?

Uncontrollable, unwanted intrusive thoughts 
Repetitive thoughts
Feeling the need to perform certain tasks, actions, or behaviors
Feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment 

Are there other common symptoms that can occur with OCD?

Yes. Other symptoms of OCD can include panic/anxiety attacks. As a result of having anxiety attacks, additional symptoms can occur, such as, heart palpitations, fear of having a heart attack, fear of going crazy, and fear of fainting / passing out. 

In addition to anxiety attacks, some people with OCD will have issues with concentration. It isn’t uncommon for medical doctors to wonder if someone with OCD has ADD or ADHD. 

“At what age does OCD usually start?”

Typical onset for OCD

Typical OCD onset starts around 10 to 12 years old with the average individual taking around 14 to 17 years to seek treatment after onset (International OCD Foundation, 2019). This means that most individuals with OCD will suffer until their twenties when their OCD has gotten severe enough that intervention is needed. 

“Nothing is helping; will I ever be able to find treatment for OCD.”

Is OCD a treatable condition? 

Yes, OCD is one of few mental health conditions that has effective treatment that is scientifically backed and proven repeatedly since the late 80’s. 

“Is there a cure for OCD?”

Just because there is not a cure for OCD, doesn’t mean that you are stuck living the OCD cycle. OCD treatment can help you get back to living the life you once had. 

OCD is a genetic, lifelong condition BUT there is a difference between living the disorder vs. living outside of this disorder (know the difference)

Before you get depressed reading that title, know that just because OCD is genetic and a lifelong condition, that doesn’t mean that you will be where you are today if you get treatment.

Living the Disorder 

Someone that is living within OCD is constantly encountering intrusive thoughts that trigger anxiety and fear and cause them to feel that they need to perform compulsive behaviors. As a result, most people will give in and will spend lots of time performing rituals or behaviors to help them calm down. Unfortunately, by doing compulsions they have reinforced the original intrusive thought and have also guaranteed that it will come again. Once again, the cycle will continue. This is what it means to live within OCD and the disorder.  

Living Outside of the Disorder

Because OCD is a genetic condition, even someone that is living in recovery from OCD will still have an occasional intrusive thought. But unlike someone living the disorder, this person living outside of disorder will recognize the thought as OCD and will choose to implement OCD treatment tools and techniques so that they create separation from the thought and do not go into compulsive behaviors. As a result, they do not feed the original intrusive thought (obsession). They also immediately, return to their life rather than spend time hanging out with their OCD (performing compulsions). As a result of getting treatment, they are able to deal with the symptoms of OCD differently and return to living a normal life. 

“I see OCD on television and it is just people cleaning and washing their hands, that’s not me. I don’t understand why I have OCD.”

There are many types of OCD. These are what are known as “sub-types” of OCD

Unfortunately, people only get to see three forms of OCD on screen. As a result, most people, even those with OCD, don’t realize there are many different forms of OCD. These are called ‘sub-types of OCD.’ Some people call these forms, or obsessional themes.

Each sub-type of OCD creates similar intrusive thoughts. For some people, they will have one sub-type of OCD. For others, they will have multiple sub-types of OCD. In either case, identifying which type of OCD you have is important because it helps you start to understand the condition more and you will need to know what obsessional theme you are dealing with so that you and your OCD therapist can help you recover. 

Here are some of the common sub-types of OCD:

Checking OCD– checking locks, doorknobs, spelling, if you forgot something, etc.

Contamination OCD– Fear of different forms of contamination such as blood, urine, radiation, HIV, germs, even people, etc. Usually these individuals will need to “decontaminate” themselves or their space in order to “feel” clean, secure, or safe. Some individuals with this form of OCD will spend hours doing this. 

Harm OCD– Fear of harming others or yourself. This can include loved ones. This form of OCD can often times create violent mental images that are overwhelming to the individuals dealing with this type of OCD. It is not uncommon for these individuals to start to avoid loved ones out of fear of acting out these violent thoughts. 

Health Concerns OCD– Consistent fears of health symptoms, cancer, terminal disease, or other physical health concerns. It is not uncommon for these individuals to routinely seek medical attention through checkups, doctors’ appointments, x-rays, scans, and other forms of medical care. This is done in order to reduce and eliminate the fear of dying or suffering from a terminal illness or condition. 

Homosexual OCD– Fearing that you are a homosexual, questioning your sexuality, etc. Individuals with this form of OCD often times will continually question their sexuality and if they want to be with their significant other. Intrusive sexual images can also create further doubt and uncertainty whether or not they are heterosexual or homosexual. This leaves them constantly questioning themselves. 

Intrusive Thoughts OCD– Any form of OCD has intrusive thoughts Some individuals will also deal with intrusive mental images. It is important to dive deeper into which sub-type of OCD best describes your OCD. 

“Just Right” OCD– Usually someone with Just Right OCD will need to take extra time to ensure their outfit, the way they walk, how something feels, etc. feels “just right.” Some people with this form of OCD will spend hours trying on clothing until an outfit feels just right. 

Pedophilia OCD– Fears of being a pedophile and hurting little children. Being sexually or physically inappropriate with little children. Usually, individuals suffering from this form of OCD will have intrusive thoughts or images of being sexually inappropriate. This can cause them to question who they are as a person. 

Perfection OCD– Needing everything to be perfect or specific things to be perfect. Examples can be homework, the way you talk, walk, present yourself. It can also be making decisions, organization, or writing.

Postpartum OCD– Can occur after pregnancy. It usually is accompanied by Postpartum Depression. This form of OCD can sometimes be similar to Contamination or Harm OCD. It can also be a combination of many forms of OCD. Just like other forms of OCD, it is important to get treatment for this form of OCD.

Pure “O” OCD– Sometimes call Pure Obsessional OCD. There are a lot of people that believe they have Pure O. Unfortunately, this is a myth because in order to have OCD, you must have both obsessions and compulsions. Usually, these individuals don’t recognize that there are mental compulsions contributing to the condition. Mental compulsions are compulsions done internally (in our mind). Examples of these are checking and replaying a past event, trying to push away or avoid thoughts, trying to reassure yourself, or needing to know the answer to something immediately. It is not uncommon for someone that does mental compulsions to use online internet research to try and solve or figure out their obsessional trigger. 

Relationship OCD– This form of OCD revolves around specific relationships. Often times it is within intimate relationships where someone questions whether or not their significant other is the one? Are they meant to be together? Should they marry them? Do they love them? Etc. ROCD can also occur within friendships or with family members.

Scrupulosity OCD– Often described as Religious OCD or Blasphemy. This form of OCD usually leaves someone having intrusive thoughts about God, their religion, needing to pray to not go to hell, etc. This can happen at church and in other religious settings.

Superstitious OCD– The fear of something bad happening can cause someone with superstitious OCD to act out behaviors to ensure that bad thing doesn’t happen. 

Sexual OCD– This form of OCD can create intrusive thoughts and images about people they don’t want to be sexual with. It can also be aggressive in nature and make someone question who they are.  

Somatic OCD– Often times this sub-type of OCD correlates with Health Concern OCD. Those suffering from Somatic OCD often times are stuck constantly checking the weird sensations they are feeling. Examples of areas of constantly checking are the eyes, blinking, breathing, physical pain, etc. 

Symmetry OCD– Needing everything to be in perfect alignment, centered, symmetric, etc. Individuals with this form of OCD can spend an exurbanite amount of time trying to make sure that items are in their “perfect” place. 

“I feel depressed all the time because of my OCD.”

Individual’s with OCD are usually suffering from depression

Because of the constant stress and anxiety someone is battling with to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, it is very common to also be suffering from depression. 

Other reasons people with OCD are suffering from depression is because their sub-type of OCD causes them to question who they are and if there is some evil person inside them wanting these terrible intrusive thoughts to occur. Know that

One thing to know about OCD and depression is that some people think what they need to do is get therapy for depression. It is important to understand that most people with OCD wouldn’t have depression if they didn’t have OCD. Therefore, it is more important to treat their OCD and as a result, their depression will lift. 

“What’s hard is I not only deal with OCD, but also panic attacks, PTSD, and social anxiety.”

Unfortunately, OCD has a high comorbidity rate . Learn what that means.

This means that individual’s suffering from OCD are also usually suffering from other anxiety disorders, such as, Social Anxiety disorder, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Other related obsessive-compulsive disorder related conditions are Trichotillomania, Dermotillomania. and Hoarding. 

Some individuals suffering from OCD can also be dealing with ADHD, ADD, Autism, or Asperger’s. There are also individuals that also deal with Tics and Tourette’s. It is important to also identify if any of these other conditions are co-occurring with your OCD. If you find that any of these conditions or others are co-occurring, it would be ideal to find an OCD therapist that can help you treat them as well. 

What is best treatment for OCD?

A common treatment approach for OCD is psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT that involves gradually exposing the patient to their obsession or a feared object. The goal is to help you learn healthier ways to cope with your anxiety when exposed to these triggers. It does take some practice and effort for this approach to treatment, but it can offer you a better quality of life since you learn how to manage your compulsions and obsessions. You can opt for therapy sessions in group, family, or individual sessions.

What is ERP?

The gold standard treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention. Often times, referred to as its abbreviation “ERP.” This is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. 

Exposure-Response Prevention is a treatment technique wherein an individual with OCD is exposed to their obsessional fear (trigger) but learns new tools for how to remain out of compulsive behavior (compulsions). This form of treatment does increase anxiety, but it is done so with the goal of helping the client “desensitize” to the original fear. Therefore, with repeated, prolonged exposure, a client will be able to lower their anxiety and can get to a place where they are no longer triggered by this obsessional fear. This is known as “extinction.” 

ERP is not an easy form of treatment and most people fear that their therapist is going to throw them into the lion’s den and have to face their deepest fear on the first day of treatment. This is not true. Any OCD specialist will ensure that you start at the least triggering fear first and help you get accustom to facing these fears and having breakthroughs. With more breakthroughs, you will feel more comfortable in facing the deeper fears. 

ERP provides a way for people with OCD to learn how to overcome their obsessions, while learning to abstain from compulsive behaviors. 

“Will medication help my OCD?”

Are there other forms of OCD treatment? – OCD Medication 

Yes, another common form of OCD treatment is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s). 

“What are the best medications for OCD?”

Common Medications for OCD

Zoloft (Sertraline)

Prozac (Fluoxetine)

Lexapro (Escitalopram)

Celexa (Citalopram)

Luvox (Fluvoxamine)

“When is it appropriate to take medication?”

For some people, especially those suffering from severe or extreme OCD, this will be a common form of treatment. One thing to know about OCD and medication is that OCD is a behaviorally led condition, which means that our compulsions are continually reinforcing our obsessional fears. Unfortunately, even though we can use medication, because medication doesn’t change our behavior and we still perform compulsions, this can lead to the condition continuing regardless of high amounts of an SSRI. Therefore, it is best that if you are taking an SSRI that you also get ERP and CBT therapy for OCD. For more information about OCD and medication, visit our OCD and medication guide.

There are treatment centers specializing in OCD treatment 

Although these centers aren’t as prevalent as we wish, there are many OCD treatment centers in the United States and internationally. These centers specialize in the treatment of OCD. Some offer weekly sessions and others offer more aggressive forms of treatment for individuals suffering from severe to extreme OCD. If you want to find out how sever your OCD is, take the OCD test

“How can I find someone to help me with my OCD?”

Now that you have taken an OCD test to determine whether or not you have this condition, you will want to locate and see an OCD therapist that specializes in ERP. 

Find and Get Help from an OCD Therapist

One great way to locate a local OCD specialist is to go to the International OCD Foundation and search for a provider. This can be done by going to their website www.IOCDF.organd searching for a provider on the bottom right. Here you can enter your zip code, city, or country and see if there are any local OCD specialists in your area. 

Once you find an OCD specialists, you can make an initial appointment and they will be able to guide you with an OCD quiz, OCD obsession test, or an OCD compulsion test and get the help you need. They can even help you to identify which particular OCD sub-type you have with an OCD sub-type test. 

Remember that if you have OCD, the most important thing you can do is find and get OCD treatment so that you can go back to living a normal life.