What can you do to help someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but who thinks that both therapy and pills are taboo and a cause of shame?
My husband has a female co-worker who appears normal when you first meet her. She and her husband are casual friends of ours, although not close friends. She’s a kind, educated woman. She and her husband have two school-age sons.
She also vacuums her carpet three times every day (before work, while home at lunchtime, and in the evening). She tortures herself by needing to constantly have everything—for, example, all the papers on her desk—set in straight, parallel lines. She never opens the window to her office, but checks it many times every day before leaving work, just to make sure it’s closed and locked. She checks her lightswitch in her office (only) three times before leaving, to make sure she turned it off.
And so on. You get the idea. This has gone on for years and years. And these are only the things we can see with our own eyes.
I guess there’s nothing to be done for someone like this. She would be utterly ashamed to see a doctor about it or be prescribed medication for it. She knows she’s driven herself slowly into a tight little corner with all these obsessions, but she’s accepted this as her life. She’s not even 40 yet, so she has many years of misery ahead of her.
When I was a teenager and young adult, I had some symptoms of OCD, or something similar. My most frustrating, ridiculous behavior was compulsively, uncontrollably checking my alarm clock 12 or 14 times at night, to make sure that I set it correctly. Intellectually, I knew how absurd this was, but I couldn’t rest until I’d checked that stupid alarm time & time again. Another thing I did was needlessly pick at the split ends of my hair, fully splitting the entire strand until it wasn’t split anymore. I did this even in public when I knew it wasn’t socially acceptable. It was weird. And I had to do it. But I couldn’t help it.
The hair thing stopped when I got busy in college. I was too busy to pick at my hair. Now I have had relatively short hair for at least 10 years, so I (thankfully) can’t look at any split ends anymore.
The alarm clock thing stopped when I was 27 years old and I went on a low dose of Prozac to treat a major bout of depression. Suddenly I didn’t have to check my alarm anymore. The symptom just completely, totally went away. Through the years I’ve even unwittingly gone to bed a few times without even setting the alarm when I’m supposed to.
I’m grateful for my relatively stable mental health. Since I’ve matured and settled into adult life, I don’t drive myself nearly as crazy as I used to. I no longer think I’m going insane very often, like I did when I was growing up, and didn’t realize I was experiencing phases of depression. I wish I could help our friend, but don’t think there’s anything I can do.
Unfortunately, one of her sons is now showing obvious signs of having OCD-type behaviors, too. I feel sad about that today.