What to say to someone with anxiety and OCD

First of all I would like to say that this post is in no way a criticism of any of my friends or family who have helped, encouraged or calmed me down. I am thankful to anyone who supports me through this and sticks around to offer words of wisdom. I do know that it can be a bit of a minefield and in a way that’s why I’ve decided to write this post because it can be hard to know what to say. That said some people do come out with some very questionable stuff. So here goes – here are my top 4 do’s and don’ts:

1) Don’t say – Oh I’m a bit OCD too, you should see my CD collection.

Do say – I don’t actually know that much about OCD, can you tell me a bit more about it. 

Explanation – It’s absolutely fine to admit you don’t know that much about the issue in question, you don’t have to be an expert and just saying you don’t know but would like to know more is reassuring and has the desired effect of making us feel at ease talking about it. Plus as I have mentioned before, if your CD collection is organised just because you like to be able to get at that Wham CD a little easier then you don’t have OCD.

2) Don’t say – You’ve not got anything to worry about, you’ve got a great life

Do say – I’m sorry that you feel so anxious/worried, what do you think might help and can I do anything? (NB this does not include reassurance for someone with OCD)

Explanation – Telling someone who is worrying that they don’t need to worry is probably the most futile thing that can be said. I know that I don’t need to worry and yet I can’t seem to do anything but worry. Furthermore by reminding me how great my life is just serves to make me feel guilty and in all likelihood just ratchets my anxiety up a notch. Yes I know that objectively it seems I don’t have much to worry about but anxiety doesn’t work like that. Mental health issues can and will strike anyone  – the tinker, the tailor and the candlestick maker so reminding someone they’ve got a lot going for them isn’t going to solve the problem. The last thing someone with high anxiety needs is a sprinkling of guilt on top for extras even if that’s not your intention. Just asking someone what might help makes them feel empowered but also gives them a chance to say what they need in that moment. It could be something as simple as a hug or they might just want you to provide a bit of a distraction.

3) Don’t say – I’m sure you didn’t leave the gas on/didn’t hit that person with your car (fill in with whatever the OCD worry might be)

Do say –  I know not checking is hard and anxiety provoking so I’m just going to sit here with you/give you a hug to make you feel better. 

Explanation – It must be so hard when someone you love has OCD and all you want to do is reassure them. But don’t! It just feeds the OCD and in all likelihood makes it stronger. It’s a difficult one because of course you feel like you want to say something, staring blankly isn’t an option either. I found this one hard to come up with a ‘do say’   – most likely because I’m coming from the perspective of someone with OCD so if anyone’s got any other suggestions for this I’d be happy to hear them.

4) Don’t say – I think you’re giving the anxiety/OCD too much power

Do say – Anxiety/OCD are little sneaks and you’re going to kick their ass. I know you’re doing everything you can and I think you’re amazing. 

Explanation – This has been said to me and I know it comes from a well-intentioned place but it has me wanting to scream. It has the unfortunate effect of making the person feel that they’re not trying ‘hard enough’ so more than once this has elicited me wailing and sobbing “I’m tryyyyiiiiiinnnggg”. I do understand the sentiment behind it but when I’m in the throes of feeling highly anxious and with a team of OCD thoughts waging war in my head with bells on and waving maracas I’m sorry if I find it a little overwhelming. Please do say to the anxiety/OCD sufferer that they’re doing an amazing job, that they’re brave and inspirational.

So what about you? What have people said to you that you’ve found useful and perhaps not so helpful?

How would you describe your OCD?

I got thinking about how to describe OCD to the lucky souls that don’t have this condition. I have had a few terrible days with it when I thought I was getting a handle on it and it’s hard to say to people “actually iiiitttttt’s back!” People try to be understanding of course but because they don’t see so much of the struggle (it’s the secret disease after all) I think we all hear the words “little” in relation to it a bit too often.
“You’re a little bit OCD”, “Are you a little bit obsessive?”  Feel free to fill in the blank I’m sure we’ve all heard it and sometimes I feel like screaming there is NOTHING small about it!! In my experience it is huge, it is all encompassing, it eats my days and swallows my dreams.
SO when I was talking to someone about it I came up with an analogy. It’s my analogy of ‘Pure O’ to explain it to the lay person who hasn’t been down that dark road and so I told them that OCD is a bit like chicken pox (bear with me). At first I was a bit baffled about where I was going with this but suddenly it started to kind of work. After all people love a comparison with physical illness – they can get their heads around that one.

So here it is, my ‘Pure O’ is like having chicken pox.
Remember having chicken pox and how consuming that terrible itch was? Well that’s my thoughts, they’re the itch. They’re all I can think about, every hour of the day and it takes over the whole of me. I’m constantly examining the spots, wondering what I can do about them. You know you shouldn’t scratch but yet it’s all you want to do.
Well meaning people tell you to “just not think about it” and so you dutifully try. Surely it can’t be that hard to be restrained? To not scratch at them until they bleed and you’re in misery? After all that’s in your best interests so why wouldn’t you do it? No one wants to suffer. And yes that works for a while, but the itch is still there as a dull ache and eventually when you’re not expecting it, it rears its head and in fact it seems to feel worse, causing a feeling of such acute distress and helplessness – it’s all you can think about again until you’re practically screaming in pain…
And so you have a good old scratch, you allow yourself to really immerse yourself in it until you’re sighing with relief convinced that you’ve solved it, got rid of it for good. You smile thinking that you know best after all and perhaps those people with their ideas and solutions to make it better, well they’re well meaning but what do they know after all? Satisfied you start to cautiously go about your business but then slowly, surely (sometimes quickly, rapidly) the itch is back, taunting you, telling you that you need to attend to it, something needs to be done….
You think that sleep might help, it will be soothing, surely it will get rid of some of the pain for a while. But even in your dreams the itch is there, a shadowy figure giving your sleep a restless and agitated quality.
When morning comes, you’re starting to feel a little desperate and you feel like you’re going to have chicken pox for ever, nothing seems to be making it better and you feel scared, swathed in a blanket of terror. You start asking family and friends, what do they think of your itch? Can they help? In your mind a good in depth conversation about your spots is going to be fascinating for all concerned. But really you’re only going to be comfortable with exceptionally good friends or family seeing your spots up that close and so you start trying to cover them up, presenting a front to the rest of humanity of normality – nothing to see here!
It is unbearably painful, isolating and frightening, nothing small about it whatsoever.

So how about you? Does that make sense to you or was it just a crazy blog post about chicken pox…What would your analogy be? How would you describe your OCD to those who don’t have it? I’d love to hear any ideas 🙂