Wonder how to help someone with OCD?
Think about what your friend with OCD needs from you…
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a condition where intrusive thoughts occur in your mind over and over again. You don’t want to have these thoughts or ideas…but you can’t stop them by sheer will.
To make it worse, they’re often disturbing or upsetting.
Compulsions follow the disturbing and repetitive thoughts…and you feel driven to act them out over and over again. When you act out these compulsions, your hope is that they’ll drive away the obsessions.
Unfortunately, as hard as you try to drive away those obsessive thoughts with your compulsive and repetitive behaviors…they just don’t go away. In fact, they become stronger. More compelling… even overwhelming.
Eventually the overwhelming and compulsive behaviors become so demanding and cause such anxiety and are so time consuming…
Well, it all becomes a vicious cycle.
Some people with obsessive compulsive disorder are driven only by obsessions. Others by only compulsions. But most are driven by the obsessive – compulsive cycle of both. And it can occur as often in men as in women, and in children as often as adults.
People with OCD weren’t born with these symptoms. In spite of extensive research, the cause is still pretty much unknown…although there seems to be a genetic connection in families for the tendency. And it may begin following a severe strep infection in children, or an accumulation of stressors in adults.
Regardless of the cause, what’s important is the role you play, as someone who cares about anyone who seems to suffer with OCD.
What Does Your Friend with OCD Need From You?
Let’s talk about some ways you can support her. If you’re not alert to the behaviors you see, and what’s causing them, it may be easy to fall into criticism and judgment, teasing or ridiculing, which honestly, just makes things worse for them.
For instance, you may begin noticing behaviors or habits that are frustrating to you, but are actually “signals” of OCD. Things like spending way too long in the bathroom, continually showing up late, or constantly asking questions about themselves that are steeped in self-judgment, and needing continual reassurance.
Long blocks of time doing anything… with no explanation for what was going on… simple chores that turn into prolonged undertakings… and doing the same thing over and over and over…
If you see behaviors like these, coupled with irritability and an unwillingness to talk about it, be assured this isn’t about you or your friendship.
Something painful is happening with your friend. While it may appear to you initially that she’s being weird, or that she has a wacko personality…she may be suffering from OCD.
And if she is, she needs support and acceptance from you. If she feels you blame her … or you’re critical of her…anxiety will just skyrocket and her symptoms will likely get worse.
What Symptoms Look Like
She may have obsessions that center around a common theme…like fear of contamination or dirt, or maybe about everything around her being orderly and symmetrical … or maybe fear of harming herself or others.
Those obsessions are likely to result in compulsive acts such as not wanting to touch things that have been touched by others. Maybe she wonders if she forgot to lock the door or turn off the iron…
And she may feel mounting pressure to return to the house and check that the door’s locked and the iron unplugged. “Would you stop it?? We’re late already…!” isn’t the response that will calm things down and get you back on schedule. Instead, reassuring her that the schedule can be adjusted and it’s time together that matters is a much more productive response.
Easy Tasks are Tougher for Her
Taking a shower and dressing for a quick brunch may involve 5-6 hours, while you wait for her to emerge. Remind yourself that she’s not treating you disrespectfully nor is she intending to be inconsiderate.
She may or may not even realize what’s happening that takes her so much time …and she may not realize so much time has passed either.
Also know that any change, even what seems like a good change, can stir up anxiety for her. And if you’re counting on her to carry her weight, such as in a move or cleaning the house, you’ll both end up miserable.
More important than her equal share, is that she feels accepted, understood, and reassured. She’s likely already beating herself up. She probably has NO idea why each task takes her so long. Your friend with OCD needs your reassurance at times like this.
She needs your help to cut herself some slack. “It’s no surprise you’re feeling stressed, or that your symptoms are worse right now…you’re going through a lot of change. Be patient with yourself, and give yourself time. This will subside — like it always does.”
Give Her Credit for Improvement
For anyone who doesn’t suffer from OCD, small tasks seem rather insignificant. But for your friend, shortening the length of her shower time by 5 minutes, or washing her hands one less time, can require an enormous amount of work, and fighting through gargantuan anxiety.
Resist the temptation to compare her to you…but instead applaud her efforts and results. The gratification of those small victories can be so motivating to continue making progress.
You’re Friends First
In the midst of all the OCD centered interaction, remember your friendship comes first. You are individuals first.
If you had thin hair, and she helped you with products to thicken it, that would not become the center of your friendship. But just one of many ways you connect and support each other.
And just as she wouldn’t focus every conversation around your hair, you mustn’t allow too many conversations to be focused around her OCD symptoms. Just as you wouldn’t play “mother hen” to any other friend, this friend also needs time to herself and respect as an individual. And you need the same.
What your friend with OCD needs from you is recognition of her best traits, as well as support for her struggles. After all, that’s how friendship works, isn’t it?
OCD is often treated with antidepressants and medications that reduce anxiety, but the results haven’t been stellar. However, an advanced treatment option is yielding some bright hope for those who suffer with this disorder.
If you or someone you care about is someone who suffers from OCD symptoms, call us. We’re here to help you with advanced treatment options like IV ketamine treatment and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.
Even though our practice is closed to new patients seeking medication management or therapy…we’re just too full…we are scheduling patients who want to see if advanced treatment options like ketamine treatment might be right for them.
We look forward to working with you for the better.
To the release of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.