mental health / November 2015: Taboos

The Mental Hell of Pure OCD

When most of us hear OCD, we imagine a person who is obsessed with cleaning and afraid of any germs. While OCD can mean for some people a higher need for cleanliness, OCD comes in many shapes and forms. OCD itself stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I like to umbrella OCD under the need to perform rituals. Be they cleaning, triple checking if the oven is off, or knocking on wood to ward off misfortune. While OCD can be annoying, and provoke unwanted habits, there is a type of OCD that goes beyond basic rituals and delves into the deepest fears of a person’s subconscious. This OCD is often referred to as Pure OCD, or Pure O.

What makes Pure O different from other forms of OCD is that it centres more around a person’s mind. Intrusive thoughts are at the helm of this OCD, causing uncomfortable and taboo thinking patterns. The trickiest part of this OCD is that the person involved will begin to question their own morality and be stuck in a hell of their own mind. Their fearful thoughts are so convincing and terrifying, that they often become secluded. The thoughts often centre around taboo thoughts about sexuality, blasphemy or even murder.

I’ve experienced Pure O myself. Around the time my sister in law gave birth, I began to think more about breastfeeding. Although breastfeeding is a natural, and normal process, the mere idea of it made me shudder. I enjoy breast play as a part of intercourse, so my mind has associated this activity as arousing. That’s when the anxiety began.

I began to fear that when I’d become a mother one day myself, that I’d become aroused by breastfeeding. This fear expanded instantly to the fear of being a paedophile. Never before in my life had this thought crossed my mind, but now it became something I obsessed over constantly.

pure-ocdThis made me eventually feel extremely uncomfortable around fresh mothers and babies. I couldn’t shake the fear that I’d be accused of being a criminal if I voiced my fear of breastfeeding. I was scared people would misunderstand, and label me. So, I stayed stuck in my thoughts, which made me so anxious that I felt like throwing up half of the time.  The mental image of a baby suckling on a nipple sent me into a flurry of disgust and anxiety.

Eventually, I sought comfort in the Internet. I needed to somehow verify I wasn’t going crazy. I was surprised when I stumbled across articles on pure o, and people describing the same irrational fears.

One story in particular stuck out to me. A therapist spoke of her experience with a young father who came to her in fear he could be a paedophile. He had a young daughter whom he loved very much, but became afraid of when his fear induced mind began to take over his everyday life. He had never before looked at a child and thought anything strange. It was the idea of it happening that made him cringe.

He wanted to protect his daughter, from himself, as he began to question if he could ever harm her. The therapist didn’t turn him away or alert the authorities. She could tell, by what he was describing that he wasn’t a threat, but that he fell victim to an infinite loop of repetitive thoughts. People have strange thoughts all the time. But they write them off, acknowledge their irrational nature and forget about them. But a person with an anxiety prone mind will obsess, and attach meaning to thoughts. That’s what happened to this young man.

He was encouraged to challenge his thoughts, to not give them control  and to be around children. He needed to confront his fear. With time and work, he overcame the thoughts, and returned to his former self. He no longer doubted himself, and could continue to being a confident, loving father.

I took a page out of his book and decided to challenge my fear. I began to question the validity of the thoughts, and the person I’d been up to that point. I was also aware that I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and have a knack for over thinking. I minimized the affect of the thoughts by not giving them power.

Now, over a year later, I feel much better. I occasionally still get intrusive thoughts about robbing a bank, pushing a person down a staircase or being aroused in situations that are inappropriate. But I no longer believe every image that flashes into my mind. I am able to assess what is plausible and what is ridiculous. I know who I am what I am capable of. I regained trust in myself and my morals.

I really hope that Pure O will become more recognized and discussed in the community. We need to raise awareness of this issue and create an environment where people facing these fears feel comfortable enough to come forward and get the support and help they need. Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t think that every thought has power or deeper meaning. It’s a person’s actions that speak louder than anything. You know yourself best. Don’t doubt it.

– Theresa Evans

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11 thoughts on “The Mental Hell of Pure OCD

  1. I thought this was really interesting. My manager has OCD and it’s horrible. It annoys me when people jokingly say “I’m a bit OCD” because after watching my manager I know it isn’t something light to be made fun of.

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  2. My husband has very mild OCD, things like he has to check the doors are locked at night about 5 times each, otherwise he can’t sleep. I have a strange habit of having to have 4 biscuits with my cup of tea or else the day will be rubbish

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  3. I’m really glad that more and more people are discussing OCD more openly, particularly Pure OCD, which is even less known. But please don’t trivialise other forms of OCD by describing them as “annoying” and “provoking unwanted habits”. Only half of OCD is the strange – often very time-consuming – behaviours which others see. The other half is the pure mental terror and fear of terrible things happening – thoughts which go around and around your head endlessly, often leading to nausea/vomiting from anxiety, as in Pure OCD, and which drive the endless rituals. These are often also focused around a person’s “deepest fears”, as you describe in Pure O. I suffered from OCD for over 10 years, and ended up self-harming after intensive therapy and medication failed to stop either the thoughts or the behaviours. “Annoying” doesn’t begin to cover it.

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  4. Thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles with OCD.

    I’ve had another person come to me personally and say they felt I was disregarding other forms of OCD by the wording I chose. I can assure you that this is not the case. I myself come from a family of self harm, abuse and depression. There’s been suicide attempts, and other very stressful situations often caused by OCD.

    For me, personally, OCD is annoying. This doesn’t mean I don’t realise it’s severity. To me it is, as my title suggests, a mental hell. However, Pure O has been more of a hell in my mind than my other OCD (which I also suffer from). This is simply my feelings on OCD. I definitely can’t vouch for other people and I would never disregard or minimise someone else’s mental health.

    I hope this clarifies some of the confusion. X

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  5. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    It definitely is a shame. There is support out there, but there’s also a lot of people who will disregard what you’re going through. X

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