Unwanted thought syndrome
February 24, 2014 6:45 AM   Subscribe

How do I (or just, do I) talk about what I think were mental health problems I had in the past - when I never got a diagnosis? TW for discussion of weird mental health stuff.

Background: when I was 13 I started having intrusive violent & sexual thoughts which bothered me a lot. I tried to conteract them by prayer, fist-clenching and avoiding people and places which provoked them. This persisted into adulthood and grew worse over time (I don't want to go into the icky details, but it was entirely mental compulsions & rituals, and was based around the completely unfounded fear of harming children). At various points over the years I felt like I was losing touch with reality. Over time I started avoiding places where there were children or where I could see kids (shopping centres, library, TV, facebook feed - oh god).

A couple of years ago I felt like I was losing it - I then stumbled across a description of OCD online, which seemed to match what was going on in my head. I know that I should have gone to my GP but that made me really nervous. In the end, I read a couple of books which really helped (Break free from OCD, The imp of the mind), spent a lot of time reading OCD forums, and finally stumbled across Maria Bamford through a Metafilter post which probably helped more than anything else. Over time it calmed down, and I'm now at a point where the thoughts don't bother me that much - I still have them occasionally but it's nothing major (based on past experience I know that this problem cycles, and it might come back in the future).

My question is - is it appropriate for me to talk about this based on what is basically me playing Dr Google & self-diagnosing? I know it would be wrong for me to say "I have OCD" - but there are times when I want to talk about it. I wouldn't wear it on a T shirt, but it has affected my life a lot, I also know a lot of people who have mental health problems and I volunteer for a couple of mental health based organisations.

I'd be grateful for any insights - I know this might sound like a bit of a non-problem, and I also recognise the irony that I'm posting this anonymously.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My question is - is it appropriate for me to talk about this based on what is basically me playing Dr Google & self-diagnosing? I know it would be wrong for me to say "I have OCD" - but there are times when I want to talk about it.

Short answer - of course it's appropriate! You can even call it OCD.

But I think it's fair for people in your life to respond with - "what kind of help are you getting with it?"

To which you might reply "Maria Bramford is awesome!"
posted by vitabellosi at 7:06 AM on February 24, 2014

What I really mean to say is -- your experience of what you've struggled with is your experience.

No one is regulating it. You do not need to check with any authorities on whether or not you're allowed to use an official language to describe your experiences. They're your experiences. It's your language.

(Some people take comfort in involving whatever authorities they want -- religious, medical, familial. That's okay too -- because it's what's meaningful at that moment, in that context. You might too, someday. Or you might not. It will always be your choice!)
posted by vitabellosi at 7:16 AM on February 24, 2014

If it is an issue you experience/ have experienced, I think you can talk about it in whatever terms make the most sense. If you’re sensitive about using terms correctly, look at DSM definitions and see if you feel you meet them/ met them. (In my experience, doctors are plenty likely to misdiagnose anyway, so it’s not like you need their word as Truth.)
posted by metasarah at 7:18 AM on February 24, 2014

Hiya. I have OCD, and it helped me a surprising amount to talk about it with my psychiatrist. Mental health professionals get it, and they know that if you have intrusive thoughts about [horrible violent action] it doesn't mean you actually want to do that action. OCD is surprisingly misunderstood for such a commonly-known illness, and even laypeople who are intimately familiar with other mental illnesses can misunderstand it. If you're familiar with your condition and managing it well, I don't think you need to consult with a professional, but it really can be such a relief to have somewhere to say everything out loud without fear of judgment.

I do occasionally mention it to friends, but I tend to stick to the details that are more relatable and less scary. For instance, one of my strongest intrusive thoughts is the fear that I or someone I love could die at any moment. This is something people tend to understand, because nearly everyone's afraid of death to some degree. The more violent thoughts or the ones that involve my being an active agent, I'm a little more reluctant to talk about except around people I absolutely know will be okay hearing it (I'm still a little afraid to even admit they exist). But using that "safe" obsession as a stand-in for all my obsessions enables me to talk about my OCD more freely, because all my obsessions cause me distress in the same way.

But yeah, I'd say you're okay talking about it, generally speaking. At any rate, you're a zillion times more qualified to talk about OCD than the people who are like "OMG I'm soooo OCD" because they "need" to have their spice rack perfectly organized. And, honestly, the world needs more talk about OCD from people who actually know what it is. It's just tough finding the right people to talk to.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:19 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think getting a doctor's confirmation is best (though they're not always perfect themselves). There are subtle nuances and sub-types of OCD or any other mental illness that are good to know. Also some illnesses look similar (for example many many other mental illnesses 'look like' bipolar). You don't want to get it wrong. And it may be comforting to others to know that you took it seriously enough to consult a professional, if only a few times. If you tell a new person "I used to have OCD" they may be concerned, and maybe even more concerned if you say "but I never saw a doctor about it, and I'm totally ok now."

Also some people throw around OCD senselessly. "I'm so clean I'm like OCD" they say. Ugh. Or they mistake anxiety for OCD (although it is categorized as an anxiety disorder I believe). So even though your symptoms sounded much more than the lazy version I've described above, getting a proper diagnosis gives more credence that you didn't self-diagnose on a whim.

Until then, "I strongly believe I have OCD" or "My experience is consistent with the material I've read about OCD" or "Applying OCD methods and treatments have been very helpful for me" would be good phrases to use.

And yes talk about it! I went on a few dates with a delightful guy who came out with having OCD by the 3rd date, and he was open about it, had been seeking treatment for years etc. It made it all very comfortable, that he was so comfortable about it. It didn't work out for other reasons (5 days after a nice date for a text message? really?) but the OCD wasn't it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:50 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's totally okay to present a hypothesis to a psychiatrist or therapist in order to help them understand where you're coming from. My first meeting with my therapist involved me saying, "I have a lot of intrusive thoughts and habits that prevent me from getting on with my day because I become fixated on getting something done perfectly. Can you help me figure out if this is OCD or something else?" You could even say what you said here, that you have been having these problems for some time and when you stumbled across description of OCD online it sounded really familiar and you now wonder if that's what's going on. That's totally okay to do.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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