Have you found yourself wondering and asking yourself questions such as “do I really have OCD?”, “how can I be sure that this is OCD and not something else?” or “maybe I have been exaggerating my symptoms and this isn’t real OCD?” Did you maybe experience a fleeting moment of relief after your diagnosis (whether that was self-diagnosed or professionally) that is now long gone? Are you now obsessing over the fact that this can’t be what’s really going on? That, maybe, you manipulated things to come to this diagnostic conclusion?
Let’s take a deep breath. If you are an individual struggling with OCD then these kinds of intense needs for certainty and persistent doubts are nothing new to you. This particular theme, however, may be a new appearance. It can be difficult to acknowledge new themes of OCD as they appear at first. So let’s dive into what we need to know when we are doubting our experience and/or diagnosis of OCD.
How do I know if I have OCD?
Individuals with OCD often have a diagnosis in place whether that is a formal (an assessment by a psychiatrist) or informal (opinion of a clinician or self-assessment) diagnosis. OCD consists of a pattern of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that aim to relieve the anxiety caused by the thoughts. This is then often followed by a period of relief from anxiety. There are many themes of OCD and OCD can attach itself to anything. Typically, OCD attached itself to the things we value most.
It is also common for individuals new to their diagnosis or treatment to not yet have a full understanding or awareness of all of their obsessive and compulsive themes. With the help of a trained therapist, an individual can learn many important tools and techniques to understand their unique experience of OCD.
Coping with doubt
When experiencing OCD you inevitably deal with plenty of doubt. It is important to remember that there is no “light at the end of the tunnel” when you are engaging in compulsions as a form of anxiety relief. In reality, when we try to get certainty through compulsions, this further exacerbates the obsession and need for anxiety relief.
Instead, it is important to acknowledge and accept the uncertainty of the situation. You may or may not have OCD. This may or may not be a new theme you are experiencing. The actual goal here is to become comfortable with not knowing for certain. So let’s step away from confirming our doubts and fears and step into being okay with not having all the answers.
Many individuals with OCD are craving a freer way of living. For most of us, freedom is something we value in our lives. If we allow ourselves to be uncertain and accept uncertainty then we become closer to experiencing more freedom in our lives.
OCD signs and symptoms
Unfortunately, there are many stereotypes about OCD and what it can or should look like. It is important to understand that OCD can look very different for everyone and it rarely looks like some of the examples given on television. Obsessions can involve themes of sexuality, violence, contamination, relationships, harm, making mistakes, or losing control (to name a few). Compulsions in OCD can be physical (i.e. checking), mental (i.e. getting rid of bad thoughts), avoidance, and seeking reassurance.
When you say “OCD”, most people think of contamination, perfectionism, and checking behaviors. The world of OCD can be so broad. When I work with individuals with OCD I often see their relief when I begin explaining the broadness and foundations of OCD. It feels good to have someone understand what OCD really looks like for you. However, the nature of OCD causes us to have fleeting moments of relief that eventually cause us to seek more relief later on. Therefore, gaining certainty about “if I really have OCD” or not is not where we want to focus our attention. You may or may not be experiencing OCD but the important thing is that you are getting the support of a doctor and/or a therapist regardless of your level of certainty.