If you are here, most likely you already know rOCD stands for relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder. I guess that rOCD is a different experience for everyone because we are all different. However, many stories from rOCD sufferers share similar elements. Similar obsessions, compulsions, behaviours, warped thinking, etc...
There are many ways of defining rOCD. I like this definition taken from the OCD-UK website:
ROCD is commonly used to refer to fears associated with Relationship OCD, where sufferers obsessively question whether their current partner is really the right person for them, and whether they actually love their partner or not, even in the most loving of relationships.
Many good relationships are thrown away because of this dreadful condition. Unlike other types of OCD, there are no obvious compulsions and those around us do not understand what is going on inside our minds and how we feel. It takes both a physical and psychological toll. To make matters worst, in some cases sufferers are also affected by depression and other forms of anxiety.
Diagnosing rOCD and my personal journey for a correct diagnosis
Reason 1 - Lack of professional awareness
Let me talk about reason number 1 first. The first time I experienced rOCD symptoms I looked for help from a qualified professional. It was an emotionally confusing period. I did not understand what was happening and why it was happening as I had no apparent reason to be unhappy. Two sessions with this professional were enough for me as our sessions were psychoanalysis focused rather than solution focused e.g. how my parents' relationship affected me. I wanted relief of my symptoms and not a never-ending talk about the past. This is not to say that the psychoanalysis approach is not useful in certain cases. It was just not useful for me.
In parallel, I was also looking for help from my family doctor (GP how we call it in the UK). I knew I had had depression symptoms in the past and I always managed to manage it. Everyone has some bad days, right? What was slowly "killing me " was the sleepless nights due to anxiety and sometimes panic attacks. When I first went to see my GP, she signed me off from work for a while to get some rest. I thought I was possessed because I felt "bad" or uneasy all the time (apparently feeling possessed is a common description of anxiety among religious people).
So I was on the road to "fixing" some of my physical symptoms. After I dropped the word "depression" in my GP's office, I did a computer test for the severity of my depression and I was prescribed a drug - Citalopram. It was a rough ride in the beginning but it helped with my anxiety and depression in the long run.
After deciding to look for another therapist, I ended up going to my University's help centre run by psychologists and other mental health professionals. There I was, a grown man in his 30's having to ask for psychological help after having to stop my post graduate studies for a while. "Should I even be here?" was a common thought.
Unfortunately, the two psychotherapists I saw had no previous knowledge of rOCD and approached it from a CBT point of view. That is basically changing how you think to change how you feel. I felt I was closer to the answer but I wasn't there yet. It was "kind of helping" with my anxiety and depression but I was scared of losing my girlfriend.
Then I looked for help online by googling my symptoms and found out about rOCD. I found a professional that understood rOCD, had 4 sessions costing me around £300 but "finally" had an answer to it. Once you know what you are fighting against, your chances of winning greatly increase. I felt I was on the right path but I had to end at the 4 session mark because I could not afford more sessions. This was all done on the phone using the regular 50-minute talk format. I picked up a lot of things from it, made me move forward with hope and had a new resolve in life.
During these 4 sessions, I also learned about mindfulness. I went back to the University centre and enrolled on a 8-week course on mindfulness. It was great and helped me gain a better understanding on how to tackle rOCD.
Reason 2 - Lack of support and unrealistic expectations
Now for reason number 2, how to distinguish rOCD from "normal" relationship problems? This might keep most rOCD sufferers awake at night and fuel for the anxiety and constant barrage of thoughts. If this is the case, in my experience, most likely it is ROCD. It does not help when everything else tells us otherwise:
- Friends that we discuss these things with and they project our fears on us (some of them truly help though)
- Hollywood, TV and magazines that portray "real love" i.e. if it is true love, they will live happily ever after
- Our misconceptions about love and relationships caused by our own perception or poor role models
- Our brain that is constantly looking for exceptions and making associations e.g. "if this was love I would be feeling this way"
One of the most difficult things about rOCD is reaching a proper diagnosis of the condition/disease. Many people focus on the relationship aspect but the real problem is the obsessive aspect (OCD). The relationship difficulties are a symptom and not the real disease. Imagine this - someone has a brain tumour that is causing painful headaches. They keep on taking headache pills in the hope that the headaches will go away when this is just a symptom of a bigger problem. This is why I prefer to use the acronym rOCD and not ROCD throughout this blog.
rOCD sufferers go on misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all mainly for two reasons: the "newness" of the condition leading to a lack of awareness from mental health professionals AND because rOCD can also overlap with "normal" relationship problems and other mental health issues.
Taking the First Steps into Recovery
I believe that in order to get better from rOCD, we need to understand how rOCD works. A good analogy would be going to an amusement park for the first time as a child and ending up trying out the haunted house. Very scary experience! But once you understand that the things there are not real and you know when the scary bits show up, your fear factor decreases considerably. After a few rides, we are not scared anymore or as much as before.
So it is with rOCD. Once we understand the sequence of events and what triggers them then we are better equipped to feel less anxious, depressed, negative, and hopeless.
Before we start this recovery journey, we need to understand where we are. The reason we need to do this is simple. It will help us decide the next steps to take. Not everyone is at the same stage in their ROCD journey to recovery. After speaking with many different rOCD sufferers throughout the years, I realised that not everyone has the same level of understanding of the condition, how to tackle it and how to cope living with it.
Knowing where we are in our journey can sometimes be a difficult thing to do. On my road to recovery, there were some distinguishable landmarks:
- Finding out about ROCD
- Figuring out if I had ROCD
- Accepting ROCD
- Committing to daily change
- Learn and develop better coping strategies
- Moving forward with courage and patience
- Accepting and embracing uncertainty
Knowing and accepting we have rOCD is not the end of our journey but just the beginning. And we should treat it as such. The real hard work is done on a daily basis and there is real Hope for relationship OCD sufferers. If managed properly, we can fully enjoy our relationships and live life more fully.