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  • ericaanne

Somatic OCD

Updated: May 27, 2022

Once Nick had started Googling his symptoms, he eventually came across the diagnosis of somatic OCD: the hyperfocus on neutral physical stimuli like breathing, blinking, and swallowing. In other words, people with somatic OCD typically think and ruminate about these stimuli much more than other people would. It can become extremely distressing, much like it did for Nick.

I had never heard of somatic OCD. I thought OCD was just when people washed their hands a lot, liked having a clean house, or had a tidy desk. Once I started to learn more about OCD, I couldn't believe just how wrong that perception was. OCD is often far more distressing than it is typically portrayed in the media. And honestly, it was partly due to this skewed perception of OCD that it took me the longest time to understand why Nick didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. Nick usually says that the best example he can give for what it's like having OCD is the movie "The Aviator" where the richest man in the world, Howard Hughes, was house-bound for the last 20 years of his life due to contamination OCD. And here I was, confused, because I thought OCD just meant organizing your desk in a particular way.

Nick's first somatic OCD theme was blinking. He noticed every single time he blinked during the day. Talk about distracting. I'd try to have a conversation with him, but you could tell his mind was elsewhere. After a while, though, the theme switched to his saliva. He was so hyper-fixated on his saliva that he started to worry that he was producing too much saliva, and that something must be wrong with his salivary glands. He went so far as to discuss it with a medical doctor to see if he might have an infection. He was frequently saying that it felt like his mouth was always pooled with saliva. His biggest fear quickly became that he would never stop thinking these thoughts. That he would never not be distracted by them. He was massively anxious all day long. So, not only was he hyper-focused on his salvia, he was walking through the day with the anxiety on a magnitude that he describes as feeling like he was constantly being chased by a lion.

This sounds strange to most people. It sounded strange to me at first, too. I couldn't understand how anyone could get so hung up on normal bodily functions that I literally never noticed. But for Nick, it was all he could notice.

Until one day, about 9 months after the OCD onset. I was walking our dog, Daisy, through a particularly snowy afternoon (much like the one pictured above) and thought to myself, "What if I could only think the same few thoughts all day long and struggled to think about anything else?" and it clicked. My answer: "It would probably cause me significant distress". I didn't understand first-hand what he was going through, but this thought caused a perspective shift that made me more empathetic towards him. Prior to this realization, there was almost daily fighting centered around my frustration of him not being able to function like a "normal" person. Following this realization, we still fought (a lot), but I was able to see his perspective much more easily and the fights were centered around him not doing the work he needed to improve. Instead of fighting against him, I was fighting for him. This realization was the biggest turning point in my ability to support Nick through this process.

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