8th October 2020

The silent terror of Pure OCD

20th November, 2018

Paul Carter

People who suffer from Pure OCD may consider asking their employer for a frontal lobotomy as a reasonable adjustment. It’s reasonable because their minds have become search engines on auto fire. Every second of every day, they search for a cure to their intrusive thoughts, but the more they search the deeper they fall into the bottomless pit of this anxiety disorder.

The big secret is that OCD turns your brain into your enemy. You may be a hoarder, cleaner, checker or ruminator, with overt or covert compulsions to relieve the anxiety of the obsession. Unfortunately, carrying out the compulsions just makes the obsession stronger and then you’re trapped. The obsession is the poison, the compulsion is the fake antidote, and together they besiege your mind 24/7.

 “These obsessions often manifest as intrusive, unwanted thoughts, impulses or “mental images” of committing an act they consider to be harmful, violent, immoral, sexually inappropriate, or sacrilegious. For individuals with Pure Obsessional OCD, these thoughts can be frightening and torturous precisely because they are so antithetical to their values and beliefs.” (OCD Center of Los Angeles)

You can understand how the content of the obsessions may cause an impasse in supporting Pure OCD sufferers as they fear you won’t believe them, or you will believe them and push the panic button to make their nightmare public.


Understanding more about Pure OCD

Pure OCD is thought to be the hardest variant of OCD to treat as there are no physical compulsions like excessive handwashing or cleaning to overcome. It is all in your mind. You have to expose yourself to the thoughts and feel the fear until you’re not afraid any more.

Thankfully more people are sharing their stories on how they faced the fear, such as the writer Rose Bretécher who said: “I didn't understand that the only way to treat pure O is to stop acting out compulsions and break the vicious cycle.” (The Guardian, 2013)

Breaking the vicious cycle is incredibly hard. It’s like swimming out too far from the shore and looking down to see a thousand hungry sharks. You either do nothing and drown because the sharks aren’t real or take a deep breath and swim for your life. Whatever happens, happens. You have to live with the uncertainty to break free from the 'what if' nightmares. What makes this so difficult is you have to do it while living your life and going to work.


Warning signs

Many organisations are committing to embedding health and wellbeing in the workplace and challenging the mental health stigma by creating a culture that encourages you to talk about any mental health issues you may have, whilst equipping your manager to respond.

The difficulty with OCD is that sufferers are aware that their fears are irrational and will go to extreme lengths to block and resist them. If they talk about their illness, it suddenly becomes real, meaning they have to manage the condition and the impact it could have on their reputation and career.  

While managers and considerate colleagues are not expected to become Pure OCD experts to help sufferers realise their thoughts are not real, they can look out for warning signs and offer the appropriate support.

Pure OCD sufferers may:

  • act like they have 10 seconds to defuse a bomb on a regular basis
  • seem preoccupied and distant because they are trying to solve the world’s greatest mystery
  • behave like they are receiving devastating news through invisible headphones while talking to you
  • seek reassurance on obsessive thoughts, but try to pass it off as casual conversation
  • suddenly start laughing because of the stupidity of their obsessions, only to be miserable again a few seconds later
  • scrutinise emails and documents for any “incriminating information” that may expose their OCD
  • spend a lot of time surfing the web to prove they have OCD


Creating an OCD-friendly workplace

Organisations can follow the Thriving at Work recommendations to support mental health support in the workplace.

Having an OCD-savvy occupational health provider can validate this misunderstood condition, enabling meaningful conversations on how to mitigate the impact it has on people’s careers and the business.

This will be especially important if people are struggling to find a GP or counsellor who understands Pure OCD. It’s about trusting people to manage their workload and illness, ensuring they are not subjected to banter, ridicule or discrimination.

Even if people choose not to disclose their condition, they may still need managerial and peer support to get through this difficult time. They know you know, but everyone acts like they don’t know until normal service resumes.

OCD-UK’s ice breaker can help people have this difficult discussion with a manager, mental health first aider or occupational health. You do not have to go into detail about your OCD, just enough information to let them help you keep your life on track and stay in or return to work. See MIND guidance on telling your employer about your OCD.

So who’s a little bit OCD now?

Check out the Intrusive Thoughts site for info on Pure OCD.

For more information about how your organisation can support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, registerhereto receive Mad World News and updates about the Mad World Summit

Paul Carter

Paul Carter is a Senior HR Consultant at Civil Service Employee Policy in London. He has worked in HR for five years after spending 10 years in communications and committee management. He is CIPD qualified and writes HR blogs to encourage debate on how to make the world of work a better place. Writing and running help him manage his mental health and he is determined to raise awareness of what living with Pure OCD is like. He is always interested in meeting new people and exploring new opportunities.

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