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|Amber Brooks • 4/13/18|
The Short Version: Dating when you live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be a challenge, but you can make the experience more manageable by staying informed and gaining support from professionals in the mental health community. The International OCD Foundation provides singles and couples with an abundance of resources — from fact sheets to support groups — to help them overcome their obsessive behaviors and lead more productive lives. If you’re experiencing social anxiety, or if your significant other has compulsive behaviors, you can turn to the IOCDF for guidance and assistance. This nonprofit organization has spent the last 30+ years building a global community of health professionals, researchers, family members, and individuals with OCD-related disorders. Whatever personal challenges you’re facing, you can rely on the IOCDF to support you on your journey toward health and happiness.
When I was growing up, I loved swimming in our pool, but I was scared stiff of diving from the diving board. Every time I stood up there, my heart would leap into my throat. I just couldn’t summon the courage to tip myself forward. I’d stare down at the water for several minutes, and then I’d step down, shame-faced.
One day, my dad told me, “If you’re waiting until you feel 100% ready, you may never move from that spot. You just have to do it.” He was right. I was waiting for my fears to go away, but that wouldn’t happen until I showed myself I could do it. So I closed my eyes and dove in, and I haven’t been afraid of the diving board since.
Ideally, you should start dating when you feel absolutely happy with yourself and your life. Realistically, you can’t wait until you reach self-actualization to have a cup of coffee with someone. Singles have to look inside themselves to decide when they feel as ready as they can be to take the plunge.
For singles with OCD, dating may seem incredibly intimidating, but making an effort to build relationships is a crucial part of leading a fulfilling and functional live.
“The reality is there’s no cure for OCD, so if somebody tries to wait to date until their OCD is gone, they may never date or get married,” said Michelle Massi, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) who has been treating OCD and anxiety since 2004.
She said that while it’s unhealthy to expect a relationship to fix all our problems, a significant other can be a positive influence on someone’s long-term health and happiness. “Being in a relationship can sometimes make a person feel more supported,” she said, “and that can help them fight their OCD.”
If you’re wondering how a diagnosis of OCD will impact your love life and relationships, you can educate yourself by working with a therapist or doing your own research on respected online resources.
Based in Boston, the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) has established a growing international network of mental health professionals, like Michelle, who specialize in treating OCD and helping people live their lives to the fullest. The nonprofit raises awareness about OCD and combats the stigma surrounding mental health issues. For the last 30+ years, the IOCDF has increased access to effective treatments for OCD by funding research and offering informational resources to patients around the world.
“The IOCDF is the largest organization dedicated solely to helping individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and related disorders to live full and productive lives,” said Meghan Buco, Communications Manager for the International OCD Foundation. “Our aim is to foster a hopeful and supportive community for those affected by OCD and the professionals who treat them.”
The IOCDF was started in 1986 by a group of individuals who had OCD and knew how difficult it could be to understand the mental disorder. Originally, they wanted to start a small self-help group for people with OCD, but they soon realized the need for support in this community required much more than a few weekly sessions. They began working to raise awareness about OCD, and, in March 1987, ABC’s 20/20 aired a story on OCD and featured one of the IOCDF’s Founders.
Within a few days, the organization received 20,000 inquiries from people eager for information about the symptoms of OCD and ways to treat it.
Today, the IOCDF has expanded into a global organization with thousands of members. The organization includes individuals who suffer from OCD-related disorders as well as a community of family members, loved ones, and mental health professionals who want to help people facing mental health challenges.
The IOCDF gives people the resources they need to better understand and treat OCD. Its searchable database includes 250 support groups, 1,000 treatment providers, and 30 OCD treatment programs, so anyone can get access to helpful information and other assistance.
A close-knit team of 13 full-time employees, one part-time employee, and three volunteers work at the IOCDF’s headquarters in Boston. You can join the team and become an OCDvocate by volunteering with the organization.
“Our office culture is very collaborative and energetic,” Meghan said. “We are all extremely passionate about the work that we do and the community that we serve.”
The IOCDF has a variety of educational resources, professional recommendations, and community events to assist people with OCD. Whether you’re looking for tips to mitigate social anxiety or ways to recognize when someone is a compulsive hoarder, the organization’s fact sheets and brochures can walk you through the symptoms, signs, triggers, and treatments for various OCD-related disorders.
You can also do a location-based search to find clinics and programs that specialize in assisting people with OCD. “We provide a free, comprehensive resource directory of mental health specialists, support groups, and clinics on our website,” Meghan explained. “We also have a live support specialist to respond to calls and emails.”
On average, it can take up to 17 years for an individual with OCD to seek effective treatment for their symptoms. The IOCDF seeks to change that statistic by raising awareness about OCD and increasing access to helpful resources both online and offline. From professional trainings to fundraising events, the organization advocates on behalf of people who feel overwhelmed by obsessive behavior or anxiety.
Michelle said her primary goal is to give people tools they can use throughout their lives, so they don’t have to be in therapy forever. Ultimately, it’s her job to see to it that her patients can support themselves and make improvements by taking action on their own time.
“I love changing lives,” Michelle told us. “It’s an awesome experience to see a person go from not being able to function to starting to live their life by dating or going back to work or hanging out with friends — whatever it is that’s important to them.”
The Annual OCD Conference is one of the largest gatherings of people focused solely on OCD and OCD-related issues. The 2018 conference will take place in Washington, DC, on July 27. During the event, people who have been diagnosed with OCD can learn from professionals who host panels dealing with important issues including different types of OCD disorders, medical insurance, diagnosing adolescents, and how OCD impacts relationships.
“The Annual OCD Conference brings together health professionals, researchers, individuals with OCD, and their loved ones,” Meghan said, “with the goal of educating all attendees about the latest treatments, research, and practice in OCD and related disorders.”
Michelle has sat on many open panels during the conference and covered everything from when to bring up that you have OCD with a new love interest to how to date without feeling overwhelmed. Many of the panels invite questions from the audience, and their answers often resonate with people facing difficult personal dilemmas every day.
One panel discussed how couples can deal with contamination issues during sex. Someone with OCD may feel the need to wash repeatedly during or after sex, and Michelle said it’s important for partners to respect their feelings without giving in to their compulsions.
“Oftentimes significant others will engage in compulsions because they feel it’s helpful to the person,” Michelle said, “but it’s actually the worst thing you can do. It’s not your job to be their therapist. You should really try to support your partner without engaging the compulsion.”
When you’re going out of your comfort zone and trying something new, it’s natural to hesitate and think about everything that could go wrong — but you can’t let that stop you. Because that scary thing is only going to seem scarier the longer you think about it. Those negative spirals of fears, worries, and self-doubt can hold you back from living your life to the fullest.
Whether you’re diving into a pool or asking someone you like out on a date, taking that heart-stopping leap will get easier the more you do it. If you’re struggling with OCD and concerned about how that will impact your relationships, you can go online to the IOCDF to learn more about the mental disorder and prepare yourself to take control of your life.
“Anybody can date,” Michelle told us. “While OCD could get in the way and inhibit relationships, if people are aware and have the right information, it can be something they can overcome.”