I was a freshman in college — in the middle of a psych class — when all of a sudden, a memory of the past popped into my head. I remembered something that happened in middle school that sent a pang of anxiety through my body. It took over my whole being for a LONG time. I would ask myself, “Why wasn’t I this concerned when I was actually in middle school? Why is it coming up now… 8 years later?”
This kind of thought happens to lots of people. You’re minding your own business when a random memory shows up. The difference between someone with OCD and without OCD lies in our reaction to that thought.
If only I had the information back in college that I do now, I would have spent a lot less time suffering from severe guilt and anxiety.
Here are 5 things you should know about 'Real Event OCD' — just another one of the many subtypes of obsessive compulsive disorder.
1. It is a subtype of OCD where the obsession is around something that happened in the past.
Most types of OCD are characterized by a fear of the future and events that haven't happened yet. Real event OCD is unique because the person experiencing it feels anxiety about what they did or did not do in a past event and what that means about them as a person.
2. Thoughts about the event can resurface at any time and usually have no connection to the present.
Obsessions can be as random as, "in middle school, I stole a water bottle from the cafeteria and I now fear my kids will steal because of me," or as relevant as, "I drank too much at a party and I'm afraid I've done something terrible."
3. Like all subtypes of OCD, the goal is to find out any information that will disprove these fears.
Seeking reassurance from friends or family, mentally reviewing the details of the event, questioning their memory, and confessing to their "crimes" are all examples of compulsive behavior.
4. The OCD jumps to the worst conclusions based on thoughts most people don't think twice about.
You might be experiencing real event OCD if you find yourself thinking about the same event over and over again, if you seek reassurance but none of it is sufficient, or if you have trouble focusing on daily tasks and relationships because of these thoughts.
5. Giving into compulsions or ignoring the intrusive thoughts altogether won't relieve the anxiety.
Try to acknowledge the thoughts and sit with them without giving into the compulsions. That means not replaying the events in your mind or casually confessing to a friend. It takes some hard work and practice, but these exercises will strengthen your ability to sit with uncertainty and discomfort.