I suffered from OCD symptoms for years without recognizing them as OCD symptoms. I imagine many people can relate. In hindsight, I can observe and even laugh at just how obvious my symptoms must have seemed to an objective professional, but at the time, I simply didn't know what I didn't know. In other words, I didn't know I had OCD because I didn't know what OCD really was.
Eventually, I connected with an excellent therapist who helped me articulate and understand my symptoms, but there was one question in those early stages of diagnosis that I found especially difficult to answer: how would you describe the impact of your symptoms on your day-to-day life?
Umm...I don't know?
Now, at first glance, you might wonder why I couldn't explain myself. The reason is simple and complicated at the same time: my #OCD symptoms had been woven into my day-to-day thinking for years, and most of them felt familiar, maybe even normal. Because of that, I could identify intrusive thoughts and obsessions, but I couldn't make explicit links between those thoughts and their effects. Fortunately, my therapist showed me how to quantify my thoughts and behaviours for the purposes of intervention, and I remember thinking how much I wish I had had that skill in my earliest years of OCD symptoms. I also remember wondering how many people out there - #parents and otherwise - might recognize that something is off in their thinking, but who also don't have access to a quick, easy (and free!) reference tool to get their assessment process going. So, with plenty of help, I drafted a functional assessment tool for day-to-day use, and today is the day I share it with the world (outside of my book, of course).
...having said that, let's make a few things (read: limitations) perfectly clear: I'm not a doctor of any kind. The tool I'm sharing in this post was compiled with the help of several resources and experts, but it does not confirm any kind of diagnosis, nor does it replace a consultation with a qualified, objective expert.
Alright, Captain Obvious, so why even use it?
I originally wrote OCDad: Learning to Be a Parent with a Mental Health Disorder to help parents navigate the mental health and OCD treatment landscape quickly, and efficiently. The chart below was one that I assembled for that purpose. I also used it to rank my obsessions for the purpose of creating exposure hierarchies. So, in essence, this is an efficient, plain-speak tool that might help you understand the nature and impact of any intrusive thoughts and/or obsessions that are affecting your life in a maladaptive way. Here's how you use it:
Complete the questions and rating scales as accurately and honestly as you can. I've designed the chart to display your results numerically, and visually. Essentially, the further to the right your answers are on the checklist and rating scales, the more severe your symptoms may be. After you complete the chart, there are a range of options available. Here are a few follow-up steps I've taken in the past:
Put the chart away for a couple days and then re-read it. Journal your thoughts about your thoughts. You might find that you come to see them in a different light, or that you spot maladaptive patterns in your thinking.
Write out a chart for as many of your thoughts as you can. Bring them to a therapist and learn to challenge them through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Response with Prevention Therapy (ERP).
Share your chart with a loved one or spouse, if you're comfortable. It might help them understand you, and your struggles.
Alright, so there you have it. Everything you need to use my homemade assessment tool. And now, the tool itself:
Once again, take your time with this tool and remember these three caveats:
Study yourself, but don't diagnose yourself. Go to a professional for that.
Re-read your charts and study your reactions to your thoughts.
Don't just complete the chart and then ditch it. Use it as a springboard to a structured, constructive intervention, whatever that might look like for you.
Here are a few other things I did (and didn't do) with my newfound self-knowledge: click here