Other Ramblings...

Monday, 20 August 2012

Religion and OCD. My View.

This is in response to this post on The Beat OCD Blog, which is written by a lovely lady called Ann who makes much more sense than I do!

Religion and OCD.  It's something I've thought about a lot, for quite a long time.  I think that the two are intrinsically linked for people with OCD, especially for people who don't have the typical contaminant form of the illness.

When my OCD started, I thought that God was telling me to do things.  I can see you all leaning back from your computers, thinking 'Oh my goodness, she's schizophrenic; she's hearing voices...', but I'm not.  It's quite different.  Actually, the 'voice' which I attributed to God when I was seven was my OCD giving me compulsion orders.  Since I came from a church-attending family, it seemed only natural that God would tell me what to do in order that I was a 'good girl'.

As I grew older, my compulsions became mainly prayer-based.  I developed a number of prayer related compulsions within that as well, including holding my breath for ten seconds after each prayer, and a complicated series of 'Amens' at the end of each prayer, sometimes repeating the word about a hundred times, or until it 'felt right'.

Of course, when I was seven, I didn't know I had OCD.  I didn't know that it wasn't 'God' telling me how to live my life, and it never particularly concerned me.  I thought that every member of our congregation fulfilled the same 'rituals' in their lives.  I was normal.

When I was fifteen, I went through a stage where my OCD got a lot worse very quickly and the praying became, once again, the basis of my compulsions.  I began praying up to a hundred times a day, and I had praying rituals which could last for up to an hour before I would allow myself to sleep at night.  The subject I was praying about - my sister's health - was something which really upset me and so the praying ritual became quite upsetting as well.  I began to believe that God wasn't listening to me and, the more I felt that my compulsive praying was being 'ignored', the more I believed that I had to do it.

Now, I'm still a compulsive prayer, although it's not the main focus of my OCD anymore, and something I tend to turn to when I'm going through a bad patch, or all my other rituals aren't fulfilling whatever I need them to fulfill.  I think that understanding that my need to pray is not something based on religious conviction has helped, and understanding that God wasn't setting me personal challenges any more than anyone else also helped me to begin to stop the compulsions.

So, where does that leave me on the religious front?

Over the last ten years, I've gone from total atheism to seriously considering becoming a vicar, calling at about every degree on the spectrum on my way through, and back again.  I've thought a lot about what my OCD means to my faith, and whether it's wise to allow myself to have faith at all, from a mental health perspective.

At the moment, my belief stands thus: I think that I like the feeling that faith has, but I'm not sure if that's not just my OCD feasting on something which allows me compulsive thinking in mainstream society (ie that I'm allowed to repeat prayers and sing hymns because it makes me a 'better person' and that it is acceptable in non-OCD society).  However, I also think that organised religion is something which promotes an OCD way of thinking; we do good things to please an entity which may or may not exist.  We also repeat the same prayers and eat bread and drink wine in order that we'll gain entry to a paradise upon our deaths.  If we don't fulfil these things, then we'll go to an eternal hell.

Sound familiar?  Obsessively compulsively familiar?

So, for the time being, I'm happy being loosely Christian.  I enjoy going to church occasionally, and I enjoy listening to church music.  I don't want to be sucked into the prayer/sacrament/heaven thing because my brain creates enough of those situations as it is, thankyou very much.

I don't know whether this post makes any sense but thankyou for reading if you got this far!  Perhaps you could comment, or write your own blog about religion and OCD?


  1. Hello, I saw your link on Ann's blog and hopped on over, and I'm glad I did.

    I can relate to a lot of what you write about religion and OCD, and I agree that it's a fascinating topic.

    Compulsive praying was a big part of my OCD when it was at its worst. I had to pray a certain way, and if I "messed up," I had to start over. I repeated myself over and over until I felt "right." I believed I had to pray or bad things would happen to people I loved. I believed if there was sin between me and God, God couldn't hear my prayers, so I prayed for forgiveness a lot.

    From my early 20s until I was well into my 30s, I wanted nothing to do with God or religion. I didn't believe in God. Gradually, I began to hunger for a spiritual life, and I've grown into a belief in a higher being. I attend church and enjoy the rituals. But I still have trouble praying, because it's so easy to fall back into the OCD way of praying.

    Last week I wrote about OCD and religion on my blog when I described my experience of getting "saved" when I was a little girl. It was the beginning of my OCD with religion. Stop by and read it if you'd like. It's at http://bringingalongocd.blogspot.com/2012/08/snippet-of-memoir-ocd-and-religion.html.

  2. Hi!

    Like Tina, I saw your comment on Ann's blog and hopped on over.

    I have OCD religious scrupulosity as well and can relate to so much of what you said!

    Scrupulosity is so complex that sometimes it overwhelms me to write about it but it always helps me when I do.


  3. Thankyou, both of you, for sharing your thoughts with me: it's wonderful to know that I'm not the only person in the world for whom praying is something other than an entirely religious practice.

    Elizabeth - I find religious scrupulosity so difficult to write about because it is - for me - such a tangle of ideas and thoughts and I'm not sure where to start with it. I guess that faith is such a personal topic anyway that adding OCD into the mix was only ever going to make things tricky!

    Tina - I've read your blog post and it was really interesting, especially the idea that you had been driven to rededicate your life to Christ without an explicit sense of why you were doing it. I'm so glad to read that you have felt able to return to some form of spirituality.

  4. Hello,

    I work for Red Marble Media, a television production company based in New York. We are currently researching a potential documentary about Scrupulosity and religious OCD, and are hoping to speak to people who have dealt with these obstacles and trials in their lives.

    In order to make the most empathetic and informative project possible, we need to learn from the experiences of OCD sufferers. I found your blog in my research and would love to speak with you.

    We are currently conducting informational interviews via skype, and if you are willing to talk, we'd love to speak to you.

    You can reach me at mhecht@redmarblemedia.net or at 646-383-7348.

    Please feel free to reach out with any questions that you may have.

    Thank you, and I sincerely hope to hear from you soon.