Am I OCD? When a Challenge of Life Invites Mental Health Symptoms

by Donna Gibbs

This past week, my youngest son had a stomach bug. Gratefully, he doesn’t get sick often, and when he does, it is pretty short-lived. I managed this temporary stint of sickness as many momma’s do – checking on him every 15 minutes or so, and filling the air with Lysol in the moments in between.

Things were fine… until I noticed that my husband was looking puny. My typically healthy, energetic, and feisty man was red-skinned and lethargic. When he said he was going to the emergency room (which in 25 years of marriage I have never seen him do), I knew something was up. He got my attention. He was sick, and I was nervous. A couple of hours later, his visit revealed a positive flu test. My Lysol use multiplied by massive proportions. (Some of you can relate!)

The stomach bug and a positive flu test within a 24-hour span sent me seemingly over the edge. They say, “Ignorance is bliss,” but too many educational experiences regarding microscopic germs robbed me of my utopia. Instead, I could nearly visualize nasty germs on all the surfaces of my home; every door-knob, every piece of clothing, every box in my pantry. I was on a disinfecting quest! I displaced my son so that I could isolate my husband upstairs, and only went up to make sure he was alive and to deliver a meal (and I did that only when I could cover my face with a paper-towel “mask” and hold my breath while I was upstairs in proximity of my husband). A couple of times I almost instigated my own panic attack because I held my breath too long! (Don’t shame me – I bet you’ve exercised some of my tactics!)

While some of this is just an entertaining disclosure, the truth is some stressful situations really can induce a temporary season of mental health symptoms. If you had followed me around my home this weekend, you would have been convinced that this typically unworried person really had a serious case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. For a couple of days, I met the criteria! It certainly gives me an even fresher appreciation for the kind of torturous daily struggles typical of those who sincerely wrestle with a lifetime of OCD. (By the way, OCD is perhaps the most easily treated mental disorder, so if you have experienced a long-term pattern of being stuck with obsessive thoughts, or compulsive behaviors, please know that there is help. You don’t have to live alone in that prison anymore!)

While my short season surrounded by sickness triggered some unwanted symptoms, there are many other seasons of life that can also trigger short-term mental health challenges. For example, if you are going through a divorce, you may also experience symptoms of depression. If you are facing a challenging diagnosis, you may also experience symptoms of anxiety. If you are in a challenging circumstance right now, you also have a set of mental health symptoms, and they are probably not
pleasant for you to experience. Those symptoms may make you feel that you are emotionally unstable.

This weekend I extended myself some grace, gave myself some appropriate boundaries, refreshed myself with an eternal perspective, and allowed myself a giggle or two regarding my symptoms. I even allowed some of my symptoms of hypervigilance to work on my behalf, preventing me from irresponsibly spreading lots of nasty germs (hey, a little bit of anxiety is a beautiful thing!). If you are in a season of struggle, I would encourage you to also extend yourself some grace. Allow yourself to feel the emotions of your challenge, but also put some reasonable boundaries on yourself. Refresh yourself with an eternal perspective. Meditate on God’s promises and biblical truths. Remember that your symptoms may be perfectly normal given the situation, and they may even work to your benefit if allowed. Lastly, don’t take yourself too seriously – a laugh or two may be just what the Dr ordered!

If your short-season of struggle (with short-term mental health symptoms) turns into an extended season of struggle (with extended mental health symptoms), then it’s time to reach out for help! That’s why we’re here, and we’d consider it an honor to walk alongside you in your unwelcomed season. Together, we might even find a way to laugh somewhere along the way!

Donna Gibbs

Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases, Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, and is commonly featured on radio broadcasts across America, and occasionally internationally as well.
Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for twenty years as a national certified counselor, board-certified professional Christian counselor, and licensed professional counselor supervisor. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a leading professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse.
Follow Donna’s author page at for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.

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