What to Expect
Humans are naturally curious creatures. Some people you tell about your OCD may want to know more about it. Others may think they know all about OCD from things they've read or seen, or from other people they've known. Some of this information may be stereotypical, or offer only extreme examples. You will probably want to show patience in such cases and explain that while those examples represent one end of the spectrum, OCD is like any other condition: some cases will be mild, others severe, and many variations will exist within those boundaries.
Telling someone close to you that you have OCD doesn't have to be a big “moment.” You don't need to announce that you have something important to discuss. It can be a short, perfectly matter-of-fact conversation that happens naturally and with virtually no planning.
You may be asked about, or simply feel like sharing, examples from your own life and struggle with OCD. Share as much, or as little, as you feel comfortable discussing. While OCD is nothing to be ashamed of, it is for you decide how much you want to tell others about the disorder and about yourself. If you find yourself on the receiving end of questions you'd rather not answer, it's perfectly all right to say, “I'm very pleased that you're interested, but that's not something I'm really comfortable talking about just yet. Thanks for understanding.” Then, simply go on to another topic.
A Lingering Stigma
It's possible that a few acquaintances, or even friends, might avoid you, believing that you're mentally ill and therefore dangerous. (Few people with mental illnesses actually are dangerous to others, but stereotypes persist.) Try not to take such reactions too personally. In these cases, your best bet could be to offer correct information to replace the misinformation your friends or acquaintances have picked up. Anyone who's sincerely interested in learning about OCD has a huge number and variety of resources to choose from. There are organizations, books, Web sites, and other resources. (Several are listed in Appendix A at the back of this book.)
Keeping a secret can be tantamount to carrying a heavy burden. You may have tired of making up excuses for your behavior. It might be helpful for you to have at least one person (other than a therapist or spouse, who pretty much has to know) in whom you can confide for emotional support.
Other places to find support include in-person and online support groups. We
The More You Know
You may find that the more you learn about OCD, the more help you get for your symptoms, and the more comfortable you become with the subject in general, the more comfortable you'll feel discussing it with others. You might even be able to help other people by sharing your own experience and knowledge.
Don't worry if you don't have all the answers to friends' questions. It's absolutely fine to say, “I don't know. I'm still learning about this disorder myself.” Anyone who is truly interested in learning more about OCD can find numerous resources to help her do so.
How you choose to approach the subject (if you do) is also up to you. Others may take their cues from you and joke with you about your OCD if you do so yourself, or feel concerned for you if you present it as something that causes you a lot of distress. As always, strike whatever tone makes you feel most comfortable. (That said, a little humor, if you can bring yourself to see any in your situation, might help to put others at ease.)
The Right Time?
How other people will react will depend on them, and the circumstances of your conversation, and not just you. A friend who snickers might feel uncomfortable or uncertain, for instance. Except in the case of parents or children, you may want to talk with people one-on-one, so that no one feels as if he has to act a certain way for the benefit of others in the conversation.
If you decide to share, try to pick a time when your confidante-to-be is not especially stressed. For instance, if you decide to tell your roommate, you might not want to wait until just before the final exam, parents' weekend, or a big date. On the other hand, when it comes to disclosing sensitive information, don't wait for the