Mental Health Questions — Handling the mourning process and OCD


Q. I’ve had a recent death in my family and I feel like I’m in a fog. I’ve been unable to cry or to feel any emotions. What is wrong with me?

A. When there is a loss in the family, each individual handles the mourning process differently. In the past, there was a belief that people went through stages of mourning until the process was completed. In more recent years, we have discovered that our reactions vary widely and do not occur in any specific order. In fact, you may feel fine for a few weeks, and then something will trigger a memory and the crying begins or the “foggy feeling” reappears. The range of emotions you will experience as time passes is huge. You may feel resentment toward the person who died; you may be angry at God; you may wish to isolate from friends; and you may even feel guilty that you did not “do more.” You should accept your own way of grieving as normal. Do not listen to anyone who says, “I haven’t even seen you cry” or “you don’t seem very upset.” Your love for the individual who died is not determined by the depth, length, or outward display of your grief. Additionally, many people feel guilty about having a good time after the death of a loved one. It is important to enjoy life again, and to engage in behaviors that keep you moving forward rather than looking backward.

Q. I think my wife has an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She is overly concerned with everything in the house being clean and in just the right place. She denies having OCD, and says she is just “orderly.” Please explain to me exactly what OCD is.

A. OCD is a term we often use for people who are neat or orderly; however, people who have been diagnosed with OCD are usually not neat or orderly. Because many individuals with OCD take excessive time with ritualistic cleaning, are unusually fearful of germs, and have anxiety when discarding even meaningless things, their living space is often messy and unkempt. OCD is actually an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions) that make them feel as if they must perform rituals to assure their safety or to rid themselves of fearful thoughts. If people with OCD do not perform their compulsive rituals, they experience great anxiety. Some of the most common obsessions are fear of contaminates (such as body fluids, chemicals, and germs), fear of harming oneself or others, and an unwarranted fear of offending God or violating moral standards. Some of the most common compulsions are excessive washing, checking, counting or repeating ritualistic phrases. These compulsions may be relatively simple such as uttering a protective word or they may take hours to perform such as elaborate routines of dressing or preparing for bed. Severe OCD can interfere in one’s life so that the individual is unable to work or socialize.

If your wife is habitually late or having difficulties with activities of daily living because of her cleaning or orderliness, then she could possibly have OCD. Additionally, if something is moved from its’ “place” and she experiences excessive distress, this anxiety could be another indicator that there is a problem. You can find excellent resources to help you have a better understanding of this condition. I would suggest that you begin with the website for the International OCD Foundation (www.ocfoundation.org).

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Nancy Ryburn is a psychologist who teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College and maintains a limited private practice in Pine Bluff. If you have questions pertaining to mental health, please e-mail them to drnryburn@gmail.com. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information listed with the questions and all e-mails remain confidential.