WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OCD BECAUSE WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW MAY BE BULLSHIT.
Strong words, I know, but more often than not it’s true. Sure, the TV show Monk made OCD look cute, comical and endearing, but it is anything but to the afflicted. OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are around 3 million reported cases in the US alone and it has the power to devastate lives and destroy families.
I frequently hear people say they are “so OCD about” *insert stupid bullsh*t here.* Not sure what I’m talking about? Let me give you some quotes I have heard come out of the mouths of the uneducated and how they translate to my ears – the ears of someone who actually struggles with OCD (though fortunately very mildly compared to other sufferers):
WHAT WAS SAID:
“I am so OCD about my parking space. It seriously pisses me off when someone parks in it.”
WHAT I HEARD:
“I’m a brat who just wants to complain about walking an extra 20 feet to my door…lazy American stereotype? That’s me! If I ever travel abroad locals will cringe at my every word and action.”
WHAT WAS SAID:
“I have to get a mani/pedi at least once a week. I’m totally OCD when it comes to my nails.”
WHAT I HEARD:
“I like to pamper myself. I really need that time to unwind…and I like my nails to be pretty.”
WHAT WAS SAID:
“I’m really OCD about my stuff. I hate it when people move my sh*t around.”
WHAT I HEARD:
“I’m actually a little particular and don’t like it when people mess with my things.”
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having preferences, pet peeves, getting annoyed or liking to treat yourself to something you enjoy (although the parking thing really does irk me…it just comes off as lazy and spoiled. Get off your ass and walk. It won’t kill you). There is a HUGE difference between a preference or habit and a compulsion. My beef is with those claiming to have OCD when they clearly do not…and in doing so marginalize and mock those who actually suffer from the debilitating disorder.
“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety (obsessions), repetitive behaviors that are engaged in to reduce anxiety (compulsions), or a combination of both. While many are concerned about germs or leaving their stove on, people with OCD are unable to control their anxiety-producing thoughts and their need to engage in ritualized behaviors. As a result, OCD can have a tremendous negative impact on people’s day-to-day functioning.” – from the National Institute of Mental Health
PLEASE, DEBILITATING? YOU’RE BEING MELODRAMATIC.
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER DESTROYS LIVES.
It is certainly nothing to mock or pretend to suffer from any more than AIDS or cancer. “Oh my god guys, my diet is working so well! I’m losing so much weight I look like a late stage AIDS patient.” Sounds 100% ignorant, cold and bitchy, doesn’t it? Well that’s how people sound when they bandy about the term OCD like it’s some big joke…especially to those whose lives, careers, bodies and marriages have been destroyed by it.
“I couldn’t do anything without rituals. They invaded every aspect of my life. Counting really bogged me down. I would wash my hair three times as opposed to once because three was a good luck number and one wasn’t. It took me longer to read because I’d count the lines in a paragraph. When I set my alarm at night, I had to set it to a number that wouldn’t add up to a ‘bad’ number.”
“Getting dressed in the morning was tough, because I had a routine, and if I didn’t follow the routine, I’d get anxious and would have to get dressed again. I always worried that if I didn’t do something, my parents were going to die. I’d have these terrible thoughts of harming my parents. I knew that was completely irrational, but the thoughts triggered more anxiety and more senseless behavior. Because of the time I spent on rituals, I was unable to do a lot of things that were important to me.” – from the National Institute of Mental Health
THE SYMPTOMS AND SEVERITY OF OCD VARIES GREATLY FROM PERSON TO PERSON.
Fortunately my OCD is very mild but increases when I am under a large amount of emotional stress. When I went away to college in Austin I had no friends, my dorm mate was arrested for murdering her father (that’s a story for another day), my second roommate was a part-time nudist & femi-nazi, I was going through a long string of bad boyfriends and I was away from home for the first time in my life. I didn’t even realize I was stressed until one day, as I was walking to French class, I noticed I had been counting my steps (in my head, thank god) starting at my dorm and ending at the classroom.
I began to notice I was counting without even thinking about it when I did things that involved me being around lots of people. It was a calming ritual I was performing subconsciously to quell the anxiety I was experiencing (anxiety being one of the primary symptoms of OCD).
It mutated into a combination of checking & counting rituals combined with compulsions around toxins (specifically household cleansers…which I still stand by…if I can’t eat it or squirt it in my eye without dying or going blind then it doesn’t need to be in my house) and was at its height of severity about a year after I kicked cancer’s ass.
I worked on it diligently for years to get where I am today (and without the help of a therapist or regular medication – save the occasional xanax for the random anxiety attacks stemming from the cancer survival. Being pigheaded can really work in my favor sometimes). Now my symptoms involve a small handful of checking routines that I no longer engage in on a daily basis nor do they interfere with my daily life. There are, sadly, millions out there who are not so lucky.
SO WHAT OTHER SYMPTOMS AND RITUALS DO PEOPLE HAVE?
fear of germs
perfection, neatness, precision
fear of thinking “bad” thoughts
fear that harm is about to come to you or a loved one
preoccupations with sounds, words, numbers or checking
frequent hand washing or bathing, often to the point of bleeding and skin disorders
checking of lights & appliances to make sure they’re off and doors to make sure they’re locked
hoarding objects or animals
religious ritual often in the form of constant (and I mean constant) prayer
asking the same question over and over and over
repeating certain physical actions (like tapping your shoulder three times before you drink anything)
repeatedly placing objects in particular order
the picking of skin and the pulling out of hair (which can result in severe scarring and baldness)
DOES THAT STILL SOUND MELODRAMATIC?
Not so bad? Imagine if these thoughts and rituals took up the majority of your day. Imagine it takes you 30 extra minutes to leave your house for work because you have to keep checking your front door to make sure it’s locked…and then you STILL aren’t sure so you have to call your roommate, spouse or parent to drive by your house and check the door for you…and then you have to go by the house on your lunch break and check it again…but you KNOW you can’t go in the house to eat because you’ll have to start the entire process all over again…and then you get to go through a similar process before you go to bed at night getting up over and over and over to check the door to make sure it’s locked.
THAT IS LIVING WITH OCD.
OCD is not getting your knickers in a knot because someone parked in “your” parking space. OCD is not getting miffed when the restaurant serves Diet Pepsi instead of Diet Coke. OCD, for the millions who suffer from it, is a living hell that seems inescapable because how do you escape your own thoughts? Yeah…you don’t…not without a lot of help, love, understanding and support.
Kisses & Chaos,
Alli Woods Frederick
If you or someone you love is suffering from OCD there is help available (pet’s included – dogs and cats can develop the disorder as well & have been successfully treated with medications such as Prozac). There are a variety of treatment options available from medication to cognitive behavioral therapy. It can be successfully managed. Here’s a list of online resources to help point you in the right direction:
image credits: Ryan: Trichotillomania by Ryan Kelly * Girl washing hands by PENnyshot * Welcome to the Psych Ward: Obsessive Compulsive-Disorder by Janine *