We live in the age of different. “Hipster” is in and it’s cool to be unique, nerdy, and quirky. What better way to show your individuality than branding yourself “so OCD“?
Except for OCD IS NOT a quirk, or a set of tendencies…it’s an incapacitating, isolating disease that makes you afraid of your own mind. This is what it’s really like to have OCD:
*You believe you are a horrible person.
Imagine having a song stuck in your head. Now imagine that instead of a lovely, catchy tune it’s the thought of murdering your best friend. In horrendous graphic detail. Over and over again. You’re not mad at your best friend, and you’ve never even done anything violent, but…
It. Won’t. Stop. Playing.
You probably feel uneasy just reading that. But that’s what the “obsessive” part of OCD is like: intrusive, unwanted, disturbing thoughts that won’t go away. No one seems to know what causes them, although it might be miscommunication between parts of the brain or something faulty in its error detection circuit.
The thoughts aren’t always about you doing bad things, but they’re never pleasant. Most obsessions are based on deep fears — “What if I or someone I love gets sick?” — or basically the worst things one can think of, like blasphemy, racism, suicide, murder, rape, contamination, animal abuse, cannibalism, torture …
People with OCD who have thoughts of doing something violent never actually act on these thoughts, and those who dread bad things happening almost never see those things happen. While most people can shake off a weird thought, when you have OCD, it sticks in your mind. Inevitably, you think, “Why do I keep thinking about these things? Is it because they’ll happen? Do I want them to happen?”
The answer’s no! No, you do not. But you will still fear you do.
*You’re Probably Not a Neat Freak
Sheldon, from Big Bang Theory, is depicted as having OCD. OCD is a debilitating condition so it is a bit strange that the show is often poking fun at his ‘compulsions’. The show plays on the OCD stigma by making sure to mention some part of his strict schedule (also can be related to aspergers syndrome which he also has) or his fear of germs. Don’t get me wrong, those are fears and compulsions that some people have but our society needs to be more aware that there are MANY other forms that OCD may come in.
This means that despite what the media might have you think, having OCD doesn’t necessarily mean you’re neat and particular. Those of you into freak shows (sorry, reality shows): First of all, don’t even get me started on the show “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners“…Second, have you ever seen that show “Hoarders“? Hoarding is often a symptom of OCD.
Compulsions can vary. Sometimes they correspond to fears, like washing your hands because you’re scared of contamination. Sometimes there’s no real logic behind them, like when you have to jump over a line on the floor because otherwise everybody you know will die horribly and it will be all your fault. Or you keep counting because you don’t want to lose control and start stabbing people.
Many don’t have physical compulsions at all, instead suffering from “purely obsessional” OCD, where all they have are obsessions. And some people with diagnosed OCD even obsessively doubt the fact that they have OCD.
OCD, at heart, is an anxiety disorder. Yet movie and TV characters with OCD are often shown washing their hands or straightening things, never suffering from overbearing anxiety. This is probably because it’s easier to show someone cleaning than to show someone going through extreme mental anguish.
*You Know There’s Something Wrong With You
One of the many differences between people who have OCD and people who are just “quirky” — is shame. Let’s be clear: If you regularly check your pockets to confirm that you’ve still got your car keys, or if you prefer your sandwiches with the crust cut off, or if you only eat orange Skittles, you’re not suffering from OCD.
Those are just quirks, and also the orange Skittles are obviously the best. People like quirks when they’re cute, fun, and harmless. When they involve picking at your fingernails to get blood (that isn’t even there) out or sitting on your hands so they don’t move and slap someone, people just think you’re “crazy.”
But you’ll believe it of yourself as well. You’ll be standing in your bathroom at three in the morning, scrubbing your pocket change because you’ve been awake for hours wondering if it could contaminate your clothes and make you a danger to the people around you, and you’ll be unable to stop, but you’ll know that what you’re doing is crazy.
OCD is “ego dystonic,” which means “out of sync with your ideal self” or “making you look and feel like an idiot.” People with personality disorders typically think they’re always in the right, and people with psychosis often don’t realize that their delusions are coming from their heads. But one of the defining characteristics of OCD is knowing that your thoughts are bizarre and your rituals don’t make sense.
Additionally, people who have OCD don’t even get any joy out of their compulsions. Relief? Definitely, but it’s temporary, like scratching a mosquito bite. You don’t want to count every pole and sign you pass, you have to.
There are people who are ‘perfectionist control freaks’ and love every meticulously planned minute of it. But they have a different diagnosis: obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. OCPD involves being neat and exacting (is that even a word??) to the point of disrupting one’s life and being really annoying to everyone else; it’s all of the OCD stereotypes with none of the anxiety or shame.
*It’s Rarely Just OCD
The day I was diagnosed with OCD was one of the best days of my life. Finally, I knew what was wrong with me, I wasn’t crazy, and I could get it treated. But then came the depression, dissociations, psychosis, trichotillomania and dermatillomania, anxiety, PTSD diagnosis…”oh, yeah. You have all those things too. Sorry about that.”
Panic attacks, Tourette syndrome, hypochondria, body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania, dermatillomania, and eating disorders are all OCD spectrum disorders. They’re diagnosed on their own but also like to hang around in the background while OCD tricks your mind. They’re like its creepy cousins.
OCD also often coexists with depression. This is partly because of chemicals and genetics, and also because constant obsessing, isolation, or exhaustion from ritualizing can be extremely depressing. Studies show that having OCD from an early age tends to make you more susceptible to depression because it wears on you so much. You’re also at higher risk of suicide.
The good news is that OCD and its tag-along disorders are treatable. There are all kinds of medications and therapies that can help alleviate symptoms. And since the spectrum disorders are linked, one treatment can sometimes cover all symptoms. OCD is not something that can be cured, but it can be controlled.
Im not going to lie…my OCD has not responded to many medications. There was one experimental medication that did work but seems to be not working for the last little while. At first this made me feel like I was back to where I started just less than a year ago.
Thankfully, a lot of stinkin’ hard work has moved me forward in my recovery! I keep hearing from my supports that they are noticing that I’m so much better than I was then. I still have a very far way to go but a few steps are behind me now.
*You have a demand for certainty
You think you should know for sure whether you will get violent, loose control, or are contaminated.
What if i didn’t unplug my hair dryer and it catches fire? Then the house would catch on fire, burn down to the ground, and it would all be my fault. What if there are germs on the door handle and I touched it? Then my entire family would get extremely ill and die. What if I lost control and acted on one of my horrible thoughts? Then I would stab somebody and they would die a horrendous death just because I didn’t take the proper precautions.
What if, what if, what if….?
The compulsions offer relief from the uncertainty. OCD sufferers are desperate to feel certain so of course they try to do anything and everything that offers relief even if it takes them hours upon hours to reach that “safe” or “just right” feeling. Then Nothing short of perfection is enough to ease the raging anxiety in the sufferers mind.
Do you still think it’s funny, cute or quirky to have OCD?
Are you still going to label yourself “so OCD” when referring to your neat, tidy, and clean preferences or your choice to double check that you have your car keys?
May I ask that you please, please, reconsider that choice of words?
It can be hurtful by making us feel like you are disregarding an OCD sufferers debilitating and incapacitating symptoms.