OCD: What You Need to Know
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a mental disorder which is categorized by severe anxiety and obsessive and compulsive behaviors that interfere with a person’s routine. Those with OCD may be considered perfectionists and tend to have uncontrollable, recurring desires to complete an action or routine over and over again. These actions are almost unconsciously repeated, becoming a sort of addiction to “perfectionism” where one is unwillingly forced to be some definition of perfect. However, there are many ways to live with OCD, and it is important to know that no one is in this fight alone. In an age where kids are being raised to seek the perfect grade, the perfect job, and the perfect life, it is obvious that mental health issues related to perceptions of security and perfectionism can and will arise. But it is possible to work with these issues by acknowledging that they exist, taking steps to help those with OCD, and preventing it before it strikes.
OCD has various signs and symptoms associated with the disease. According to NIMH, these symptoms are:
Invasive and recurring thoughts of:
Harm to Others
A desire for everything to be perfectly symmetrical
Following rules to the extreme
Ordering and Rearranging items in a particular and precise way
Repeatedly checking on things to make sure they are in the same state
Counting of items
However, performing compulsions may not provide a feeling of joy or completeness, only alleviating stresses slightly. It is merely a temporary satisfaction gained from putting everything in its proper place. Having OCD may be considered similar to being an addict to perfection. Everything is desired to be in an acceptable state (“acceptable” is used here loosely, as most people with OCD find that no matter what they do, everything will exist in a state of imperfection). This is immensely like an addiction, as one is constantly looking for temporary relief from the imperfection and/or insecurity of daily life.
What doesn’t particularly help are the many myths about OCD propagated by the mainstream media. There are so many common myths about OCD, it is easy to fall back on stereotyping and stigmatizing those with the condition. Due to the portrayals of OCD in mainstream media, popular culture, social settings, school environments, culture, and even religion, OCD has become a very misunderstood mental illness. Common myths include:
People with OCD love cleaning
No, they don’t necessarily. They clean in order to experience relief from their anxiety. Cleanliness is one method to avoiding anxiety, as having a clean room provides a small semblance of relief from a crushing anxiety attack.
People with OCD are germaphobes who love cleaning and handwashing
This is a stereotype, as OCD manifests differently in many people. Only a small portion of people with OCD have the abovementioned symptoms. There are several types of OCD that can occur and not all of them have to do with germs or cleaning.
OCD can also occur in various forms. There is no guaranteed experience of OCD in any one person because of the vast possibilities of expression. For the purpose of definition, general types of OCD include (OCD UK):
Mental OCD - one feels that they have been badly treated, prompting them to feel mental uncleanliness
Contact OCD - The fear of being dirty or contaminated by germs or any other unwanted subject
Checking - the need to continually check something for fear of fire, injury, destruction, etc.
Hoarding - inability to discard useless or worn-out possessions (for obsessive-compulsive reasons)
Ruminations - prolonged trains of thought that are indulged, going over various topics that will never lead to a solution ( i.e. “What is the meaning of life?” asked in an obsessive-compulsive manner)
Intrusive Thoughts - repetitive and generally unwelcome thoughts that will compel one to take action against these thoughts (compulsions)
Symmetry and Orderliness - the desire for everything to be “just right”
OCD is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses in the world, and it is easy to understand why due to the immense prevalence of mainstream media portraying OCD as a disease where one is a germaphobe. It is important to understand that OCD isn’t something that one can just “control” on their own. OCD affects 2.2 million people in the US alone (The Oaks Treatment Foundation). Being one of the most prevalent mental illnesses amongst the youth, it is important to realize that no one is alone. There are millions of people facing the same illness and the same challenge. And there are millions more who are willing to help.
OCD doesn’t mean that you are weak-willed. That is another stigma many people hold. Having OCD doesn’t make you any less of a person and it certainly doesn’t mean that you aren’t strong. Rather, it means that you are capable of facing crippling anxiety almost every day and emerging from the experience ready to fight again. Having OCD is a test of endurance. No matter what, it is important to keep going everyday. There is always hope.