I’ve learned a (comparative) tremendous amount about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since my diagnosis, which was roughly 2 years ago. I’ve learned the most information in the last 6 months from research and self discovery.
Most of the information I know, was gathered on my own, due to the professionals I’ve encountered not being adequately educated, trained, and/or experienced with OCD. That’s been the hardest part, truth be told. Figuring this out on my own, because everyone of my mental health professionals until very recently, really botched things up.
Learning what I have, has made me realize how ignorant the masses are. That includes many others that suffer with OCD, who may not realize it because of inadequately trained professionals.
I had symptoms of Scrupulosity (Religious OCD) when I was a teenager in the late 90’s. Had a properly trained mental health care professional recognized the symptoms, or had there been more information out in general about OCD, perhaps I would have gotten treatment a whole 2 decades sooner!
Misinformation, What OCD Isn’t
In my OCD groups, they often talk about things people say that offend or hurt them. I personally don’t get offended, but I understand why others do, because it truly is a very debilitating illness. The flippant comments trivialize the seriousness of it, especially “I’m so OCD.”
There are assumptions made that if someone has OCD they must be a neat freak, very clean, a germaphobe, or perhaps a “light switch flicker”. While someone with OCD might happen to have those characteristics, those are most certainly not qualifiers for the illness, and are not defining characteristics of OCD.
We are not neat freaks or super organized. Many people with OCD can lean towards messiness in some part of their life. Making a comment like, “How can you have OCD, you’re so messy?” can actually be hugely mentally damaging to someone with said mental illness. We often times doubt we do have OCD, and when incorrect preconceptions are pointed out, however untrue, that stirs up those doubts, often obsessively!
Also, if you see a bunch of storage containers neatly lined up and labeled with their contents, do not make any type of comment about the person being OCD. That’s just an organizational skill. My husband and I both have that skill, and I have OCD while he most certainly does not.
We are not all germaphobes. While contamination OCD is most certainly a thing and a more common theme since COVID, it’s not a general rule for the illness. Just because we have OCD, don’t assume we don’t want to touch you or anything else. The easiest way to find out, ask. Put your hand out for a shake or ask if we can hug. I’ve been asked and I love it! If someone seems hesitant though, quickly withdraw and make sure you let them know it’s ok, perhaps see if they’re up for a fist bump. Seriously though, I’ve groomed a dog and eaten my lunch on the table next to it, not caring a bit about germs.
OCD doesn’t stand for anything but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Honestly, those shirts that say Obsessive Coffee Disorder, or fill in the blank with appropriate fun C word, those are actually kind of offensive. They most certainly trivialize a serious illness. I’m not sure how I would respond if someone tried to make a joke and said, “I have OCD: Obsessive Corgi Disorder” (just a random actual example). It’s just plain stupid, to be 100% honest, not just on the offensive side.
People with OCD aren’t your dream housekeepers. We don’t love to clean, our homes aren’t spotless, and no, we won’t come clean your house in our free time. Yes, again, some people with OCD are very clean individuals, but also, many times you will be surprised. I’ve found talking with others with OCD, that those that have issues with things being dirty, don’t actually clean because of an aversion to the yuckiness! Since often depression goes hand in hand with OCD, many times those with OCD will get too depressed to clean as well. I fell into that category for most of my 20’s!
Many Mental Health Professionals Aren’t Specifically Trained to Treat (or recognize) OCD. If you feel you have OCD, unlesss your therapist or psychiatrist actually has experience with others with that diagnosis, you may be best off finding someone who does. I cannot tell you the many MANY professionals I have seen over the years that repeatedly misdiagnosed, what now seems glaringly obvious. I had a therapist make the above comment about my messiness and questioning how I had OCD (after actual diagnosis). I had a psychiatrist dismiss me when I told him I couldn’t control my thoughts and verbalizing how stupid and horrible I was repeatedly (compulsive response to certain anxiety causing situations). It didn’t raise any red flags when I told countless therapists over the years that I thought God was punishing my family with a hurricane when I was a teenager, because I was a horrible person. You cannot rely solely on Doctors and Counselors! OCD is a complicated illness that is very hard for even those suffering from OCD to deal with.
What is OCD then?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder consists of intrusive thoughts that trigger compulsive physical or mental actions.
An intrusive thoughts can literally be anything that disturbs the individual. People without OCD have them, the problem being that a person with OCD attaches too much importance to the thought (inadvertently). An example is the thought while your driving your car, “What if I run off the road and run over a child?”
Healthy individuals just dismiss that thought, while someone with OCD perhaps revolving around harming others or similar, would panic at the thought, purposely try to push it away, then that thought ends up actually becoming the focus, and won’t leave their mind.
A person with obsessive compulsive disorder has something inside telling them that something (sometimes identified and sometimes not) is severely wrong/off, something bad will happen, harm will come, the world will end, or maybe they don’t even recognize what they’re feeling (I didn’t) that causes enough anxiety they feel compelled to perform something that will relieve that internal anxiety, whether it’s a physical action, mental action (ie praying, mentally counting), or verbalization.
Sometimes it can be a fear of, “Are the doors locked? Is the oven off?” And that can lead to those who repeatedly check door locks or check stoves. Or do a repetitive action like flip light switches. I knew a girl who’s sister needed to flip her lights on and off 7 times as part of her compulsion. I’m not sure her “why”, having not spoken to her myself, but as part of the illness, there is something telling her something bad will happen or is wrong unless she does so.
The most common physical compulsion these days is connected to contamination OCD, hand washing or sanitizing. Thanks COVID. Though contamination OCD can be related to a wide variety of things, such as bodily fluids, diseases, dirt, or chemicals.
On the flip side, there are mental compulsions. This tends to make OCD harder to diagnose if people don’t mention these type of thoughts to anyone, namely a mental health professional trained in Anxiety Disorders.
I fall largely into the mental compulsion category, so I’ll use myself as an example. Whenever I feel like I’ve done something wrong, whether it’s speak wrong, offend someone, overshare in an email, the list is endless…mentally I call myself stupid and/or horrible.
Another example, one of Scrupulosity or Religious OCD, anytime I hear anyone use the Lord’s name in vain, I feel the urge to pray for forgiveness. I’ve heard others with Scrupulosity mention having this problem too.
There are other subsets of OCD, like relationship, sexual orientation, and pedophilia OCD. That last one isn’t as awful as you assume, they have a huge fear they might be attracted to children and are so abhorred by the thought, or they’re scared they might be around a child and worry what thoughts they’ll have – even never have had those thoughts – it’s the fear of those thoughts that causes the distress!
In general, OCD is so illogical to those suffering and likely to those not. I mean, I know I don’t need to ask God for forgiveness if someone else uses his name in vain. But the inexplicable need to do so is there.
My explanation is by no means a full in depth study of OCD, but an overview to give some basic understanding.
The reason “I’m so OCD!” is so offensive to OCD sufferers is because this illness is truly debilitating. Just put yourself in the shoes of the person who tries to remain functional in society and needs to get up at 4am just so they have time to go through their rituals of flipping the locks on the windows and doors 20 times each and have time to make it to work by 9. Or imagine that most everything you do in your interaction with others, triggers thoughts that you’ve done something wrong, you’re horrible, and deserve to die? That last one is mine, and honestly, it makes me want to not leave my house or email/text anyone most days.
One day it won’t be a thing to say, “I’m so OCD.” just like people realize now just how offensive it is to call people retarded or gay as an insult.
Thoughts? Do you use OCD flippantly and has my info changed how you feel about it? No judgement here!