Friday, December 16, 2011

Things You Thought You Knew About OCD

Living with OCD is very different than knowing someone who has it or even living with someone who has it. While it is true that OCD has an effect on everyone around the person with it, there are things that people generally assume about OCD are wrong.

People with OCD know the thoughts they have are crazy. I find that a lot of people simply assume that someone with OCD must be completely out of it, and have no clue how ludicrous his or her behavior is. This is not true. People with OCD usually do know the thoughts they have are crazy; they are simply powerless to stop it. They know that washing their hands for twenty minutes is not going to make them any cleaner, but they cannot escape the thought that maybe they missed a spot or that maybe they didn't clean their hands good enough. They know that circling the parking lot fifteen times to make sure they didn't hit someone is silly, but they simply cannot stop thinking "what if?" They know switching the lights on and off several hundred times per day is nuts, but they simply cannot stop doing it because they feel that something bad may happen if they do not do it.

You probably don't have OCD. I hear the term OCD thrown around very loosely. It is common to hear someone say, "I am so OCD," or something along those lines all the time. It is actually a bit unfair to assume you know what OCD is like, because you have no idea what it is like to really live with OCD. Even thought the OCD Foundation estimates that one in 100 adults have OCD, you probably do not have it. So, you like your socks lined up just right in the drawers? You get mad if the laundry isn't separated correctly? You only eat Rice Krispies everyday, because that is what you like? When someone leaves a dirty towel on the floor, you go nuts? You sometimes worry that you left the stove on at home? These thing are normal, they do not mean you have OCD. Some people like things a certain way, and some people like things neat and orderly. That does not mean you have OCD. Now, if you are sitting at your desk at work and cannot stop thinking about whether those socks are in the drawer right, then it may be different. If the thought of not having Rice Krispies makes you want to hyperventilate and pass out, then it may be more than just a preference. If you are so worried about the stove that you leave the store just to go home and check (and then you check it again), then it may be more than just worrying. If you see something when you are out that looks like it may be blood and you become so overwhelmed that you run home to change your clothes and take a shower, because you may have touched the substance, then it may be more than a simple worry. This is not to say that you shouldn't get help if you think you have OCD. I think a lot of people go undiagnosed, so it is important to find a reputable counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist if you are having overly anxious thoughts and obsessions.

It is not all about cleanliness. I find that many people simply assume if you have OCD then you must wash your hands a million times a day, and you probably sanitize everything in your home so much that it resembles the inside of an operating room. There are actually many different types of OCD, and it can show different symptoms in each person. Some people are focused on cleanliness and do keep everything completely clean. Others are focused on contamination, and they may feel that the outside world (or even themselves) is contaminated. You may be surprised to find that some people with OCD do not live in a completely clean home, and there may be toys all over the house or piles of laundry on the floor. Some people are checkers, and they will constantly check things. This can range from the stove being on to circling the parking lot to make sure they didn't hit someone or something. Some people are more obsessive than compulsive, and they may not have any outward symptoms you can notice. Some people are obsessed with food, and may have difficulty eating certain things or eating at all. Some are obsessed with body image and others their hair. Hair pulling is actually common with people who have Trichotillomania, which can be a form of OCD. Some people obsess over death, religion or even have sexual thoughts.

They really can't just get over it.  I have heard this before, "Just stop thinking that way." Well, it really is not that simple. There is no way to just stop thinking that way. The worry takes over the person's mind, and the only way that person can "get over it" is by acing out compulsions. It is a never-ending cycle, that revolves around each next obsession.


How many people have OCD?. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Phillipson, S., & Gibson, C. (n.d.). Trichotillomania. Retrieved from

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