5 Things OCD is NOT

1. This or this (or this, or this… and on and on).Color-coded t-shirts.

2.  A choice.

OCD stands for obsessive compulsive disorder. As our executive director likes to say, emphasis on the capital D for Disorder.  Obsessive and compulsive traits on their own are not a mental illness — we all have things that perhaps we obsess over, (constantly replaying a recent job interview or date in one’s head, examining every last detail for clues to what the person thought, re-writing the same paragraph over and over to make sure the essay or report is JUST right). But for a person with OCD they can’t just “snap out of it.” Research has shown that the brain of a person with OCD actually functions differently in this situation, essentially getting “stuck” on a thought. These thoughts are linked with intense anxiety driving the individual with OCD to engage in compulsive behavior – their only escape.  A person with OCD doesn’t obsessively clean their kitchen just because they like it to be clean. A person with OCD is overwhelmed with anxiety and fear about what will happen if they don’t clean their kitchen properly. Imagine being so consumed about something (such as the previously mentioned job interview, first date, essay, or cleaning the kitchen) that you literally could think of nothing else until you felt sure of the outcome you needed…. so caught up in the thoughts and worries that you could not go to work, or go meet friends, or perhaps even leave the house, because your brain was essentially on overdrive, and completely fixated on that one thing.  I am “obsessive.” However, I recognize this as part of my personality and when things don’t go my way, even if I find it upsetting, I do not feel a crushing, debilitating wave of anxiety as a result.

3.  A quirk.

I had a roommate in college who color-coded all of her textbooks on our bookshelves. Instead of being organized by class or subject or author, they were literally organized by the colors of the rainbow. Perhaps not a practical index system, but it seemed to make her happy.  This is not OCD. It’s funny, quirky, perhaps impractical, but she didn’t organize the books this way because she felt compelled to do so out of a need to alleviate deep-seated anxiety.  She just liked the colors.

Likewise, I have a thing about kitchen sponges.  My house has one sponge for washing dishes, and one sponge for cleaning the counters, and it annoys the hell out of me if people use the wrong sponge for the wrong thing (also, it’s gross). I have a thing about germs, but this is not OCD.  If someone uses the wrong sponge, I throw it away and get a new sponge (and perhaps re-wash the plate that just touched the gross counter sponge) — problem solved. For someone with OCD, there is no obvious “problem solved” moment. Once triggered, their OCD would necessitate doing an elaborate ritual to undo the mistake that was made. These “rituals” aren’t indulgences. A person with OCD doesn’t clean the same corner of the kitchen counter 100 times for fun — they do it because they are terrified about what will happen if they don’t. Perhaps they think they will catch a communicable disease, or worse, give a disease to someone in their family, because they cooked dinner in a kitchen that carried these terrible germs — even when they “know” it isn’t true! OCD isn’t about logic — it’s about anxiety.

Have you ever let your mind wander to the worst possible outcome in a given situation? For example, I’ve been stuck on a bus in traffic and imagined being stuck there forever — playing out Lord of the Flies scenarios in my mind with fellow passengers. This “doomsday” thinking is the bread and butter of someone with OCD. The brain can’t help but go to this deep dark place, no matter the situation. THAT IS NOT QUIRKY. It’s torturous.

4.  A synonym for anal-retentive, neatnik, cleanfreak, etc., etc.

This is how the term OCD is often misused in pop culture.  It has somehow become a synonym for uptight. OCD is not alone is this — think for a second if you’ve ever described someone as bipolar or schizophrenic when you meant “moody.”  Can you imagine if we started using the term cancer this way? Mental illness can be just as devastating to a person and their family as cancer — it interrupts lives, derails plans, and in extreme cases can lead to a person taking their own life.

5.  A joke.

Despite the severity of OCD and other mental disorders, many people do not get help. Why? Because of stigma. People with OCD and other disorders are often afraid to speak up, afraid to ask for help, and ashamed that they are somehow defective. In fact, some studies have shown that only 1 in 3 individuals with OCD will tell their medical provider about their OCD symptoms. Why is it okay in our society to publicly and proudly fight cancer, but not mental illness? Why is a disease of the brain any less real or important than a disease of the body.

Unfortunately, joking about mental illness is part of the problem. It perpetuates the idea that OCD is something that someone should be able to just “get over” already. It infers that a person who can’t get over it is somehow weak or defective. It makes people hide their illness from friends and family, despite the fact that a strong support network is often the thing that makes treatment work.

Because OCD is treatable. Many people respond well to therapy, some to medication, and some to a mix of both. It is possible to recover from OCD and live a full and productive life.  Sadly, on average it takes people between 14 to 17 years between the onset of symptoms and gaining access to effective treatment. Why are we letting all of those years be wasted?

Until we can stop the cycle of stigma, ignorance, and insensitivity, mental illness will continue to be the cancer that eats away at lives.

44 thoughts on “5 Things OCD is NOT

  1. I was 8 when all mine started, I also have trichotillomania, & OCD. The hyper focus is so draining, the anxiety through the roof & the deep depression. When I hear someone say “just don’t do it” I could explode. It is my deep dark secret, all of it. It hurts so bad to feel like this, I’m 55 now! 8-55 feeling like this everyday! THIS IS NOT FUNNY! There are days I just do NOT want to be……at all! My faith in GOD is the only reason I am still alive!
    Educate your selves, those who think this is a joke!!!

  2. I liked an Aussie humor page on Facebook. In the last two weeks, I have seen “humorous” ecards from this site posted saying, “If you’re OCD and you know it wash your hands” and “I’m starting group meetings at my house for people with OCD. Not because I have it, but surely one of them will be bothered enough to clean it.” I have posted both times that these comments aren’t funny, but hurtful to those of us who have a real, debilitating illness. After all, you wouldn’t post “If you’re going through chemo, just throw up.” So why post something like that about a mental illness that is a burden, not a choice?

    A fellow OCD sufferer responded that she thought a sense of humor was a good thing. I agreed. but too many misconceptions abound about OCD to think that either of these comments were actually funny. She said her OCD was under control, but for those whose symptoms are still difficult to manage daily, these kinds of postings both are painful and perpetuate the myths that in turn must be corrected by postings like yours here.

    Thank you for such a concise and accurate blog post about something that has robbed too much from too many of us. Hopefully someday we will be seen as those who suffer from a legitimate illness and not just a “quirky” personality.

    • I was recently writing a story about a boy with OCD, but after reading this, I’m definitely changing it. I was beginning to portray him as a neat freak and silly but I realize now that OCD isn’t any of those things

  3. OCD International is such a great resource. I’m an outpatient therapist, and I utilize the resources all the time to give credible information, linkage, and hope to families that I serve. I’ll be printing up this post to give to some of my current clients.

  4. My 12 year old was diagnosed with ocd about a year ago. It is NOT a compulsive cleaning disorder. In fact, her ocd I think if as being more chaotic. The couches must be a set distance from the wall, and vacuuming cannot leave lines in the carpet. I never suspected ocd, but the more I learn about it, the more it makes sense when I look at the fail picture

  5. OCD is not a joke. It creates tremendous suffering and profoundly affects people’s lives. There is effective treatment, ADAA and IOCDF are also great resources for education and treatment and provide a source of hope. Anxiety is treatable-don’t give up!

  6. For me, I also count in my head, it could be tiles, anything, everything. I don’t have the cleaning tic..I wish! I have regiments, which have an order (sensible or not), I an order that I have to do certain things. If it is deviated in any manner, It freaks me out, I have to start all over, or something horrible will happen. My heart beats faster, I become agitated quick. I have been to Therapists, Psyc’s, Behavior training, every pill made for my symptoms. Nothing works, I get my peace in prayer. I am so happy that in the last 10 years, I have found out I AM NOT ALONE, & THERE IS A NAME FOR IT! I have lived 45 years in the dark alone. The medical community had no name for this disease, back then…early 60′s. I am totally greatfull for Blog’s like this, & all the websites. Thank You All Liz Hood

  7. There is a seriously long way to go for people to even begin to fully understand OCD and mental illness. Employers need serious educating from my experience.

  8. Out of curiosity, what kind of treatments are prescribed for OCD? Is is more of a mental issue?

    Ram
    Social Security Disability Help

      • I am tring to find someone who knows about any adverse affects of being on OCD meds for 20 years. My son has been on Luvox for 20 years. No one ever mentioned to us about going off them to see if rituals would still be there. I am concerned that he is not thinking ‘normal’. He does not seem to get life. Can’t get a real job because nothing seems to make him happy. He has a bachelors degree but just can’t seem to move forward. He seems like he is about 10 years behind his friends. Anyone know of anyone who has been on meds for this long and any adverse side affects? Does it change your personality? My son’s seems to have changed over the last 10 years. Any help with this is greatly appreciated.

  9. If you were reading this because you think you have OCD then in my opinion you are probably right. Talk to someone about it now without shame . You are allowed to be you! I am a teacher and I want you to know that you can get help to overcome this. Take care of yourself! Talk to someone! You’re not alone.

  10. My OCD was at it’s worst around 20 years ago when I was completly homebound. However,
    I was fortunate – my family got me into outpatient treatment with a very knowledgable ocd specialist.
    I was able to `break out’ of the worst of the ocd within a year or two with a combination of
    behavioral treatment and medication. My case of ocd has been relatively calm since 1994,
    and I have been able to live my dream of building a small house from scratch since then – I’m
    not kidding.
    So based on my personal experience, it IS possible to live a relatively normal life with ocd
    after medication and treatment. Just so you know, behavioral treatment does NOT have to
    be a painful process. My ocd specialist used a tactic of behavioral therapy called `baby steps’,
    meaning gradually eliminating fears over a period of time – just like how ocd gradually
    progresses over time. However, it was a lot easier to accomplish this with medication.

    Point being – don’t be afraid to seek help because of the stigma and shame, because those things
    just arn’t worth a person’s life being destroyed by this dibilitating condition. Good luck to you.

    • i’m having troubles leaving the house! i’m afraid it’s going to get to the place that i will never leave what did you do to over come this?

      • Hi Mandy

        I was only able to exit my house once a month to go out on
        errands and stock up on groceries – I used one of those times on
        one particular month to do all of those things along with making
        the first appointment with the ocd specialist, and that was the
        turning point for me.
        He prescribed medication on the first visit, and he scheduled me
        to see him once every two weeks. Things gradually progressed
        from there. It improved from once every two weeks to once every
        two days after a few months.
        It’s important to note that I had a few relatives go along with me
        during the first appointment – so any kind of positive support,
        whether it’s from family, friends, or other people with ocd, played
        an important role with overcoming my case of ocd along with the
        meds and tharapy.

        Good luck with your case.

        Kai

      • Hi Mandy-

        We have a few resources that may be of help. Some therapists will actually visit your home to provide treatment. You can search our treatment provider database to see if there is someone near you who conducts home visits: http://ocfoundation.org/treatment_providers.aspx (select “Home Visits” from the drop-down menu under Treatment Strategies). There are also online and phone-based support groups that may be of help: http://ocfoundation.org/yahoo.aspx. Some therapists even conduct sessions via Skype nowadays, so that is something else you can ask about. If you have more questions, feel free to email us at info@ocfoundation.org

  11. So I have OCD, I told my friend, she said she has minor OCD, for example she said if she finished writing something at the end of the paper but it’s not on the line it will bug her, well that’s not OCD no its not that’s just something that bugs you. I have OCD and I can tell you I hate it, I have to clean places in my kitchen so many times or else I worry that bugs will come to that corner and go in my food and I won’t know and I eat some and then I eat the bug and it will be crawling in my mouth and I bite it and its organs and stuff squirt in my mouth and it will be germy and I get sick and I have a terrible fear of bugs and I will be so TERRIFFIED. Also OCD, I always have thoughts about worst case scenarios, and what would happen if my family died, I think about this almost all day at school, I zone out and my teacher calls me to answer a question an it’s really hard to deal with. I have anxiety OCD is a kind of type of anxiety. I can just tell you it sucks. There is so much more to OCD.

  12. I have relationship OCD. Ive been with my girlfriend for four months now (we’ve known each other five). I am in Australia and she is in China. We literally speak every single day. Many days we will chat from morning until bedtime. We will also spend many days video chatting for hours and every single month I will call her at least once on my phone. Despite this, my ocd constantly changes my feelings and emotions. It also makes me think ridiculous things such as she is a stranger or she is an irrelevant part of my life. Sometimes it will go so far as to put thoughts of other girls in my head (which I try my best to reject). This is torture for me and I have spent so many days crying because of it. I know deep down that I love my girlfriend to death and Im completely lost without her. My ocd attacks the feeling I have for her because she means more to me than anything else ever could. I really cant bear it anymore.

  13. I’m 18 and have ocd. It seems to be really bad when I have exams coming up because the anxiety just builds up. If I don’t do something then I will fail. My parents just say stop it and just say weirdo, but it really isn’t something that they can understand. When I was younger I used to check that the back door was locked about 10 times every night and would sometimes be there for 10 minutes just checking it. I really hate it when people say that they have an OCD when they like things to be perfectly straight or are clean freaks. By my account that is not at all OCD as you mentioned in this article. The phrase is so overused, but few actually know what it means.

  14. I’m 14 and have it, however I feel ashamed to say it to relatives, though. It started when I was about 10 and has literally be torturing me ever since, do you guys see any way of overcoming it without medication and such?

    • Mikey,
      The best treatment for OCD is a combination of CBT and meds. The meds help initially with symptom control while you work on the CBT. For some people (I have been one), meds have been the answer–for others, merely a stepping stone they are able to then leave behind. Please do not shut yourself off to any treatment avenue so early. Trust one who knows–the longer you let it go, the worse it gets, and, just when you think you have conquered it, it will eat you alive. It is a monster as you know–feel free to call in any troops you need to defeat it.

      Please seek treatment and be open to options. There’s a lot of false and scary information out there that a psychologist and psychiatrist will help you sort out. The earlier you get on this, the better.

      You did nothing wrong. You are a sufferer of an illness, just as someone with diabetes, epilepsy or cancer is. They would go to a doctor in a minute and you need to as well. This is not about anything you did–please make sure that, if you are suffering guilt over not being “strong enough” to manage this, that you let that go. You are a strong person just living with it and wanting to go on. You have all of our support in the OCD community and we will cheer you on from the sidelines–my prayer is that you have those in your life that will help you as well.

      Best to you!

      • Thanks a lot for this! It really helps to know someone cares, this has changed my views a lot since I have never really spoke to anybody about it

        Thanks again!

    • Mikey-
      As Bridget explained, OCD is typically treated through Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy or medications such as SSRIs, or both. You can learn more about treatment here: http://www.ocfoundation.org/treatment.aspx

      You might also find support groups helpful — there is even an online support group for teens with OCD. http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ocdsupportforteens/info

      Best of luck, and feel free to contact our office if you need more information or would like help finding an OCD specialist in your area: 617-973-5801.

  15. I feel very frustrated when someone has an habit of keeping things neat and orderly and call themselves OCD – I don’t know, maybe they are, but I doubt it sometimes. It was very, very hard for me just to seek help and tell my most intimates about my problems in the first place – it took several years…maybe 10 or more even to considerate doing it – and them they look about themselves and see that everyone has a little ‘mania’ over this and that and saying this is OCD that they don’t take what I say seriously and think it I’m probably like everyone else – It makes me helpless, because of the amount of strength and effort it cost me – in my mind it even costed peoples lives – and one takes it slightly. Just to write this paragraph is a bit of a miracle if I look back in times that I would freakout just because I couldn’t proceed with my ‘rituals’ because there was people around. Even now, I’m most anxious about hitting enter and what it will follows from that, I’m shaking inside, but I’ll make it.

    • Hi i am from south india.Actually in my case it was more like fear.if i do this that way will somebody get hurt or something will fall or sometimes i won’t throw away junk stuffs out.Anyway i had a good friend who helped me a lot and compelled me to go to a psychiatrist.Then i controlled my ocd thoughts and rituals to 70% without medications.The dangerous part what i felt was ocd tricks you into believing these thoughts are real.Yes like one of the guy above said since the doubts are more illogical and stupid,we are afraid to tell someone and also most of the people who cannot understand how ocd works,it would all seem silly!!!

  16. My friends and classmates always make fun of me because of my OCD and they try to leave books and pencil un straightened, unaligned, out of order, and on the ground just to get me to either respond compulsively violent, depressed, distresses, helpless, or angry, or to immediately fix their ‘mistakes’. They also will sometimes call me names, and get unknowing teachers to ask me to get the lights when they know that every time I turn on or off the light I need to flip the switch seven times while counting to seven aloud. I feel ashamed to practice my counting to seven in class and it leaves me will a great feeling of anxiety until the teacher leaves at the end of the period in which I count to seven while flipping the light off, and then back to the on position seven times. I make sure not to let my family know by never practicing my “rituals” as you call them in front of my family members. I am seeing a therapist, but with all the added distress from friends, family, and peers, it makes it difficult to make any progress, or even to stop the OCD from getting worse.

  17. I really appreciate this. It’s like ever since I was diagnosed that the term is used more than ever before. “I’m SOOO OCD, y’all!” Or, “You’re OCD? …Really?” as they look at my chaotic home/car/life. There’s a major difference between OCD and OCPD. The biggest, and probably most defining, part of it is also the one which is never discussed. The intrusive thoughts. The feeling that your body will force you to do something you don’t want to do. Something unspeakable. The idea that the world is sitting on your shoulders and one false move could tear it apart. I’m tired of the false stigma. It leads to people having no sympathy.

    • Your post is spot- on.

      In my opinion, OCD (along with autism and some other conditions) is a spectrum and I suspect that everybody has them to a more or less degree. However, most people’s ‘OCD’/ ‘autism’ (or whatever) is very mild and well within the ‘normal’ end of the spectrum.

      For instance, I have a few autistic tendencies (as do many other people I know), but this ‘autism’ (or slight autistic tendencies) is so mild that I wouldn’t be medically diagnosed as having ASD- and I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as having autism. For me, this term is reserved for people with *significant* levels of autism. Although the average ‘neat freak’ probably does have a very mild form of OCD (albeit within the ‘normal’ range), it wouldn’t be classed as what I’d term *clinical* OCD.

      Clinical OCD is more severe, scary and debilitating. I know some people with very severe OCD *are* mainly fixated on issues pertaining to hygiene, phobias of germs/ viruses and/ or orderliness. I don’t belittle those people’s struggles, but it would make life a bit easier for me if more people realised that OCD sometimes takes different forms, which can be equally difficult. I do have some issues around hygiene and cleanliness, but, for me, this is a secondary and relatively minor manifestation of the condition.

      I suffer from a form of primarily obsessional OCD, often described as ‘harm OCD.’ I have horrible intrusive thoughts and I fear temporarily losing control over my body, or that I’ll stop caring for a brief moment, and do something that I’ll regret for the rest of my life. If the OCD has a particularly strong hold over me, I’ll sometimes confuse the thoughts with reality (thought/ action fusion) and feel like I’ve actually done something terrible when I haven’t. For instance, I once feared that I’d kicked my dog who I love dearly. I later realised that I hadn’t acted on the unwanted thought (he hadn’t yelped, gasped or moved from his original position, and when my head became clearer, I was better able to separate what had happened in my mind from real life.)

      My fears of harming others has sometimes taken over my life and I’ve been under psychologists and psychiatrists for my OCD and depression. Although I now drive a light motor vehicle, I’ll never learned to drive a car because I’m afraid of running somebody over (particularly a child or an animal.) I had to quit a job because I became so anxious at the thought of hurting or neglecting the people in my care and I’ve given up on the dream of becoming a parent because I know my OCD will focus itself upon the child and probably impair my ability to be the kind of parent I want to be, or the one that the child deserves. The weird thing is, other people have told me that I’m a gentle person and great with kids, but part of my brain insists that they’re wrong. I’ve also feared, from a young age, that certain thoughts alone could lead to accidents, disasters and harm to others. However, it took me at least seven years to tell my parents about this (I’d had the fears from the age of ten or earlier), and a further three years to confide in a doctor.

      I was particularly bad with OCD around the age of seventeen (I was sometimes almost convinced that a plane crash or earthquake was at least partly my fault because I’d inadvertently ‘wished’/ ‘willed’ something bad to happen), but I somehow managed, matriculate, complete a degree course and work for a few years. However, the OCD returned with a vengeance when I reached my late twenties, and I suffered a nervous breakdown. I’m doing a lot better now and I’m even hoping to embark on a new career, but it’s taken me three years (from suffering the breakdown) to reach this stage.

      I can now tell people that I have OCD, but, unless the person has a similar form of the condition or is a mental health specialist, I’m not comfortable going into details because I fear their judgment. It’s annoying because I have to tell employers etc that I have a mental health condition if I want any support and understanding (which I often need), but if I mention OCD, I suspect most people will assume that it revolves around cleanliness (and then possibly decide that my OCD ‘can’t be that bad’ because hygiene is a relatively minor focus for me.) It also seems to surprise some people that I can sometimes struggle to distinguish between my own thoughts and reality, regarding my obsessions and phobias, and yet be perfectly rational in other areas. .

      Hugs to anyone else struggling with OCD and the people close to them.

      • To me, what is in this reply is everything that is wrong with the mental health field today. The entire idea of “spectrum” disorders has made diagnosis more difficult and has made the public at large more weary of people’s illnesses because, with spectrum disorders casting such a wide net, everybody has something. This is wildly inaccurate.

        That’s not mental illness. People can be highly compulsive–doesn’t mean they have OCD, nor does it mean they are symptomatic of OCD. People can be clueless about social cues–doesn’t mean they are autistic or on any autistic spectrum. Sometimes, a trait or symptom is just a trait or symptom. If we went by this criteria, if I was symptomatic of a cold and I walked into a doctor’s office, suddenly I would have a diagnosis of a “pneumonia spectrum” illness.

        Everybody doesn’t have something. I know that making people believe that has eased stigma, but that very philosophy is what has created the “Oh, I’m so OCD” phenomenon. People think being symptomatic makes them sufferers of an illness or at least on the “spectrum.” It doesn’t.

        OCD’s definition is inherent in the name. It is a disorder. People are diagnosed when it becomes a behavior in their lives that takes over, when the situation becomes uncontrollable. That’s OCD, and it doesn’t need the “clinical” modifier. Now, people who are symptomatic may eventually have full blown OCD, the same way that cold may become full blown pneumonia at some point; some people will never progress beyond merely symptomatic. And some people will be more severely impaired by OCD and co-morbid disorders than others (therefore, the idea of spectrum once diagnosed makes sense, much as cancer has a typing system to define the progression of the disease), But this idea that we just treat symptomatic people because they might become worse–that can be as irresponsible in psychology as it is in physical medicine.

        And trust me, I’m tired of talking about this. I’ve been talking about this for 25 years–I met the people that originally started this foundation. The sad thing is that OCD continues to be misunderstood, and part of the reason is because our national organization dropped the ball a long time ago and hasn’t picked it up since. There has been no public awareness campaign; every time OCD is portrayed inaccurately on TV or in the media or even in real life (there actually is a company called OCD Cosmetics and cleaning companies called OCD cleaning, for crying out loud), the national organization should be all over it. This blog post was great, but how many did it reach? What are we doing other than blogging to people who already know what OCD is? How do we take control of the direction of the public image of this disease now?

  18. This is a good post. I have been living with this nightmare since I was a kid. My parents refused to let me get treatment for it when I was younger and now that I’m an adult on my own I am unable to get proper treatment due to costs. It is hell to live with but everyone thinks that I’m ok because I look fine on the outside.

  19. I love my life but I hate me. I am 51 years old and OCD has consumed me since I was about 12. How I’ve been able to have a family and friends is beyond me. Everything I do takes up so much more time than the average person. Every ritual from brushing my teeth for 20 minutes to tying my running shoes so that the laces are perfectly aligned, pains me. I guess I should say I hate this part of me. Why do I have it and why can’t I control it when I’m telling myself to stop. I’m a prisoner in my own body. I tried to get help a few years back and saw a therapist for a year. He had me on so many medications. I was tired all the time and I’m a very active person. He actually laughed at me when I told him how long it took me to brush my teeth. He told me to set a timer for 5 minutes. I never went back and haven’t seen anyone since. I will never win this battle. I wish sometimes that my life would just end but I don’t want my family to hurt. Although I really think they might be better off and I don’t think I would be one that would be deeply missed by friends, etc. I worry about everything and I want it to stop so bad.

    • Carol,

      This is exactly the story we hear that is core to our mission at the Foundation. Individuals with OCD should not have to wait decades for effective treatment nor be laughed at when they do reach out for help. Please contact our office to see if we can connect you with a therapist who is trained to treat OCD effectively and respectfully. You can also search for a OCD specialist near you using the Treatment Provider Database on our website:
      http://www.iocdf.org/treatment_providers.aspx

      Or contact our office at 617-973-5801 or info@iocdf.org

  20. Thank god I found this page. I don’t have OCD, but I study psychology. I get REALLY ANNOYED when people misuse the term ‘OCD,’ like people don’t take it seriously enough

  21. @ Bridget Kostello
    Please, please read all this reply, and not just the part about whether or not OCD etc is a spectrum.

    You wrote: “To me, what is in this reply is everything that is wrong with the mental health field today. The entire idea of “spectrum” disorders has made diagnosis more difficult and has made the public at large more weary of people’s illnesses because, with spectrum disorders casting such a wide net, everybody has something. This is wildly inaccurate.”

    You’ve completely misread what I wrote and I find this comment really disparaging. I don’t mean this in an arsey way, but did you bother to read the rest of my post?

    You wrote: People think being symptomatic makes them sufferers of an illness or at least on the “spectrum.” It doesn’t.

    OCD’s definition is inherent in the name. It is a disorder. People are diagnosed when it becomes a behavior in their lives that takes over, when the situation becomes uncontrollable. That’s OCD, and it doesn’t need the “clinical” modifier.”

    What I said was virtually the same as what you’re saying: OCD/ autistic etc tendencies are fairly common, but this isn’t the same as having a clinical disorder.That’s why I talked about the ‘perfectly normal’ end of the spectrum (i.e. the person has symptoms/ tendencies, but doesn’t have/ doesn’t yet have the disorder) versus the ‘it’s severe enough that it’s a disorder’ part of the spectrum.

    I feel like you’re implying that I’m one of the ‘I’m so OCD brigade’ and I find that really hurtful. The problem with ‘you either have OCD or you don’t have it’ thinking is that people can swing too far in the opposite direction to the problem mentioned here. In other words, people with the disorder are dismissed as just having a few tendencies, like the ‘I’m soooo OCD’ brigade, and this doesn’t help either. It can easily become the case that, no matter how much the person is suffering or struggling, other people refuse to acknowledge they have a disorder because they (the other people) don’t deem it ‘severe enough’ to be ‘real OCD.’ It’s really hard for a lay person to assess how much a person’s obsessions/ fixations or compulsions are troubling them and there’s a danger that a person who is really suffering will be told, “That’s not *OCD*; that’s just… [insert rest of sentence here]

    I don’t know how much of my first post you read, but I have been diagnosed by several medical professionals as having the condition.

    A few years ago, I had a nervous breakdown, from which I’m still recovering, and the underlying cause was my OCD fears and the guilt and confusion this condition can create. However, I’m still occassionally paranoid that I’ve been misdiagnosed (even though the fear of harming people with thoughts is fairly classical OCD), and that the professionals have missed the ‘fact’ that I’m just a bad person who is more dangerous than they realise (I have harm/ primarily obsessional OCD.) It also worries me that people won’t believe I have a real illness (despite the psychological and psychiactric treatment I’ve received, including medication, cognitive behavioural therapy and Exposure and Response prevention.)

    To be honest, I got really upset when I read “”To me, what is in this reply is everything that is wrong with the mental health field today” and “People think being symptomatic makes them sufferers of an illness or at least on the “spectrum.” It doesn’t.” because I took it that you were saying I was one of these people, and that I didn’t have real OCD. I sometimes wonder how bad things have to get before people will acknowledge you have a real illness and stop dismissing you as being ‘trendy’ or just plain weak (I already feel really judged because I struggle to cope with a lot of aspects of everyday life.)

    I identify with the points made by sugarbush43, because this is how OCD affects me too. I do have a fixation with hygiene/ cleanliness, but I don’t know if this is part of my OCD or just a few OCD tendencies. The main focus of my fears is that there’s something morally wrong with me and that I might/ have caused harm to others. I can’t have kids because I’m too scared of harming them in some way and I know that my behaviours and anxieties will negatively affect them (I’m prone to avoidance behaviours and they could easily mistake my efforts to avoid harming them as coldness/ not wanting them around.) I find this particularly hard, because I love children and I always wanted to be a mother, but I just don’t trust myself.

    At times, I cope relatively well with the condition and I seem to have a certain amount of control over my fixations and compulsions. At other times, I feel like the obsessive thoughts completely take over and my fears that I’ve done something wrong/ won’t be able to stop myself from doing something wrong feel so real. I know this sounds melodramatic, but I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve wished I would die and attempted to overdose, because I felt unable to cope with the fear and guilt. My mother admitted that, when I was at my worst, she tried to prepare herself for losing me because she worried that one of my attempts might eventually succeed.

    The thing is, OCD waxes and wanes, but it never seems to completely go away. When I’m at my worst, I believe that I’m a bad person who doesn’t deserve to be loved (or even live), and I question whether I actually have OCD, or if I’m just a horrible and potentially dangerous person. Ironically, when I’m doing well, I tend to worry that I’m just weak and I start to wonder if I exagerated how bad my obssessions were (i.e. to use as an excuse for my failings.) A lot of the time, I feel really confused about a lot of stuff, and I’ve lately taken to asking family members ‘Do you *really* think I have OCD?’ or ‘Do you think most people would think I was *that* ill, or would they just think I was being weak and feeling sorry for myself?”

    • First, I did read your entire post. Second, it is clear you have OCD. That’s not meant as anything but an honest but sincere and heartfelt evaluation. I can feel your struggle in what you write, and my heart aches for you on your journey.

      OCD does wax and wane. It gets worse when you are stressed emotionally and I know many who find it recurs when they are stressed physically. It is a prime characteristic of OCD and why so many wait so long to seek help. Unfortunately, by the time many do seek help, it has resulted in breakdowns for a lot of us.

      That waxing and waning does not put you on a spectrum, and to me it is clear you are struggling with evaluating yourself based on society’s perception of OCD, but also of mental illness in general–that MI is weakness, not illness. I probably have been dealing with this a lot longer, and I have been where you are. My breakdown came at 17; luckily I was put on Anafranil shortly after that and was back on the road to recovery. After the birth of my second child, I had a recurrence I didn’t think would ever happen and I nearly suffered another breakdown. It has taken me 10 years to get my life back to any kind of normalcy. But I still struggle with societal perceptions–luckily, I’m old enough and have dealt with it long enough to realize that if someone judges me for fighting an illness (because, let’s face it, they wouldn’t judge us if we said we had cancer), that says more about them than it does about me. My recommendation–don’t give a flying fig about whether people think you are weak or sick. Harder to do than to say (it still hurts my feelings), but the sooner you stop subjecting yourself to others’ evaluations, the easier it will be to deal with.

      It’s also clear that you feel I implied that you are not really sick–that, as you said, you are part of the “I’m so OCD” brigade that doesn’t even understand the illness (they couldn’t, or they wouldn’t be saying that). I never implied that. You are not one of those people. You have OCD. And remember that OCD will attack on several fronts–it is very common to have one or two main types of OCD and more than one or two secondary types. For example, my main OCD problem is germs/hand washing. But I also struggle with checking and scrupulosity. So the fact you find OCD in more than one place in your life is very, very normal for the illness.

      However, saying a spectrum runs from “normal” to “severe enough to be treated”–that’s part of what is wrong with mental illness treatment today. It’s that people are taking a few symptoms to mean they have any type of a certain illness. A report came out today stating that record numbers of adults are on meds for ADHD. My guess is that a lot of them diagnosed themselves from lists in newspaper stories or found med-friendly psychiatrists ready to write prescriptions even if not necessarily convinced they have ADHD.

      ADHD and autism rates have exploded not because the illnesses are more prevalent–it’s because the range of those diagnosed is so much greater than it ever was (the spectrum is wider). For example, one of my children could be described as having Asperger’s based on a symptom list. However, he doesn’t meet the clinical definition of it, and, while he presents with some symptoms, some of those symptoms occur because he is anxious socially. Not Asperger’s, but Social Anxiety Disorder.

      Then we deal with people putting diagnoses on what used to be seen as just different personality types. For many Asperger’s patients, we used to describe them as having “engineer” brain. If you’ve ever known an engineer, you know they just think differently than most people you meet. Not bad or good, just different. Well, now that we have a society where everyone has to have something, we call it Asperger’s. While Asperger’s does exist, my guess is about 1/4 to 1/2 of people with it either are so high functioning they don’t need the disorder label or they have “engineer” brain.

      That’s why we need to remember that someone who is very compulsive but functions well isn’t necessarily sick–they’re just compulsive. Those are the people who would say they are “so OCD.” But we know OCD is so much more than that. It cheapens the diagnosis to have people who don’t understand it call themselves that. OCD is a monster of an illness, and it is so much more than a personality quirk. But when we open it up to such a wide spectrum, all those people who are mildly compulsive or focus oriented start diagnosing themselves with OCD. OCD is an illness that is diagnosed when it becomes a problem with dealing with daily living. Other than that, it might be OCD or it might not be. But to say one has “mild” OCD (and I have heard that before) makes me so angry because those of us who truly suffer from it know it robs us of so much and there is nothing mild about it.

      Does that help put my comments in perspective? To summarize, I think “spectrum” illnesses have gone way too far to include too many. OCD is definitively a monster of an illness–it isn’t a quirk and it isn’t mild. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have it. It means too many who don’t understand it (mostly because there has been no major public awareness campaign) think they do and assert they do thinking there is a wide spectrum when there isn’t.

      • ^ First of all, I’d like to apologise for my first post. I can be prone to flying off the handle and getting pretty arsey in the heat of the moment. I wrote the second post after I’d calmed down and I’d assumed the first post didn’t get through the moderation process.

        Secondly, thanks for your kindness in your latest reply, and I’m sorry you’ve struggled so much with this horrible condition. I’m glad you’ve been able to have a family of your own, because I know OCD can make parenthood an even harder job than it is already.

        I’m also pleased to hear that your life is getting back on track. I feel like OCD has sent me to hell and back, but I’ve been supported by some fantastic services and I’m currently doing voluntary work which I love. I’m also hoping to start a course in September on a part time basis, which will qualify me to teach key skills to learners aged 16 +. At my worst, I couldn’t imagine getting to this stage, so I’m just trying to stay positive and move forward at a steady pace.

        I wish you the best with staying well, and I hope you’ll excuse my earlier snottiness. Take care.

  22. I struggled greatly with my OCD when I was younger and still do, just in different ways. People want to say it’s an illness but it’s not, it’s a condition. It cannot be cured or dismissed, it will always be there. I’ve learned to live with it and how to sustain it all because I got lucky with an amazing therapist as a teenager. I never took a drug for it and I was never told by him that there was anything remotely wrong with me but only that I had a different mind. People need to read this article and know that it’s not that simple and saying things like “I’m so OCD” or “I’m just really depressed lately” should not be thrown around like a hot potato when you actually know so little about it. Being on the receiving end of somebody saying those things when you’ve actually experienced it is hurtful and you feel insecure. Real anxiety is not be glamorized, but shouldn’t be described as bad either because my experiences personally, have given me a unique outlook on people and life and as well as utilizing my sometimes, obsessive analytical skills in a positive way. I love this article so I needed to rant as well (I never comment these types of things but I had to for this one) thank you so much for writing this article!

  23. I am so sick of people posting those dumb 15 photos that will trigger your OCD crap. I have OCD. I almost ended up dead from being unable or unwilling to cope with it any more. I’ve spent thousands of hours and dollars on cleaning and rituals and supplies. I’ve stolen when I was unable to pay any more. Because I had to or is get diseases. It’s hell. I’ve lost friends. I’ve been left out of family events. I’ve pissed my pants when I was stranded at a school overnight for fear of the restrooms. Not before I threw up from holding in my urine so long I ended up with near kidney failure. My home safe space was a 6ft by 3 ft area. It’s where I felt safe and clean. My life was resigned to that small a space. Yet people find it okay to post dumb stuff making fun of OCD. Then they tell me to get over it when I’m upset. Google OCD is not funny. You get jokes and pages of people making fun of it. You won’t see 15 photos that will trigger your leukemia. Or 20 things to trigger your breast cancer. If anyone posted that they’d be shunned. Thank you for being a voice for those like me who his due to stigma, almost died, then fought back. Much love.

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