17 Quotes That Prove OCD Is So Much More Than Being Neat

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For many, obsessive compulsive disorder is synonymous with hand-washing, organizing, color-coding and cleaning. And while associating OCD with these habits isn’t exactly wrong, it leaves out an important part of the picture. It’s easy to look at these behaviors and think, Oh, that’s not so bad. I would love to keep my room so clean. Or, Oh, I hate when my room is a mess. I’m so OCD too. 

But what you don’t see, and what puts the “D” in OCD, are the thought processes behind the compulsive actions. People with OCD don’t organize because it brings them joy. They don’t clean because it’s one of their hobbies. And sometimes, people with OCD don’t clean or organize at all. OCD manifests itself in so many different ways, and likening it to a quirk can be hurtful for those who live with it every day.

So, with the help of the International OCD Foundation, The Mighty asked people with OCD to explain what it’s really like.

Here’s what it’s like to have OCD, from people who live with it: 

1. “OCD is like having a bully stuck inside your head and nobody else can see it.” — Krissy McDermott

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2. “You lose time. You lose entire blocks of your day to obsessive thoughts or actions. I spend so much time finishing songs in my car before I can get out or redoing my entire shower routine because I lost count of how many times I scrubbed my left arm.” — Kelly Hill

3. “[It’s] like that song that plays over and over in your head, only you can’t get rid of it.”  — Kimberly Matthews-Cifra

4. “It’s like having mental hiccups. Mostly, we can function despite the ‘hiccups,’ but we’re exhausted attempting to carry on as if they didn’t exist.” — Sheila Cavanaugh

5. “It’s like being controlled by a puppeteer. Every time you try and just walk away he pulls you back. Are you sure the stove is off and everything is unplugged? Back up we go. Are you sure your hands are as clean as they can get? Back ya go. Are you sure the doors are securely locked? Back down we go. How many people have touched this object? Wash your hands again.” — Toni Neville

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6. “A physical sensation crawls up my arm as I avoid compulsions. But if I complete it, the world resets itself for a moment like everything will be just fine. But only for a moment.” —  Mardy M. Berlinger

7. “For me, it’s like someone else has control of your brain. Like you’re being forced to do an endless number of completely random, pointless tasks you don’t want to do. It’s so exhausting and emotionally draining — like your brain needs an off switch!” — Clarissa Chay

8. “It’s like a broken machine. Thoughts go in your head, get stuck and keep going around and around.” —  Megan Flynn

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9. “Ever seen ‘Inside Out’? With OCD, it’s like Doubt has it’s own control console.” — Josey Eloy Franco

10. “It can look like still waters on the outside while a hurricane is swirling in your mind.” — Marcie Barber Phares

11. “Imagine all your worst thoughts as a soundtrack running through your mind 24/7, day after day.” — Adam Walker Cleveland

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12. “Picture standing in a room filled with flies and pouring a bottle of syrup over yourself. The flies constantly swarm about you, buzzing around your head and in your face. You swat and swat, but they keep coming. The flies are like obsessional thoughts — you can’t stop them, you just have to fend them off. The swatting is like compulsions — you can’t resist the urge to do it, even though you know it won’t really keep the flies at bay more than for a brief moment.” — Cheryl Little Sutton

13. “For me, it’s an ever-present nagging feeling that something is just ‘not right.’ I can never really, truly ‘make it right.’ I have to learn to live with the all-consuming feeling of mental discomfort.” — Laura McCarthy

14. “It’s like looking through a magnifying glass that only picks up on the potentially dangerous, harmful and scary.” — Laura

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15. “It means constantly questioning whether what I’m thinking or feeling is me or the OCD. The decision is usually a crap shoot. And then you question the decision over, and over, and over, and over and over, trying to come up with the ‘right’ answer.” —  Anna Stinson

16. “It’s like listening to a CD with an invisible scratch.” — Penny Hare

17. “It’s like you have two brains — a rational brain and an irrational brain. And they’re constantly fighting.” — Emilie Ford

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*Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

Related: 5 Times the Internet Got OCD Wrong — and Why It Matters

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What I Want Khloe Kardashian to Know About Her 'OCD' Cookie Jar Video

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Dear Khloé Kardashian,

You popped up in my Google alert on “OCD” this morning. (I’m a Mental Health editor, so I keep tabs on conditions like this). Usually I see articles on new kinds of treatment or people sharing their personal stories, but today I saw your name.

Interesting! I thought. What does Khloe Kardashian have to say about OCD? Then, I saw your video in a cute little write up on People.com, which read:

The segment, aptly titled KHLO-C-D, shows her fiercely building stacks (on stacks on stacks) of perfectly aligned double-stuffed Oreos inside the massive 2-gallon glass cookie jars that reside on her kitchen counters.

‘I love them, but I’m also crazy,’ she says, ‘but I love to know that the rest of the world is as crazy and organized-obsessed as I am.’

‘You say O.C.D. is a disease, but I say it’s a blessing,’ she adds.

Catchy line.

I went downstairs to tell my brother, and we both laughed, but in a slightly uneasy way.

Then I went back to my computer and started to tear up.

You see, my brother had a really bad day yesterday.

Nothing he did was “right.” Nothing — completing his school work, checking his emails, how he was eating. I overheard him and my mom discussing medication. Did he take it? Was he sure he took it? Did he maybe, accidentally skip one dose?

During dinner he was wringing his hands over and over again, his face twisted with stress.

My brother’s world is black and white. If he can’t do something in a way he’s deemed “correct,” he feels like he can’t do it at all. He easily gets stuck on tasks, making everyday things sometimes hard to get through. He’s been in and out of hospitals, and is right now back in school trying to balance his ambition and an illness that’s holding him back.

Yesterday, OCD was winning.

But hey Khloé, you seem like a good person, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you do experience extreme and irrational anxiety if your cookies aren’t arranged in a certain way. If that’s the case, I’m sorry, and I’m so glad you can push through it and call your OCD a blessing.

But I also want to make sure you understand the weight those words hold for my family, and others like us.

I want you to sit in my brother’s room with me. Watch me hold his hand while he cries because he didn’t do his laundry, so he can’t get dressed, plus nothing in his room is right. He hates being around people his age because it makes him feel like he’s behind. He’ll never date anybody, he’ll never have a “normal” life, he’ll never move out of my parent’s house…

I want you to be with my brother when he’s with my mom, cycling through self-doubt after self-doubt. How does he know if he’s doing his treatment correctly? How can he do things without obsessing over them? How does he know he’s living “correctly” if he can’t ask for reassurance?

I want you to see my brother when he’s alone, tracking his anxiety levels while brushing his teeth. Or when he used to have panic attacks when a door wasn’t shut properly. Or when he’s in his room during a family party, lost in cycling thoughts.

I want you to see my mom’s worry from across the room, mouthing to me, “Check on your brother.”

For him, OCD is usually not a blessing.

But I also want you to see my brother leading a support group. I want you to see how brave he is when he knows his story will help others. I want you to see my brother at his best — creative, determined, motivated and always full of great ideas. He’s the most empathetic person you would ever meet. He can laugh at your video, but he’d never hold it against you or anyone who lightly uses the term “OCD.”

A lot of people have used this slang, and a lot of people will continue to use it. But I just wanted to point out the heaviness of those words. I hope when people casually refer to their habits and preferences as “OCD,” they think of my brother and the 2 to 3 million adults in the United States who live with the condition.

And although your cookies look great, I hope you also use your fame as an opportunity to educate your audience and the people who look up to you.

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How My OCD Isn’t Like Someone Saying 'I’m So OCD'

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As someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder, I sometimes get tired of hearing people say the phrase, “I’m so OCD.” A majority of these people, if not all of them, don’t actually have the same illness I do. When I hear people utter this phrase in dramatic exasperation, sometimes combined with laughter, I can’t help but wish to correct them. I know it’s not their fault — the media has a lot to do with this false portrayal — but it still bothers me.

To bash some stereotypes, I thought I’d share some examples of times I’ve heard someone say they’re “so OCD,” and times I’ve experienced OCD. Keep in mind this disorder can come in multiple forms and this represents just some parts of my experience.

“I’m so OCD”: “Ugh, I don’t like when my blanket and clothes are the floor. I can’t do my homework until I’ve cleaned. Now that I’ve put everything in its place, I can focus. I’m so OCD.”

My OCD: “I can’t stop seeing horrible things happening in my mind. I can’t stop seeing it and it hurts. If I keep seeing violent and disgusting things, does this make me a bad person? Does it? Does it? Does it? Does it?” (I have to ask myself four times because even numbers are good luck.)

“I’m so OCD”: “I like my hair to be perfect. Like if I don’t have conditioner, I totally freak out. I’m so OCD.”

My OCD: “Oh my God, my car just ran over a bump. I know it’s a pothole, but what if it’s not? Should I go back and check? I have to look in the rear view mirror a few times. Just in case, I need to knock on the window a couple times. Two times exactly. I still feel anxious, because even though I know I didn’t hit someone, what if I did? Am I a bad person? How can I know? I should never drive again.”

“I’m so OCD”: “I always have to be on time. My brother says I’m so OCD.”

My OCD: “I just ate two cookies. That’s so unhealthy. I’m going to get fat and become really unhealthy because I ate those two cookies. No, that’s only what my brain keeps telling me. But what if it’s true? I have to make myself throw up so I can be healthy again, by removing the bad stuff from inside me…even though I rationally realize this will probably hurt my body, too. But I have to make the thoughts stop.”

“I’m so OCD”: “I like even numbers so much better than odd numbers. They just look better. That’s so OCD of me.”

My OCD: “I must replace bad thoughts with good thoughts. I must visualize good things on top of bad things. I must knock on wood in increments of two and rub the poster on my wall until the thoughts stop. Except they don’t — they don’t stop. I must check the Internet, scouring unreliable sources for answers to my obsessions. I must ask my mom if I look OK, if I look thin, if I’m a good person, if I’m doing things right, if I am OK… And even after she answers, I ask one more time. Then I ask her if I’m annoying her. She says no, but what if she’s lying? How can I know? How can I know anything? I’m so anxious, I feel sick. I wish I could think less. I wish I wasn’t so OCD.”

The scenarios above of my own OCD occur for hours, days and even weeks on end. That’s part of what makes it so torturous — not necessarily the content of the thoughts, but how much they persist. Luckily, with medication and therapy, I’ve learned to not feed into my obsessions. It’s difficult and at some point every day I have to battle it. But the way I feel now compared to last year (when I experience obsessions and engage in compulsions, including an eating disorder, every moment of the day) is incredible. I didn’t always think so, but recovery is possible. And you never know who is experiencing OCD; someone who keep their room clean may not have the disorder, while other individuals who appear fine might be experiencing obsessions and subtle (even invisible) compulsions right before your eyes. So next time your roommate is taking forever to decide what to wear, or you get stressed when someone knocks your textbooks over, maybe hold back on calling them/yourself “so OCD.”

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5 Tips for Parenting a Child With OCD

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Watching your child have irrational beliefs and partake in bizarre rituals is heartbreaking. The parenting handbook left out the chapter on how to parent a child with obsessive compulsive disorder. How are you supposed to react? How can you help them stop their compulsive behavior? Should you be stern? Should you ignore it?

These are the questions I typically get when working with parents in my practice. Here are five basic tips I’ve learned from working with children with OCD:

1. Educate you and your child on obsessive compulsive disorder.

Time and time again I sit on the opposite side of the couch talking to a nervous and uncomfortable child. They whisper to me how they have silly beliefs. I offer them reassurance and they reluctantly tell me more – how they have to touch corners, count in their head or wash their hands every time they have a bad thought. They apologize for their bizarre thoughts and stare at me, waiting for me to officially declare them “crazy.” No matter how often this happens it breaks my heart. I tell the child I’ve heard this before. That they’re not alone. That there’s a name for this. That it’s common and there’s help. Their eyes open wide and they say, “There is?!” with palpable relief.

You can help your child by explaining to them what OCD is and how it affects their thinking. If you don’t understand OCD yourself it’s helpful to acquire this knowledge so you’re better prepared to help your child.

There are some great books to help children understand OCD on their level. Some parents shy away from using the word OCD, but I’ve found children find great comfort in knowing their issue has a name and they’re not alone. My favorite book for children is “What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck.” For parents: “What to Do When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”

2) Give the OCD a name.

Often children don’t know how to talk about their OCD. They’re embarrassed by their thoughts but dependent on their rituals. When you tell them to stop doing ritualistic behavior they may feel like you’re attacking them – not their OCD. They sometimes feel angry. Why would you tell me to stop doing something that’s keeping me “safe”?

Help your child externalize their OCD by giving it a name. You can call it Mr. Worry or Mr. Bossy. Some kids like to get creative and come up with their own names. I have had kids call it Mr. Germs or Mr. Numbers, depending on their OCD theme.

One approach is to tell your child something like:

Mr. Bossy is a trickster and he likes to boss you around and make you feel worried. He wants you to avoid stuff and follow his silly rules. When you do what he wants – he grows bigger. When he grows bigger – he can bother you more. When you turn into Super (insert your child’s name here) – you can fight Mr. Bossy and beat him. When you ignore him or argue about his silly rules you shrink him and make him smaller – less powerful.

Books on OCD can help you reiterate this message – or help you create one of your own if this approach doesn’t resonate with you or your child.

3) Do not get overzealous and point out all of your child’s rituals.

When your child has a problem you want to fix it as soon as you can. This can make parents overzealous with their efforts to beat their child’s OCD for them. Unfortunately, this is your child’s battle. You can offer your help and guidance, but you can’t fix this for your child. In fact, if you point out every ritualistic behavior you see you may unintentionally cause your child to become more secretive about their OCD. Stopping ritualistic behavior does not happen overnight. Initial success may be as simple as recognizing an OCD thought or briefly delaying a ritual.

4) Don’t be part of their rituals.

One area you do have control over is your participation in rituals. Some children involve their parents in their ritualistic behavior. If possible, you do not want to enable or participate in rituals. You can tell your child, “I am not helping Mr. Bossy boss you around. You can listen to him, but I won’t!”

5) Keep an eye out for new rituals so you can work together as a team.

Children can get defensive about their rules and rituals and they may not want you to recognize any new rules or behaviors. Even though children do not want to have OCD, they’re often slaves to the rituals that provide them brief relief from their worrying. Therefore it’s important to keep an eye out for odd or irrational behavior.

Often when one type of OCD behavior has been eliminated, another rule or behavior replaces it. That’s why it’s important to give your child the skills to beat OCD and not just the specific behavior or rule they’re currently doing. When you discover your child is doing a new ritual gently address it and let them know you’re here to help them beat Mr. Bossy.

OCD can be a challenging issue! It can consume little minds and impede their social and emotional growth. The sooner children are given the skills to overcome their OCD, the better the longterm prognosis will be. I encourage you to follow these tips, educate yourself by reading books on OCD and seek out professional guidance and support for you and your child as needed.

You can watch Natasha give these five tips in the video below. 

This post originally appeared on Anxious Toddlers.

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5 Times the Internet Got OCD Wrong — and Why It Matters

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PSA: Obsessive compulsive disorder is not an adjective. It’s not about being organized. It’s not about mismatching socks. It’s an actual diagnosis that affects nearly one in 100 people in the United States. Approximately half of those cases are severe.

So why do we keep using “OCD” to describe things like our color-coding obsession? In most cases, it’s because we don’t understand what OCD really is. In one of my favorite pieces about living with OCD, activist and radio news anchor Jeff Bell writes about two behaviors that could be considered “so OCD”: Organizing his closet and compulsively picking up rocks and sticks. Although the first may align with societal ideas of what’s “so OCD” (Exhibit A), for Bell, it’s not. Organizing his closet is something he likes to do. He does it by choice.

Picking up rocks was different. During what he describes as his “worse years,” he couldn’t walk down the street without picking up every rock and twig, afraid that if he didn’t, someone would hurt themselves and it would be his fault.

This is everything — it’s the distinction between someone with an anal personality and someone with a mental illness. And it matters. It matters because for people who are diagnosed with OCD, this misunderstanding demotes something they live with to an everyday quirk. It takes away the meaning of the sentence, “I have OCD.”

Maybe the best way to learn about OCD is to talk about what it’s not. Here are some examples:

1. This headline:

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pencils lined up

Being annoyed or unsettled by pictures of pencils misaligned or something out of place does not mean you have OCD. OCD is defined by experiencing obsessions and compulsions, not being “driven insane” by an image alone. Obsessions are thoughts, images or impulses that occur over and over again. These thoughts are intrusive, unwanted and often lead to the second part of OCD — compulsions. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or thoughts a person uses to try to make his or her obsessions go away. Like Bell, who compulsively picked up rocks and twigs to reign in the obsessive thought that someone was going to hurt themselves, it’s these compulsions that intrude on a person with OCD’s daily life.

So while someone with OCD could be bothered by seeing something out of place, there’s more to the story. If it’s paired when an intrusive and obsessive thought or action, then you can start talking about your OCD.

2. These tweets:

Using OCD as a synonym for “organized” or “anal” (or as a way to get followers) just shows you don’t know much about the disease.

3. This quiz:  quiz asking how ocd are you? This should have stopped at the first line. The quiz has you rate how much a messy or mismatched imaged “bothers you” on a scale of 1-5. But this has nothing to do with OCD. OCD is not like having a pet peeve.

4. This entire Twitter account.

lucky charms cereal bo with cereal lined up in a square

 

ice cream swirls perfectly aligned

“OCDthings” calls itself a parody account and posts thing that apparently people with OCD would find satisfying. But the reality is, if the entire world was color-coded, alphabetized and never out of place — it would still be hard for someone who has OCD. Making everything aesthetically pleasing is not the cure for OCD.

5. Also this headline:

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Someone does not “become” OCD like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man. Someone is “not” OCD, they have OCD, and making this distinction is important. It’s not a character trait and it’s not an identity; it’s a diagnosis.

So step up, Internet. Throwing around diagnoses like adjectives makes it look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. And that bothers me — but not because of my OCD.

RELATED VIDEO: What’s It’s Like to Be in My OCD Mind for 3 Minutes

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What the Number 3 Means to Me As Someone Living With OCD

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At 5 years old I was so good with numbers, I knew how to count by multiples of three before I even learned how to multiply. In fact, I would count objects in threes and always in threes – hotdogs on the table, consonants in my alphabet soup, cute girls on the street, “One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three…”

I became so good at it I was able to guess correctly – in one glance – when a group of objects was divisible by three.

I was also a pretty organized kid. I always kept everything, be it my toys or my stash of pencils and Crayolas, arranged in a special order logical only to me. You messed with that order, you messed with me. For the most part, though, everything seemed harmless (and in some cases, such as schoolwork, advantageous) and, despite my penchant for counting everything in sight, I looked as perfectly normal as the next kid.

But I didn’t know my harmless counting game and habits were an early manifestation of my obsessive compulsive disorder.

Around the same time my parents split up, it started getting really bed. I started counting out loud, “One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three…” – well, not really out loud, but more like in whispers – barely audible but visible enough to make my eagled-eyed mother think I was under some kind of demonic possession. At 9 years old, it wasn’t cute anymore. 

The thing about OCD is that it thrives on two factors that seem meant for each other: stress and routine. School life is built precisely around these two things. Soon, my disorder was controlling my eating habits (counting nuts during recess only to find out, to my horror, a pack of Growers had 49 nuts on average) or how I positioned myself inside the school bus (third from the door). Throughout everything, I kept it all to myself. I spent the next few years of my adolescent life finding ways to “go under the radar.”

One of my coping strategies was to do the opposite of my natural tendency: To counter stress, I adopted a carefree, happy-go-lucky attitude. To defy order, I developed a talent for chaos and turning things upside down, whether stuff in my room or thoughts in my head. My affinity for numbers (and with it my incessant counting) vanished into thin air and in its place I developed a knack for words.

In my early teens I would still indulge my impulses every now and then, especially when nobody was looking. The impulses ranged from the silly, such as avoiding cracks on the sidewalk, to the practical, such as doing late-night checks to make sure all the doors in our house were locked and the LPG tank in the kitchen was safely secured, before muttering a stutter of a prayer on my way back to my room. I had to do everything the exact same way every day and in the exact same order, or I would do everything all over again, lest some imagined misfortune befell me.

In high school, I was known as the class bottle collector because my locker was always filled with empty bottles of Coke. Classmates who needed a quick buck just went up to my locker to exchange the bottles for deposit at the cafeteria. While the whole class thought I was demonstrating an entrepreneurial streak, I was actually just satisfying an irrational urge to hoard and collect.

I learned not only to hide but also embrace my obsessive compulsive behaviors so long as they didn’t severely disrupt my normal routines. If they did, I would make a conscious effort to overcome the behaviors by following a tried and tested formula: break the routine, start a new one, and then break it again before it got better or worse – steps as simple as one, two, three.

The stigma of living with OCD further diminished throughout my early adulthood, as pop culture brought it to relevance: Jack Nicholson’s obsessive-compulsive Melvin in “As Good as it Gets,” Tony Shalhoub’s “Monk” character, Leonardo Dicaprio’s Howard Hughes in “The Aviator” (and Dicaprio himself). 

As the stigma lessened, so did the symptoms. When I started acknowledging the proverbial “elephant in the room,” through open dialogue with people who were aware and genuinely cared, I also gained better control over my obsessions and compulsions rather than the other way around.

Now, except for the rare occasion I’m late for work (on my way to the office, where I suddenly ask the driver to turn the cab around and drive me all the way back home because I missed reading the roadside billboards in the exact same order I’ve gotten used to every morning), I no longer do most of the habits I used to. Charismatic as I seem on the outside, sometimes I still can’t help but feel like the odd man out on the inside. The good news is, with family and close friends embracing my OCD as a part of me, I do not feel less different – but it has definitely made me less alone.

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