People With OCD Share Their Most Intrusive Compulsions

Obsessive compulsive disorder is an illness with a range of severity. From debilitating compulsions that keep people inside their homes, to intrusive thoughts and obsessions that can be more easily managed with treatment, it affects people in different ways and with different symptoms.

What it’s not is a “quirk,” preference or something to be dismissed as trivial.

“The understanding of OCD by the general public is confused with the concepts of ‘obsessive’ and ‘compulsive’, both of which are personality traits. If I have a compulsive personality type I prefer to keep things neat and tidy and ordered,” Jeff Szymanski, PhD, executive director of the International OCD Foundation, told The Mighty. “However, if my compulsive behavior is driven by crippling anxiety and intrusive and unwanted thoughts to the degree that it is excessively time consuming and gets in the way of valued activities, now I’m struggling with OCD. It is important that the general public understands this distinction. Otherwise, individuals truly struggling with a mental disorder feel marginalized and dismissed. And when you are in tremendous pain, this only adds to your burden.”

To show the range of compulsions, we’ve collected some answers from a Reddit thread asking people with OCD to share their most “inconvenient impulse.” They provide a glimpse into how OCD affects the lives of people every day.

Here’s what they shared:

1. “Set my alarm, check the time, check the volume, check the ringtone, check that it’s on. Repeat all the steps over and over and over again. If I have one distracting thought while doing this, I need to start all over again. My record was taking 36 minutes to set my alarm. And this is only one of the countless thing I have to deal with day to day. OCD is not fun.”

2. “Whatever I do to one hand, I have to repeat with the other. E.g. If I brush my hand against something when I’m walking somewhere, I have to turn around and do it to the other hand.”

3. “I have to make sure the door is locked. Even when I know it is, I check at least six times before I can sleep. Then I need to wash my hands again before I can sleep. It’s rough.”

4. “I must blink at all punctuation. Periods, commas, exclamation points and question marks only. No apostrophes or hyphens or whatever. And if I blink at a mark one word away from the end of the line — on, say, the left — then I must immediately find another ‘one-away’ word on the right and blink at that twice, and then back to the original one. If there is not such a word on the page, I must turn to a random page until I find one. There usually is one there…This is constant, every time I read, multiple times a page.”

5. “Locking doors. F*ck….I will stand in front of a door after I lock it and pull five times three different times before I feel comfortable leaving. If I don’t, I’ll drive all the way back and make sure…I hate it…I’ve almost been driven to tears on my way back home from checking because of it.”

6. “Cracks on sidewalks and hallway tiles. I have to step on equal amount of cracks with each foot. So if I step on two cracks with my right foot, I now have to step on two cracks with my left foot. I try my best to avoid cracks, so I don’t have this issue… I walk looking down not because I have low self-confidence, but because I’m watching for the cracks.”

7. “When I eat cereal I have to chew with the same amount of food on each side. I have to try and pick up an even amount of cereal in my spoon. If I get an odd amount on my spoon I have to break that odd piece in half the best I can to make both sides even.”

8. “This is the worst one and most time consuming. I hope I can describe it because it’s weird. If I hit something with my arm, I have to then do the same exact thing on my other arm. Then I have to do it in reverse order so it’s ‘fair.’ So if I accidentally bump a table with my right elbow, I have to then bump my left elbow. But since my right elbow went first, that isn’t fair to my left elbow. I then have to bump my left elbow, then my right elbow.”

9. “The harm thoughts. As sh*tty as they are. It borders with intrusive thoughts that I can’t put out of my head. Before I started medication it was mostly the idea of killing myself. I have no desire to do so but since I have OCD seeing these images in your minds eye every minute of every day was exhausting until I had a full on mental break down. I’ve learned to control the thoughts for the most part but it doesn’t stop them from coming through anyway sometimes. Mostly it scares me that I think of these things.”

10. “Touch something so my friend doesn’t die. Yeah.”

11. “The ones that are most inconvenient for me are when I need to repeatedly check that my door is locked, or that the stove is off. If I don’t usually someone will die. But this pisses me off so much because I’m looking right at it. I can damn well see, the lock is locked. The stove is not on. But the moment I walk away… what if I’m wrong? Cue 20 to 30 minutes of frustration.”

12. “When I was 5 or 6, I couldn’t have a speck of dirt anywhere on my body, including my clothing. When I would come inside from being outside I would wash my whole body, change my clothes and scrub my shoes, including the bottoms, until they were spotless. This went on for years. Luckily, I have no physical obsessions as an adult. I do, as an adult, have intrusive and recurring thoughts though.”

13. “Stand in front of the mirror and pick at my skin until it looks like I have terrible acne. If I could just leave my face alone I’d have great skin. Much easier said than done.”

14. “When I was little, I was afraid of abandoning anything, so eventually this carried into the rest of my life, and now I get stuck in any room…[trying] to leave the room without just abruptly walking out. These means of exiting can include taking steps back, going to the back corner of the room, then trying to exit, or even spinning around in place before trying to leave leave the room.”

*Some responses have been edited for length.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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

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