5 Things to Consider Before Saying You’re ’So OCD’

We live in the age of different. “Hipster” is in. It’s cool to be unique, nerdy and quirky. What better way to show your individuality than branding yourself “so OCD?” This might be true, except for the fact that obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is not a quirk or a set of tendencies. It’s an incapacitating, isolating disease that makes you afraid of your own mind. This is what it’s really like to have OCD:

1. You believe you are a horrible person.

Imagine having a song stuck in your head. Now, imagine instead of a lovely, catchy tune it’s the thought of murdering your best friend. In horrendous graphic detail, over and over again. You’re not mad at your best friend, and you’ve never even done anything violent, but it won’t stop playing.

You probably feel uneasy just reading this. However, this is what the “obsessive” part of OCD is like, intrusive, unwanted, disturbing thoughts that won’t go away.

The thoughts aren’t always about you doing bad things, but they’re never pleasant. Most obsessions are based on deep fears. You ask yourself questions like, “What if I or someone I love gets sick?” Basically, it’s the worst things one can think of, like blasphemy, racism, suicide, murder, rape, contamination, animal abuse, cannibalism or torture.

People with OCD, who have thoughts of doing something violent, usually do not act on these thoughts, and those who dread bad things happening almost never see those things happen. While most people can shake off a weird thought, when you have OCD, it sticks in your mind.

Inevitably, you think, “Why do I keep thinking about these things? Is it because they’ll happen? Do I want them to happen?”

The answer is no! No, you do not. However, you will still fear you do.

2. You’re probably not a neat freak.

Despite what the media might have you think, having OCD doesn’t necessarily mean you’re neat and particular. Compulsions can vary. Sometimes, they correspond to fears, like washing your hands because you’re scared of contamination. Sometimes, there’s no real logic behind them, like when you have to jump over a line on the floor because otherwise everybody you know will die horribly and it will be all your fault. Sometimes, you keep counting because you don’t want to lose control.

Many people don’t have physical compulsions at all, but instead they struggle with “purely obsessional” OCD, where all they have are obsessions. Some people with diagnosed OCD even obsessively doubt the fact that they have OCD.

OCD, at its heart, is an anxiety disorder. Yet, characters on movies and television with OCD are often shown washing their hands or straightening things but never struggling with overbearing anxiety. This is probably because it’s easier to show someone cleaning than to show someone going through extreme mental anguish.

3. You know there’s something “wrong” with you.

One of the many differences between people who have OCD and people who are just “quirky” is shame. Let’s be clear. If you regularly check your pockets to confirm you’ve still got your car keys, if you prefer your sandwiches with the crust cut off, if you only eat orange Skittles, then you’re not battling OCD.

Those are just quirks, and also the orange Skittles are obviously the best. People like quirks when they’re cute, fun and harmless. When they involve picking at your fingernails to get blood (that isn’t even there) out or sitting on your hands so they don’t move and slap someone, people just think you’re “crazy.”

However, you’ll believe this to be true about yourself as well. You’ll be standing in your bathroom at 3 a.m., scrubbing your pocket change because you’ve been awake for hours wondering if it could contaminate your clothes and make you a danger to the people around you. You’ll be unable to stop, but you’ll know what you’re doing is not logical.

OCD is “ego dystonic,” which means “out of sync with your ideal self.” One of the defining characteristics of OCD is knowing your thoughts are bizarre, and your rituals don’t make sense.

Additionally, people who have OCD don’t even get any joy out of their compulsions. Relief? There’s definitely that, but it’s temporary, like scratching a mosquito bite. You don’t want to count every pole and sign you pass, but you have to.

4. It’s rarely just OCD.

The day I was diagnosed with OCD was one of the best days of my life. Finally, I knew what was wrong with me. I wasn’t “crazy” and I could get treated. However, then came the depression, dissociations, psychosis, trichotillomania, dermatillomania, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. “Oh, yeah. You have all those things too. Sorry about that.”

Panic attacks, tourette syndrome, hypochondria, body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania, dermatillomania and eating disorders are all OCD spectrum disorders. They’re diagnosed on their own but also like to hang around in the background while OCD tricks your mind. They’re like its creepy cousins.

OCD also often coexists with depression. This is partly due genetics and also because constant obsessing, isolation or exhaustion from ritualizing can be extremely depressing. Studies show depression is common in children with OCD because it wears on them from such an early age. You’re also at a higher risk of suicide.

The good news is OCD and its tag-along disorders are treatable. There are all kinds of medications and therapies to help alleviate symptoms, and since the spectrum disorders are linked, one treatment can sometimes cover all symptoms. OCD is not always something that can be cured, but it can be controlled.

I’m not going to lie. My OCD has not responded to many medications. There was one experimental medication that did work, but it seems to be not working recently. At first, this made me feel like I was back to where I started just less than a year ago. Thankfully, a lot of stinkin’ hard work has moved me forward in my recovery! I keep hearing from my support system they are noticing I’m so much better than I was. I still have a far way to go, but a few steps are behind me now.

5. You have a desire for certainty.

You think you should know for sure whether you will get violent, lose control or are contaminated.

What if I didn’t unplug my hair dryer and it catches fire? Then, the house would catch on fire, burn down to the ground and it would all be my fault. What if there are germs on the door handle and I touched it? Then, my entire family would get extremely ill and die. What if I lost control and acted on one of my horrible thoughts? Then, I would stab somebody and they would die a horrendous death just because I didn’t take the proper precautions.

What if, what if, what if….?

The compulsions offer relief from the uncertainty. People with OCD are desperate to feel certain. So, of course, they try to do anything and everything that offers relief, even if it takes them hours upon hours to reach that “safe” or “just right” feeling. Then, nothing short of perfection is enough to ease the raging anxiety in the person’s mind.

To the person without OCD, do you still think it’s funny, cute or quirky to have OCD? Are you still going to label yourself “so OCD” when referring to your neat, tidy and clean preferences or your choice to double check that you have your car keys? May I ask that you please, please, reconsider that choice of words? It can be hurtful by making us feel like you are disregarding an person with OCD’s debilitating and incapacitating symptoms.

This post originally appeared on Life With Schyff.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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