The Personality Trait That Made Me Think I Would Never Be Diagnosed With OCD


For as long as I can remember, I have been a nail biter and a skin picker. I didn’t know when I was a kid that there was a name for such behaviors. I just knew that when I was anxious or worried about something, my fingers became a complete bloody mess. When I finally saw a psychiatrist for the first time in my late 30s, I asked about this behavior as possibly being a symptom related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She kind of rejected the idea, so I put it out of my mind.

I am chronically disorganized. My home is filled with baskets of craft supplies, piles of mail and magazines, stacks of coloring books, piles of dirty laundry, hampers full of clean clothes that have not been put away. If you explored my kitchen, you would find a beautifully organized spice drawer, dishes and glasses lined up in their cabinets, crumbs all over the counter and dishes in the sink. Because I was a messy person, I never imagined I would be diagnosed with OCD.

My new provider asked me curiously one day if I had any repetitive behaviors I engaged in. As I detailed my preoccupation with symmetry and my habit of counting while doing things like pouring myself a drink or putting on deodorant and mascara, she said to me, “I think you have OCD.” I immediately protested, “Oh, no. I am just a hoarder. I am not neat and clean enough to have OCD. I just have some weird habits.”

And then she asked me if I had trouble throwing things away. And I admitted that I did not. When my disorganized mess got overwhelming, I went on sweeping clean-outs, throwing away stacks of catalogs and donating bags of clothing to local charities and discarding expired food from my fridge. And she pointed out that someone who hoards doesn’t usually do these things.

Have you ever sat on your couch, looked around you, and felt paralyzed because your living room was messy and you just didn’t know what to do about it? Why bother starting to clean it up? It will never be good enough. It will never be perfect. Are you super organized at work but sort of fall apart behind the walls of your own home? Do ritualistic thoughts occupy large parts of your day, even if they don’t translate into ritualistic behaviors? Did you know these could all be OCD behaviors?

I am lucky that my current provider asked the right questions and recognized these symptoms for what they were. I am lucky that I am on a medication regimen that has been helping me. I never thought I would be diagnosed with OCD because I figured I wasn’t “clean enough.” It turns out that when OCD mixes with depression and anxiety, it may not look like you expect it to. And if I had advocated a little more for myself, it might not have taken me so long to realize that.

It turns out that help is out there, and you don’t have live in the clutches of OCD forever.

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Thinkstock photo via Ivary.


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