The Mighty Logo

27 'Habits' of People Who Live With OCD

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

While we usually talk about how mental illness affects us in ways other people can’t see, with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), this isn’t always the case. Many (but not all) compulsions manifest outwardly, so whether you get up to see if the oven is on, tap three times to feel “just right” or wash your hands until they bleed, it can be hard to hide these behaviors.

So we asked people with OCD in our Mighty community to share with us “habits” they developed because of their OCD. Whether these habits are compulsions themselves, or manifest because of compulsions, they might held you understand what someone with OCD is going through.

Here’s what they told us: 

1. “Putting my money in denominational order, facing same way in my wallet when receiving change at the store. People behind me huff and puff about it but it will give me anxiety if I do not do it right then and there. My boyfriend now does it too but mostly because he has seen my reaction once when he went to pay for something.” — Ann L.

2. “Closing all the tabs on my phone, clearing all notifications and blacking out the screen. If I leave just one open or my screen on, it will continuously stress me out until I fix it. Seeing other people’s phone with just endless notifications and tabs open gives me so much anxiety, but I try not to look at it because it’s not my phone to fix.” — Sabrae M.

3. “Picking my skin. Dermatillomania. In my worst times I will dig/scratch out my freckles (like tonight). On not so bad days I wash my face and look for zits. It’s a compulsion I can’t really control. Even at work I’ve caught myself scratching, rubbing and casually picking. Especially in an uncomfortable situation.” — Chynna R.

4. “I ask indirect questions to people I know will give me the direct answers I’m seeking as validation to comfort/calm my obsessive thoughts/worries. I don’t ask direct questions because I know that will annoy people, especially if I do it repetitively. But if I ask indirect questions, I get the answers/validation I’m seeking, and it seems to annoy people less.” — Kaylie E.

5. “It’s really weird… but I spell. People have asked me time and time again why my thumbs are twitching and why my lips move after I finish talking, but it’s because I’m physically trying to spell out the words I just spoke. Strange, I know.” — Elisabeth A.

6. “I count every thing! Walking up stairs? Counting. In a room? Counting how many paintings, how many knick-knacks, etc. Eating M&Ms? Separating by color and then counting.” — Laura A.

7. “I buy things in multiples of two. Even if I only need one, I will buy two. It’s also about even numbers. Almost like Monk was in his show. I can truly relate to that show.” — Melody A.

8. “I type out words I hear on TV, radio and conversations on my ‘air keyboard’ with my fingers. I try to do it so low-key that no one sees me though… When I used to play the clarinet in school, when I would listen to the radio, I would ‘finger’ the notes I heard on my ‘air clarinet’… if that makes sense.” — Jessica J.

9. “I’ll pretend I’ve forgotten things so I can go back (repeatedly) to check locks/oven. When I was a kid, I vividly remember refusing to put away the dishes because the intrusive thoughts made me believe I was going to do harm with the knives.” — Jen L.

10. “I constantly check for phone, keys, wallet, etc. in my pockets, to the point that when [someone walks by me] it literally looks like I’m ‘[making] triangles’ with my hands. It’s a bit embarrassing and most the time I don’t realize I’m doing it until someone looks or points it out.” — Charli B.

11. “I feel like I am responsible for everyone I care about’s problems. If I see someone might be upset about something, I try to throw hints about something that will help and they always seem so confused, but I feel like if I can’t make them happy, then it’s all my fault. So I’m constantly feeling guilty if everyone I know isn’t happy.” — Kelly G.

12. “Checking things over and over. Even if you’ve already checked, you have to check again to make sure you were right. Or you have to do things certain ways/in certain patterns because if you don’t, you feel like something bad will happen.” — Erin H.

13. “Saying ‘I’m sorry’ even if I did nothing wrong. Whether it’s saying ‘I’m sorry’ to my family or friends, I often say it more than once and ask, ‘Are you mad at me’ along with it.” — Taylor C.

14.I say things, then mouth what I just said. When I get in and out of the car, I have to open and close the door twice. I sometimes wash my hands twice in a row and brush my teeth twice in a row.” — John R.

15. “Rewording the words I see on signs, flyers, billboards, etc. so they are rewritten in my mind without any vowels. I also live in a rural area and have to say, ‘Moo,’ the first time I see a cow in a day. (Doesn’t happen every day.) If I don’t ‘moo,’ something terrible will happen. That’s a real gem to try explaining.” — Jennifer R.

16. “Checking the alarm on my phone. I could have just picked it up and looked at it, but [fewer] than 10 seconds later, I have to check again to make sure I did actually set it.” — Sheryl F.

17. “I rehearse what I’m thinking of saying in my head and rehearse conversations, but sometimes without realizing, I might mutter or mumble under my breath while I’m doing it, making people stop and ask me what I said, or what I’m saying. That then makes me feel really awkward and I never know how to reply.” — Ka C.

18. “For family gatherings where we all pitch in and bring food, I can’t bring just one dish, I bring four or five. I can’t make a normal amount of anything, I have to bring excessive amounts of food because I’m afraid there won’t be enough.” — Debbie S.

19. “When I check out at a grocery store, my items have to be set on the conveyor belt a certain way. My kids have tried to help me unload the cart, and if they don’t do it right I get anxiety. They’ve learned to unload it how I like it. I honestly feel bad about this because they don’t understand what goes on in my mind, and that it’s my OCD and anxiety… I feel like they’re going to hate me when they grow up because of it. Like maybe they’ll feel like nothing they do is ever good enough… and that gives me anxiety… so a lot of times I will just do things myself to avoid me having to correct them and make them feel less than ‘perfect.’ I hate it.” — Jessica J.

20. “Tapping my pencil before every new sentence I write.” — Olivia R.

21. “Asking the same question over and over again. To the same people. Getting the same answer. In case I heard it wrong the first five times.” — Sam F.

22. “Counting change and bills multiple times, super noticeable when I was a cashier. 12345, 12345, 12345…” — Susan S.

23. “Freezing time. Avoiding tasks or just daily life by sitting/laying on the couch or bed. Freezing myself gives me a false sense that bad things won’t happen. You see lazy, I see ‘safe.’ If I don’t move, nothing bad can happen.” — Krissy M.

24. “Letting the majority of my house fall into filth because I’m obsessed with cleaning one room or area repeatedly for weeks until it’s absolutely perfect.” — Tara L.

25. “Wearing the same clothes every day because the previous day you wore them nothing bad happened and you hope that continues. I also tend to eat the same meals daily in hopes that nothing bad will happen.” — Jade M.

26. “If it looks like I’m not paying proper attention, it’s because my eyes are busy rolling around, outlining the pattern of what I am looking at as many times as it takes to feel comfortable! This could be 10 times over until I can find the strength and mind power to stop. Sometimes I have to leave it on an odd feeling because my tic was left incomplete.” — Jade G.

27. “I have lots of noise on. Especially driving. Talk radio, news, anything busy. It drives my husband bonkers, but these keep my intrusive thoughts away. Mine are especially bad when I drive. Some have been so bad I have to pull over, but the noise and distraction of news radio has really made a difference.” — Cassie B.

What would you add?

Originally published: August 2, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home