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12 Pictures That Show the Different Ways OCD Manifests

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When we think of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), we think of hand washing and maybe even counting. We see the outward compulsions, but without an understanding of what OCD really is, we don’t really know what’s going on inside — what’s driving these odd behaviors or “quirky” preferences.

And while the stereotypes associated with OCD aren’t untrue for everyone, they also don’t tell the whole story. That’s why we wanted to expand the images associated with OCD, to hopefully spread more understanding about what OCD can “look” like.

The images below show OCD in ways we don’t often see it. If you don’t “see” your manifestation of OCD, tell us what it looks like in the comments below. 

1. The Real Effects of Compulsive Hand Washing

Yes, some people with OCD do wash their hands compulsively — but this isn’t just a “quirky” trait. Some people feel stuck, washing their hands over and over again until it feels “right.” Others have rituals that involve washing their hands a certain number of times, or (they believe) something horrible will happen.

“I want you to remember this hand before you say, ‘I like to keep my room clean, I’m so OCD,’” Instagram user stoppureo, who posted the image above, said. “Imagine washing your hands 30 times in a row even though you are 100 percent sure it’s clean. OCD is not a fun quirk that makes you stand out. OCD is a debilitating disorder which turns the lives of millions to literally a living nightmare. Don’t use the word OCD lightly because that belittles the suffering of millions.”

2. The Reality of Intrusive Thoughts

Everyone has intrusive thoughts to some degree —  but for people with OCD, these often scary thoughts are what drive compulsions. Will my mother die today? Better brush my teeth three times to get the thought out of my head. Would I hurt a baby? Better jump every time I see a baby, just to be sure. Intrusive thoughts are the part of OCD we don’t see, and importantly, they separate people who just like to be organized from people with OCD, who may feel they have to be organized to prevent an unrelated scary outcome.

3. When OCD Comes Out as Hoarding

Sometimes I tell people “my grandmother was a compulsive hoarder” and they are like “haha lol same” and I say “no, I have never been more serious in my 27 years of life than I am right now when I tell you my grandmother was a compulsive hoarder.” This is what’s left after several dumpsters of stuff, and countless bags of donations. My grandmother boarded fabric and yarn mostly, though also everything else, though most of that was thrown out (old food, for example). She was a master seamstress, she went to art school. She was an artist. She also bought a metric tonne more material than she could ever use in her entire life. My grandmothers side of the family is where my OCD comes from. She was an immigrant from Iran, and several of her family members in Iran suffered from mental illness as well, though what they suffered from is hard to translate, through time and of course language. I visited the storage space where all of this is kept today, and despite my understanding of OCD, I felt many of the typical emotions family members of hoarders feel. Frustration, sadness, complete confusion. My granother died in 2009. I still feel all these things. Mental illness isn’t new, and it effects everyone. That’s all I have to say. #hoarding #ocd

A post shared by STF (@ocdonewiththisshit) on

Although it may seem counterintuitive to what people think they know about OCD, hoarding and OCD are actually related. While not everyone who hoards has OCD and vice-versa, according to the International OCD Foundation, as many as one in four people with OCD also have compulsive hoarding, and nearly one in five compulsive hoarders have non-hoarding OCD symptoms.

In the post above, Instagram user ocdonewiththisshit, shared:

Sometimes I tell people “my grandmother was a compulsive hoarder” and they are like “haha lol same” and I say “no, I have never been more serious in my 27 years of life than I am right now when I tell you my grandmother was a compulsive hoarder.” This is what’s left after several dumpsters of stuff, and countless bags of donations… My grandmothers side of the family is where my OCD comes from.

4. What OCD Victories Look Like

In this video, Instagram user steps on cracks (without tapping) and then touches a trashcan and a light switch. While this may seem like no big deal, for someone struggling with OCD, completing these “simple” tasks can be a major victory. Part of OCD treatment is often exposing yourself to what triggers your intrusive thoughts, and fighting through it without doing compulsions. And anyone who fights fear like this is a warrior.

5. When OCD Fills Your Mind With Too Many Thoughts

An OCD mind can be a messy one. In the picture above, Instagram user living_with_ocd_ wrote down all the thoughts that race through her mind as someone with OCD.

6. When OCD Looks Like Checking

Checking is another classic compulsion, and comes from something OCD feeds on: doubt. Even if you remember shutting off the stove, what if you didn’t? Or what if you didn’t do it properly? Some people with OCD can’t let go of that “what if,” and they’ll check and they’ll check until they finally feel sure.

7. When OCD Affects Your Relationship With Numbers

Some people with OCD experience feelings and urges related to numbers. For example, they might label some numbers as “good” and some numbers as “bad,” going out of their way to avoid numbers that evoke anxiety. For Instagram user ocd_anxiety_life, the number six is a “bad” number, so as an exposure, she wrote down the number six in the video above. She wrote, “So for some reason my ocd has made this a problematic number for me and it has been affecting a lot of the things I do recently: so what better fighting Friday than writing out he number six, six times and saying it six times? This covers hearing it, seeing it, writing it and saying it.”

8. What an Inner Battle With OCD Looks Like

Do what you gotta do.

A post shared by PureOCDsolved (@pureocdsolved) on

Recovery from OCD means learning how to challenge your intrusive thoughts. It doesn’t mean you’re never going to have a bad or scary thought again, but it does mean learning how to manage them. In this Instagram post, PureOCDsolved shows what it’s like to challenge OCD thoughts.

9. What OCD Does to Your Search History

In a piece about pictures that show what OCD really looks like, Mighty community member Kyra O. shared a screenshot of her phone before she got her wisdom teeth removed. For people with OCD who have fears about their health, it’s easy to get sucked into a hole of internet information.

10. When OCD Looks Messy

Messy room

While people assume OCD looks like being neat, this isn’t always the case. As Mighty community member Caitlin M. said, “For me, it looks like a messy room because if I start to organize it and I can’t get it all to match my pattern, I’ll have a complete breakdown.”

11. When OCD Is Related to Skin Picking

Woman with scabs on her face

While OCD and dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking) aren’t the same disorder, body-focused repetitive behaviors like skin picking are referred to as obsessive-compulsive related disorders. In fact, about 23 percent of people with OCD also struggle with a skin picking disorder. Mighty community member Alice H. shared with us that for her, OCD looks like “giving yourself awful open wounds and scars from picking at every single blemish in your face.”

12. When OCD Looks Like Living

While we want to educate people about how debilitating living with OCD can be, we also don’t want people to think there’s no hope, or that living a full life with OCD isn’t possible. Instagram user obsessivecompulsivebackpacker travels the world with OCD, and as she noted in her post, “Sometimes I think I’m cured because I’m traveling around the world and sometimes I board a flight and cry until someone swaps seats with me so I can sit with my husband.” Things won’t be perfect, but it’s a journey, and you deserve to take it.

Originally published: February 20, 2018
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