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OCD: You're using that term wrong
One of the things that infuriates me the most is when people are like “OMG! My room is so clean, I’m so OCD!” or “The volume has to be on an even number, because I’m OCD”
First of all, that is NOT OCD. Second of all, if you are willing to easily admit to a room full of people that you have OCD, most likely, you don’t have it and know nothing at all about it.
Let me explain what OCD is. Imagine thinking of something very unsettling. A loved one dying, perhaps. A person without OCD may just shrug it off and start thinking about something else, end of story. But a person with OCD may try to stop thinking about, but can’t. At first it may be rather easy to handle. You can tell yourself that its not true or it isn’t real, but after a few minutes, it starts to scare you. Now imagine your mind telling you that it is real, and it’s going to happen. You know deep down that it isn’t true, but your mind is trying everything to convince you that it is. Your mind is TRYING to scare you. Before long, you start to panic because the unsettling thought is now more intense, and it is literally ALL you can think about no matter how hard you try to think of something else. It causes you to panic and you begin to hyperventilate. You get up and start to pace the room, trying to calm yourself, when you look down and notice that you are stepping on the lines on the floor. You stop walking. Your mind then begins trying to convince you stepping on the lines are making it worse. You back track to one end of the room, careful not to step on any lines, and walk to the other end of the room without letting your foot get anywhere near a line. But once isn’t enough. Twice isn’t even enough. You cross the room several times until you get to a number that feels right. If you touch a line even once, you have to start all over again. Once you reach your number, your mind is a little calmer. But as you try to continue throughout the day, your mind tells you to do certain things, or the unsettling thought will happen, even though you know that makes no sense at all, you perform each task, some multiple times to get to a right number, because your mind has actually convinced you that you HAVE to do these tasks, or you just want to calm your mind, even if it is only for a matter of minutes. You take up a large amount of time everyday, trying to satisfy your mind and avoid going into a panic attack.
That is just a small taste of what it feels like to have OCD. In case you didn’t know, OCD means Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The obsessive part is the obsessive thoughts that you cannot control. The compulsive part are the tasks you have to perform to appease your obsessive thoughts. I have heard of people only have the obsessive thoughts (which is called Pure O), but if you only have compulsive behaviors, that is NOT OCD. That is why people who go around laughing about having OCD because they have to have their TV volume on an even number do not have OCD, they have quirks. If you’ve never gone into a full blown panic attack because your TV volume was not on an even number, you don’t have OCD. OCD is not about doing unusual behaviors, it is aboutWHYyou them.
Most people with OCD don’t even know that they have a real disorder. A lot of them just assume they are crazy or that everyone thinks like them, and they are handling it wrong. Neither of these cases is true. Obsessive thoughts can be anything really, but they tend to fall into the following categories:
- Feeling unclean or impure
- Unwanted sexual thoughts
- Feeling blasphemous about everything and thinking you are always offending God (you are never good enough)
- Thinking you have to hurt yourself or others, or thinking you will impulsively
- Feeling you must always do everything perfectly
- Feeling if you don’t do something, other will be harmed and it will be your fault
These thoughts are completely intrusive and many times terrifying. Having obsessive thoughts occasionally is normal, but having them every day of your life its OCD. Obsessive thoughts are not limited to the list above, but those are a few of the most common obsessions.
Seeking help is a serious problem for people with OCD. Once they recognize that there is a problem, they often still do not tell anyone, because frankly, it’s embarrassing. They do not want to be thought of as “crazy” and so often, they try to deal with the problem alone. This often makes things worse. Even if they do know they have OCD, they often do not seek help, because society has bred people to believe that OCD is a funny, quirky, little disorder that is okay to laugh at. It’s not. Few people grasp how serious and consuming this disorder really is.
In case you are wondering, yes I do speak from experience. I do have OCD. Now you might be thinking, “but you just said that people with OCD don’t talk about it!” Yes, I did say that. I can speak about it over the internet, but when I try to talk about it face to face with a person, I can’t. If I try, I often find myself having a panic attack later on that day. I can’t even use the word OCD around my mom, I have to call it “my anxiety” when I do mention it, and that’s rare.
If you’ve actually read this far, thank you, and now you are probably a little more informed on OCD, which may mean nothing at all to you. My point is is that people need to stop using OCD out of context and learn what it really means before they label themselves as such. Otherwise, it’s disrespectful to everyone suffering from this. And those freakin’ OCD Otter memes, I’m not even going to start on those, but they need to go.
If you have questions about OCD in general or about my personal OCD, feel free to message me, I’ll be happy to answer questions.
If you think you have OCD, or if you know you have OCD, please message me!I am always willing to help, and frankly, I’d like someone who knows what I am going through to talk to when I need help.
Me: “I actually uh…have obsessive compulsive disorder…”
Person: “OMG THAT’S SO COOL, DO YOU CLEAN EVERYTHING? IS YOUR HOUSE ALL NEAT AND PERFECT AND EVERYTHING IN ORDER? DO YOUR FRIENDS ASK YOU TO BE THEIR MAID LOLLLL. IF I THROW THIS DECK OF CARDS ON THE GROUND WILL YOU HAVE A PANIC ATTACK AND DIE?!”
- Person: I'm so OCD about having to --
- Me: If the next words out of your mouth aren't "to turn a light switch on and off precisely 54 times when leaving a room simply to avoid a feeling of dread and panic so profound it causes me to vomit" then I swear by the gentle lamb of Christ I will end you.
- Person: ...to see geometric symmetry in day-to-day life.
- Me: Yeah, that's what I thought.
On My OCD
It’s personal talk time. Skip over this post if you’d rather just read about abortion rights, photography, and feminism.
First off: What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? According to the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), OCD is a…
disorder of the brain and behavior. OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values.
Between 1-3% of children are estimated to have OCD, though most children/young adults aren’t diagnosed until between the ages of 7 and 12. A large number of adults with OCD, about 30-50%, say that their symptoms began in childhood.
I am one of those with childhood-onset OCD.
Some of my earliest memories involve my OCD. I remember walking with my mom and sister to the library, quite a few steps behind them, thinking to myself that I must be either adopted or an alien. As a child, those were the only explanations I could think of for why I had to step on every sidewalk square an even number of times while they simply walked.
Throughout the years, I’ve gone through cycles of a wide variety of obsessions and compulsions, with only a few constants.
- When I was in first or second grade, I was obsessed with my hair. I pulled hair out until I had a small bald spot on the back of my head. I also had a strange fascination with cutting small, small parts of my hair off. I’d take my scissors, snip off a little bit of hair, and stash it in a garbage can so my mom wouldn’t yell at me.
- Since childhood, I’ve always focused on my steps. I step on sidewalk squares an even number of times. If there’s a crack, I step on either side of the crack and even number of times. And if I step on a crack, I have to step on another crack with the other foot, in the same area of the foot, and the crack has to be of similar “feel” under my foot.
- Starting in middle school, I’ve counted steps. Both how many steps I’m taking and how many stairs there are of a staircase.
- I prefer the right to the left. When walking through a doorway, I try to always step through with my right foot.
- The last two bullet points combine to form another one. When walking from, say, a carpeted area to a tiled area, I walk an even number of steps on each.
- In middle school, I started “wiping” my fingernails. I keep my nails longer than most people, and in middle school I began to worry that there would be fingerprints on them. I began wiping them off on the palm of the opposite hand. I always wiped the right thumbnail, the left thumbnail, than all four right fingernails and all four left fingernails. Over and over until my palms chaffed.
- And so on and so forth until today…
I have never been diagnosed. In my life, I have been to four different therapists, but one was court-mandated while my parents were going through rough custody battles, one I only saw once or twice before I moved for college, and two were horrible and I hated them. But I was in my early teens when the obsessions overwhelmed me and I had to know what was happening.
I don’t know or why I began studying OCD, but I did, and suddenly everything fit. It didn’t make sense, not by a long shot, but it fit.
Years went by before I told my mom I had OCD. In fact, most of the people I talked to at school knew long before she did. And oh, how they took advantage of it. In high school, a friend of mine got her kicks putting eraser shavings all over my lab table while we were working in chemistry and physics. I would then spend the next couple minutes furiously wiping them onto the floor while she laughed.
I don’t blame her, though. People never know how serious I am when I say I have OCD until the witness it firsthand. About a year and a half ago, I took a poetry class, and we had to keep a Writer’s Journal that we made an entry in every day. Mine was a giant notebook, filled with observations, overheard quotes, doodles, poem ideas, etc. I brought it with me everywhere. One day I was in the coffee shop with some friends, and one was reading a poem from my journal. Another asked to read it, and they tossed it across the table we were at. What we didn’t know was that some water had spilled on the table, and my notebook, open, had been tossed into it. I snatched up the notebook and frantically wiped at the pages. Joking, a friend said, “Watch out, Lita, or it’ll be wrinkled!” I started sobbing. My friends suddenly became worried for me, gathered around, and have tried to avoid triggering my panic since.
Unfortunately, with as many obsessions/compulsions as I have, it’s nearly impossible for me to avoid it.
Even breathing is an issue. Every inhale, for me, is a calculated decision. I hate it when people say that you don’t need to remember to breathe, that you don’t need to think about it. Because that’s false for me.
In my mind, inhaling is the quickest way to let contamination into your body. I can only inhale while looking at “clean” or “good” things.
“Clean”/”good” things include, but are not limited to:
- the black bars along the top/bottom of the TV during some shows and movies
- solid colored, clean walls
- fully erased whiteboards or chalkboards
- faces and hair of people I find not-unattractive
- walls with no dirt or cracks
If I inhale while looking at “dirty” or “bad” things, I can feel the dirtiness through my body and I have to quickly exhale it out.
“Dirty”/”bad” things include, but are not limited to:
- noses (of anyone)
- chipped, discolored, cracked walls
If there’s a “clean” thing with an area of “bad,” like a whiteboard with an area of eraser marks, there is a way to separate the two in my head. I look around the “bad” area, drawing a line with my eyes while I exhale. The exhalation forms a barrier along where I looked, blocking the “bad” from the “good” and allowing me to inhale. However, this barricade only lasts a short time, meaning I have to reform it over and over in order to breathe.
In the same vein, I don’t like being lightly touched because then I feel off balance.
I also occasionally suffer from uncontrollable unwanted thoughts. At the beginning of 2010, I was constantly thinking of my boyfriend with other women. The thoughts wouldn’t go away, and they got so bad that at one point I’d freak out if he so much as looked at me because my brain would scream at me that he was just looking at another girl in a line of girls, that I was nothing special, that he had never and could never love me. For days, I refused to let him touch me.
This year, I’m hoping to go into therapy and/or start medication. I’m not sure what, or how, or when, but it’s my goal. On the other hand, I’m terrified of getting better because OCD has always been a part of my life. I ask myself, who am I without OCD? What are my hobbies? What is it like to not worry constantly? Could I handle it?
Until then, I’m going to keep on reading memoirs like Girl, Interrupted. Memoirs about eating disorders and mental illness, especially OCD, make me feel at home and remind me that I’m not alone. I’ll keep watching Obsessed and telling myself that we’ll all be okay.
So there you are. A scratch at the surface of my mental illness.
If you have any questions, leave them in my Ask box or in a Reblog.
If you want to know more, do the same.
If you want to chat, if you’re a young person dealing with OCD in secret, if you’re struggling with therapy, or if you just need a friend, leave your e-mail or Skype username in my Ask box. I won’t publish it, but I’ll try to get in contact.
More resources on OCD: