Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), affecting 1% of the population, is often used as a joke; “Sorry I’m so OCD”. But, OCD is nothing to laugh at, in fact, this anxiety disorder is extremely distressing and can be debilitating as a result. The intrusive thoughts that OCD brings and the compulsions that you feel the need to complete can turn your life upside down. This condition is much more than likely an orderly and clean household; this condition can be torturous.
Symptoms of OCD:
The symptoms of OCD vary greatly between individuals but they have an obsessive or compulsive nature in common, such as:
- Fear of germs which leads to abnormally frequent hand washing, disinfectants, showers
- Compulsively checking that you have locked the door
- Completing actions a certain amount of times so you reach a “safe number”
These behaviours may seem irrational to those who have never experienced this condition, or even to those who struggle with it – but the sufferers can’t help but fulfil these urges. In many cases, those with OCD may believe that if they do not complete these urges that their family may die, they will die or that something equally bad will happen. This might seem far-fetched, but to someone who suffers from OCD, this is absolutely terrifying and they will give in to every compulsion. Sufferers often feel embarrassed of their condition and therefore may attempt to hide their rituals when in the presence of others.
Compulsion – In OCD, sufferers feel the need to undertake repetitive activities to banish distressing thoughts. For example, the sufferer may think they will fail an exam unless they check that they have locked the door 16 times, therefore they comply with the urges they experience.
Obsession – In OCD, the motivation behind carrying out such distressing rituals is often due to the thought that this will prevent upsetting things from occurring. The obsession may be a thought, an image or it may be a prediction, for example, if you don’t do this then you will kill someone.
Hand washing in OCD
When most people think of OCD they think of excessive hand washing, and while this is a common presentation of the disease, this trivialises the severity of it. Constant hand washing could almost be depicted as a cute quirk, but in reality, the intrusive thoughts that appear to scare the sufferer into completing this action is anything but cute. The upsetting thing about feeling compelled to get rid of germs is the obsessive thoughts that don’t relinquish until you give in, and the sore, bloody hands that you slather with excruciatingly stingy hand gel. This stereotypical idea that OCD sufferers keep a clean house and wash their hands too much invalidates the real trauma of living with their condition.
Classifications of OCD
The severity of OCD is based upon how time consuming the disorder is to the patient. It is important to note that you do not have to have a severe form of OCD to seek treatment – if anything is causing you mental distress, then you deserve help.
MILD = compulsive and obsessive behaviour taking up less than an hour per day
MODERATE = compulsive and obsessive behaviour lasting from 1-3 hours per day
SEVERE = compulsive and obsessive behaviour taking up over 3 hours per day
Treatment for OCD
It is extremely important to seek help for OCD. This condition can take up a lot more time than you might realise and compulsions are always on your mind. It is possible to recover and there are a wide range of treatment options available. I recommend seeking help immediately; OCD can lead to the development of depression and since it flares up in periods of stress, it could become unmanageable almost overnight.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT) – This is the most effective type of therapy available and should be the first treatment used, however, as it is costly it is often skipped. CBT rewires your thought processes and positively changes your behaviour in response to previously triggering stimuli. For the treatment of OCD, facing your fear in a safe place is highly recommended but this can seem daunting to the patient. By working at a pace the patient is comfortable at, the therapist can guide the patient to face their fears without fulfilling any urges. The goal of therapy may be to not give in to intrusive thoughts or to decrease time spent on compulsions, but this is very specific to the individual and the severity of their condition. CBT can be provided on the NHS and through some health insurance policies. However, if you do not have access to CBT there are amazing resources available to use for free online. If money is an issue, a book explaining CBT could be very helpful and informative – check out a recommended book here.
MEDICATION – Antidepressants can prove effective in the treatment of OCD, especially if the patient also suffers from depression.
Superstition vs OCD
There is a clear difference between superstition and OCD; if I thought it was bad luck to step on a crack on a road, I might feel uneasy, but someone struggling with OCD would feel severe mental distress. They might even complete a few compulsions or mental rituals to make themselves feel better. Whilst it is common to have a few rituals, what separates that from OCD, is that with OCD not completing them will feel like the end of the world. And the difference between wearing a lucky necklace to an exam and turning a light switch on and off 17 times when you leave a room, is that you can deal with wearing a necklace sporadically but having to turn a light on multiple times a day is very distressing.
To conclude, I hope that this post has helped you to understand what living with OCD is really like. It is a brutal condition that embarrasses sufferers into keeping quiet. Since this condition can cause devastation to the sufferer’s life, using OCD as an adjective is extremely insensitive and a psychological disorder is never an appropriate metaphor. For anyone who hasn’t suffered with OCD, I understand that this may be hard to get your head around but put yourself in those shoes – imagine you thought you had to complete actions taking up hours of your day to prevent your family from dying. OCD sufferers know that they are being irrational but with such a serious potential risk – who would want to gamble? For anyone out there with OCD, have faith that it will get better and seek treatment – it may be uncomfortable but it will not be as nearly as hard as continuing to struggle.