Visibility and Misconceptions of OCD

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder that is estimated to affect one to two out of every hundred people worldwide. But there are very few people who fully understand it and many common misconceptions. I would like to address some of those.

When OCD is depicted on television, the characters are almost always germaphobes and incredibly neat. When people talk about things that they are particular about, they say things like “I’m so OCD about this.” But none of that is an accurate depiction of OCD. So what is it?

Mayo Clinic defines it: “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.”

There are two important factors to understand: obsession and compulsion. Obsessions are basically things that you can’t stop thinking about that give you anxiety, and are often irrational. These can be many things, I will give the examples of fear of germs and fear of fire.

In the first example, you may be afraid of being sick or germs may just make you anxious. In the second, You may have a debilitating fear that your house will burn down. That anxiety, whether rational or irrational, is the first factor.

The second factor is the compulsion which is what you do to get rid of that anxiety. This can be logical: washing your hands to get rid of germs (likely more than you need to). Or illogical: for instance, flipping a light switch three times when leaving a room to prevent a fire.

These compulsions are not things that you want to do, it is simply the only thing that will relieve that anxiety. I want to stress that there are many different ways that obsessions and compulsions present themselves and it is very likely that it WILL NOT be having a clean house.

To be clear, people with OCD understand that what they are doing is irrational or excessive, but that knowledge does not make the anxiety stop. That knowledge can actually lead to someone feeling like they’re going crazy or being too embarrassed to ask for help.

It is important that society understands how OCD operates so that the signs can be identified and people who suffer from it can get help.

My Experience with OCD

I was not Diagnosed with OCD until I was 16. I started showing signs of it when I was too young to remember. It started with a related disorder called Trichotillomania then eventually led to fairly severe Misophonia. I am not going to go into the details of those issues, but the point is, the signs were there.

Unfortunately, not many people are aware of the extremely varied signs of OCD, so this went on for years before we learned what was actually wrong. At times, I was even punished for my harmful behaviors because my parents were worried about my well being and did not understand that what I was doing was not something I could just stop.

At 16, I started experiencing some more recognizable symptoms of OCD, the main one being germaphobia. The compulsions related to that became so severe that I was barely able to function normally. I felt like I was going crazy. I knew I needed help but was embarrassed because I knew it was irrational. I was in a constant state of anxiety and depression and didn’t know how to cope.

Luckily for me, my parents noticed that something was wrong and cared enough to get me help. They took me to see a therapist, which I knew I needed but it was still one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Still, it took a professional for us to figure out what exactly was wrong. I took medicine and went to therapy long enough to get me past the toughest part and now function normally without either.

OCD isn’t talked about enough and it leads to stories like mine. Luckily, mine had a happy ending, but the process of getting there took longer than it should have simply because we didn’t know the any better.

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Sydney Barnhardt

Sydney Barnhardt

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