I have so many friends who don’t have OCD and who don’t get how many of the “quirks” that I have are actually OCD tendencies or compulsions. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to people what OCD is or what it’s like and how you’re suffering. Here’s 10 things that I wish my friends, and people in general, knew about OCD.
1. There are Different Types of OCD
OCD doesn’t look one certain way. There are many types of OCD including: Pure OCD, Harm OCD, Relationship OCD, Sexual Orientation OCD, Pedophilia OCD, Religious OCD, Contamination OCD, Responsibility OCD, Somatic OCD, Existential OCD, Suicidal OCD, and Metaphysical Contamination OCD. There are also Hoarding and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. If you want to learn more about the types of OCD and intrusive thoughts specific to each type check out intrusivethoughts.org.
2. OCD’s irrational. Yea, we know
I know that the thoughts are irrational. I know that the chances that they’ll happen are extremely low but the thought of “what if it does” or “what if it’s the first time it happens” keeps me up at night and keeps me in my OCD. Telling me it’s irrational can only help to a certain degree.
3. It’s not about the compulsions but it’s all about the compulsions
My OCD is about the thoughts but you don’t see that part. You only see the compulsions. Turning off the light switch 7 times, checking the stove 10 times, washing my hands 6 times. You only see how my anxiety manifests in compulsions. And yes, those compulsions take up time and put a damper on my quality of life but it’s not just about them. It’s about the thoughts that trigger the compulsions. It’s about the violent intrusive thoughts and terrifying thoughts that come into my head throughout the day. I’m not able to cope with them without the compulsions. And I’ve been doing them for so long that it’s hard to break the pattern.
4. You have Intrusive Thoughts Just Like Us. The Difference is, We Obsess About Them
You might not know this, but intrusive thoughts are common in all people. Ever driven down the street and had the thought “What if I drove down the other side of the road” or standing on a cliff and thinking “What if I jumped?” Those are intrusive thoughts. They can be scary or unsettling but everyone gets them. The difference is when you think them you’re able to shake it off as nothing serious because it’s irrational or silly. But when I think them I can’t stop thinking about them, no matter how hard I try. And the only way to get myself to feel safe from the thoughts is to do my compulsions.
5. It’s not as Simple as Stopping the Compulsion and Seeing if the Bad Thing Actually Does Happen
A lot of times people will ask, “Well, why don’t you just stop?” Chances are if I really tried I could just stop. I could physically stop but the thoughts would still be there. The terror would still be there. And what if the one time I stop doing the compulsions something bad happens and I’m responsible because I didn’t make things safe by doing my compulsions. What if someone gets hurt and it’s my fault? It feels safer to avoid that possibility altogether and just do the compulsions and keep everything safe.
6. Even the Most Mundane Thing can be a Trigger for Us
I read about a mother who every time she gave her baby a bath she pictured herself drowning the baby. It exhausted her to the point that eventually she was terrified to give her baby a bath. Instead bath time had to fall to the father. She felt like she couldn’t trust herself around her kid. This is an example of intrusive thoughts taking over and manipulating your life.
It might seem silly or stupid but to me these fears are real. And it’s the littlest thing that can set me off. Seeing a car can trigger me thinking about crashing it. Seeing a dog can trigger thinking about killing it. Intrusive thoughts are violent and terrifying. It doesn’t always take a lot to get to that frame of mind.
7. We Try to Keep our Minds Distracted as much as possible so we don’t stop to Think
When doing compulsions there isn’t room for the thoughts. It keeps my mind busy. When I’m engaging in an activity that takes up my mental space I don’t have the capability to think about those thoughts. So as a result I try to stay busy. I try to keep my mind constantly thinking so that the thoughts don’t start to seep in.
8. We Don’t All Clean Obsessively or get Annoyed when People Move our Pencils
The fact that people think that OCD is cleaning and reorganizing pencils shows how unaware the world is about what OCD really is. People saying “I’m so OCD” or “Oh that’s just my OCD” is upsetting because I wish my OCD were that simple. I wish it was a matter of keeping my room clean. In fact, my room is a mess and I haven’t cleaned in a month but the thoughts still affect me all the same. Not everyone with OCD has cleaning as a compulsion. And not everyone with OCD counts their steps as they walk down the street. It’s all person-specific and it’s exhausting.
9. It Might Seem Silly to you but to me it’s Life or Death
When I’m in the headspace of intrusive thoughts and lessening the anxiety by doing my compulsions it feels like life or death. It feels like if I don’t do the compulsions (and do them right) that the world will end or my family will die. What ever my worst fear is, it feels like it’s going to come true. If I start my compulsions and someone interrupts me I have to start over because “maybe I lost count,” or “maybe breaking up means it doesn’t work.” There’s always a possibility that I’m doing something wrong and that I’ll pay for it in consequences. This fear rules over my thoughts a lot of the time.
10. It’s not Just Physical Compulsions, There are a Bunch of Mental Compulsions too
You may not see me washing my hands or counting stairs or flipping light switches but that doesn’t mean I don’t have OCD. A lot of my compulsions are mental and only I am aware of them. This is one thing that makes it extremely difficult to diagnose Pure OCD (where most if not all compulsions are mental). Maybe I’m still counting or tapping but in my mind. Maybe I’m adding up numbers to make sure they come out even but I’m only doing it in my head. Just because you can’t see me engaging in compulsions doesn’t mean I’m not hurting, in pain, or scared.