You often hear it said without a second thought – “oh she’s so OCD about things…” What this usually means is that this person is organised or likes things clean. People seem to forget sometimes that OCD is a mental health condition that many people really suffer from.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is usually associated with actions such as turning light switches on and off x number of times or constant hand washing. These can be manifestations of it but there are others too. The obsession part of OCD usually means the sufferer experiences unwelcome thoughts that they struggle to get out of their head. For example, I used to get sudden fears that my house would be broken into or my family would all drop dead. You can probably already see how distressing this can be for someone!
The compulsions side of OCD is what many people know it for – the compulsion to have to perform certain actions in certain orders, often repeating them. One could constantly check the doors are locked through fear of a break in. Repeating these actions can make the sufferer feel more calm: ‘If I do x then y will not happen and everything will be okay.’
Mind offers a useful diagram to illustrate OCD:
So if this is a horrible thing to experience then what can you do to stop it? Well as a child I was afraid of dirt, I washed my hands mutliple times a day and was the only child to wear an apron in art through fear of getting dirty! As I got older, the unwanted thoughts got more distressing and when I was 15 I finally addressed this in counselling. I went through a very brief course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and although it was brief, I took the tools from it to combat my OCD.
CBT looks at the connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviours which is very applicable to OCD treatment. The key for me was writing down all of my worries and fears. For example, if I do not check that door is locked 6 times then my family will be hurt. Seeing this written down helped me to realise that this was pretty irrational. I would then address these worries and notice that they could be avoided without following compulsive behaviours. I practiced this for a long time and it eventually began to stick. Now my head does it pretty much automatically. So if CBT is available for you then go for it! It can be really useful.
Further to this, OCD is often linked to anxiety. This means that techniques to help anxiety can also help OCD. Deep breathing and practicing relaxation techniques is important. Be open about it, OCD is out of your immediate control. It is a medical condition which you should not be ashamed of. Medication is also an option to ease some of the symptoms so talk to your doctor about it.
So yes, OCD is a real medical condition that is really awful to deal with. Next time one of your friends is cleaning lots or being super organised, think twice about referring to them as OCD. It is not useful for people who are really dealing with it. This might make people see OCD as trivial and not serious which of course it is. It is not a term to be thrown around without thinking about it. Rather, it is an illness which can have a serious impact on people’s lives.