‘That’s so OCD’ or ‘when it comes to cleanliness I’m so OCD’ - but do we really know what it means?
Do you think it's Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory refusing to drink from his friend’s glass?
Unfortunately, these representations are misleading and don’t capture the real difficulties people with OCD experience.
To help clear things up, we’ve compiled a list of common myths, along with some helpful facts to dispel them.
Myth 1 (and the most referred to)
People with OCD are just ‘neat freaks’ or ‘germaphobes’
The need to be clean and have things arranged doesn’t mean someone is “OCD”, rather a simple lifestyle or discipline in people. Just because you don’t clean your work desk on time doesn’t give you the right to label someone’s routine a mental disorder.
People with OCD might arrange, clean or check things for fear that something bad will happen if they don’t. They might worry that if they don’t arrange things in a certain way, someone in their family will become ill, or if they touch certain things they will contract a disease and potentially spread it to others.
Other common themes include fears about harming others (the fear that you have run over someone in a car and returning repeatedly to the location to check), or engaging in acts of self-harm that are incredibly distressing (avoiding balconies due to a fear that you will jump off them).
People with OCD are just uptight, weird, neurotic, or quirky
OCD is not a personality trait. You can’t say that you have OCD and be the centre of attention in a party.
People who do have OCD might come off as unusual sometimes, but that is far from just being weird or quirky.
People with OCD experience intrusive, unwanted thoughts, images or urges that are very distressing (obsessions), and they try to relieve this distress by engaging in specific kinds of repetitive thought or behaviour (compulsions).
Compulsions momentarily relieve anxiety, however this relief is short-lived, and obsessions soon return creating a repetitive cycle of obsessive-compulsive thought and behavior. This cycle is not something that can be simply ‘turned off’ and people living with the condition often describe feeling ‘imprisoned’ by their own mind.
Say someone, who has lived with obsessive compulsive disorder for more than 30 years. It has had a profoundly debilitating impact on both relationships and social life.
Imagine telling people that your life is a living hell? That as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, you start crying because you don’t want to go through the day? That just the thought of leaving the house will put you into a panic attack because you are constantly worried that you might do something that would result in the death of your loved one?!!
…That took a dark turn, didn’t it?
People with OCD don’t realize that they’re acting irrationally
In reality, only a small percentage of people with OCD think that their beliefs are accurate (the house will burn down if the stove is not checked 30 times).
However, in most cases people with OCD know that what they are thinking and doing is irrational. Feeling compelled to engage in compulsions even though you know you’re thinking irrationally can be one of the most frustrating aspects of living with OCD.
Once you do delve in deeper with the disorder, you will realize that most try their level best to hide their rituals because they know it won’t make any sense to the other.
In a therapy session, you will hear them discuss about how they feel the need to do certain things despite knowing its irrationality, just because they are afraid it might harm someone close to them.
Stories about how you see people try to consciously hold themselves back from compulsive activites in order to not draw unnecessary attention.
OCD is funny
OCD is often the butt of jokes in popular media, but it is no laughing matter. It is an incredibly debilitating and frustrating condition that can take a significant psychological toll.
Left untreated, OCD can severely limit a person’s ability to engage with others socially, maintain meaningful employment and participate in activities they enjoy.
Around 40 percent of people with OCD experience depression at some time in their life, more than 60 per cent have suicidal thoughts at some point, and almost 25 per cent report having attempted suicide.
Fortunately, treatments such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication can help people gain control and many people experience full-recovery.
How to get help
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of OCD, it’s important to consult a doctor or mental health professional.OCD takes time and professional support to maneuver through the process.
According to Jeff Szymanski, a clinical psychologist and executive director of the International OCD Foundation - OCD – a brain-behavior disorder that affects approximately 2 to 3 percent of the population. And if you don't know much about OCD, the comments you offer could come across as hurtful, ignorant or dismissive instead of curious, helpful or empathetic.
So, next time, think twice before saying stuff like..
“Don't worry, I'm kind of OCD sometimes, too."
"You don't look like you have OCD."
"Want to come over and clean my house?"
"You're being irrational."
"Why can't you just stop?"
"It's all in your head."
"It's just a quirk/tic. It isn't serious."
Yes, this might be a way to break the ice or make them feel like you’re not looking at them as someone who you would avoid, but, don’t you think they have already heard the same thing by so many more people to an extent that they try to downplay or even avoid bringing this up to others, because it might be invalidated straight away?
Next time, allow them to let you know how they feel about certain things and how they would feel more comfortable.
If you do feel like someone you know has OCD, try reading up about it or asking a professional for help. Finding out information is always helpful.