When you hear the term “OCD,” what comes to your mind?
If you’re like most people, you might think that it just means “really clean’ or “really organized.” In fact, Target recently started selling a sanitation kit that they marketed as being “perfect for OCD.” So, if you associate the phrase “OCD” with cleanliness and organization, you’re not a bad person and you’re not alone; this term has become so common in our culture that we often forget it refers to a legitimate mental illness.
Unfortunately, however, that’s part of the problem. So, in this article, we’re going to deconstruct some of the common misconceptions about OCD to learn why they aren’t true and what it’s really like to live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
1. OCD Isn’t About Being “Clean”
Many people who live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder often receive shocked comments from friends who exclaim, “But your room is so messy!” Why? Because their friends– like most people– assume that OCD is all about being clean and organized. But, in reality, OCD is a thought disorder characterized by the presence of unwanted intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that are designed to ward off the distressing mental images.
To understand what it’s really like to live with OCD, let’s think about it this way: imagine that you’re walking by a lake and you have the sudden, random thought, “I could throw my keys in that lake!” Now, on its own, that thought probably isn’t that alarming to you. Most of us have thoughts like that from time to time and we probably don’t think anything of them. That’s because the problem doesn’t lie with the thought: it lies in what happens next.
So, if you have a thought like, “I could throw my keys in that lake!” and you respond by thinking, “Wow… that was a goofy thought! Wonder where that came from!” … congratulations, you have a neurotypical brain. You get to enjoy the type of thought process that people who have OCD long for. But if you have a wacky thought and it seems to get stuck in your brain– to stay there on an endless loop– you might have OCD. If you find yourself thinking, “Where did that thought come from??” or “Why did I think that??” and you spend hours ruminating on that thought in silent distress… you have an idea of what it’s like to live with OCD.
2. With OCD, “Obsessed” Doesn’t Mean That You Love Something
Have you ever gotten really excited about something you’re into at the moment and said, “Oh my gosh, I’m OBSESSED with cheesecake!!” If you have, you’re not alone. And there’s a pretty good chance that you didn’t mean to invalidate the experience of all people with OCD when you made that statement. But when we say we’re “obsessed” with something, we typically mean that we love it so much, we can’t stop thinking about it.
For people with OCD, however, it’s the opposite. For someone who lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, “obsessions” aren’t something they want to think about. Obsessions are not things you love. Rather, “obsession” is an apropos term for a thought so horrible that it sticks in your brain in a hellish loop. You don’t want it to be there but you can’t make it go away. You obsess over that thought because you’re doing everything you can to prove it wrong, to neutralize it, to escape from the horror it generates in your mind.
For example, someone who lives with OCD might obsess over a certain theme such as contamination or harm. The cycle starts with a simple thought– maybe something like, “I forgot to wash my hands!” and quickly spirals into horror. On the heels of that simple thought comes the fear: “What if somebody else gets sick because I forgot to wash my hands? What if I’m sick and I don’t know it? What if I infect other people without knowing it?” As you can see from the content of these thoughts, someone with OCD isn’t enjoying their obsessive thoughts. They’re afraid of them, afraid of the real-life implications their thoughts may bring, afraid that the presence of those thoughts makes them a terrible person.
These are two of the most common misconceptions associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But they only scratch the surface of what it’s really like to live with OCD. When people make thoughtless comments like, “Oh, I’m so OCD!” and brands tailor entire product lines to fit the perception that OCD = clean, the end result is that you’re trivializing a painful– and often debilitating– disorder. Breaking that cycle of trivialization is one reason why it’s vital for us to debunk these common stereotypes.
Deconstructing these misconceptions can also improve a person’s access to treatment and recovery. Because our cultural perception of OCD is so distorted, many people suffer in silence with undiagnosed OCD, never realizing that there’s a name for the intrusive thoughts which torture them. Without this insight, many people may experience quiet agony, fearing that they’re simply a terrible person. They may feel that they have to battle their mind in silence, never realizing that there are plenty of resources that can help them fight the battle.
So, if any of the symptoms described in this article resonate with you, you should know that help is out there. If you think you might be living with undiagnosed OCD, you can take the first step toward getting treatment by taking this free OCD test today. This test from Mind Diagnostics is a simple self-guided assessment; it’s not the same as a diagnosis from a mental health professional. But it can help you learn more about the common symptoms of OCD and the treatment options that are available to you.
So, if you or someone you love is struggling with undiagnosed OCD, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is more than the stereotypes we associate with the phrase “OCD.” Your thoughts do not define you and they don’t make you a bad person. And you can always reach out for help by contacting a therapist online.