I’ve decided that instead of just reiterating mayoclinic or other medical info sites, I would describe OCD from experience. I had a lot of trouble really understanding OCD when I googled these sites because although they are informative, (which is great for someone without OCD) they are quite basic and really didn’t answer my questions.
The night I googled “OCD” was the night I broke. I’ve fallen apart before, but I was not in my environment and I was alone. I stood in front of the kitchen sink at midnight at my dad’s house in las vegas, nv. For 20 minutes I filled a glass of water, dumped it out and refilled it. I cried and wanted to stop, but I felt I couldn’t. I knew this was ridiculous and that my water cup had no effect on whatever ill thought I had, but that did nothing to take me away from the sink. I worried I wasn’t doing it right or something bad would happen if I didn’t do it right. I finally managed to stop, but I was exhausted from the things i had been doing that lead me to the sink. flipping around in bed, turning over my pillow repeatedly, avoiding eye contact with the mirror, adjusting the glass… I finally ran upstairs to my computer. I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I typed in “anxiety, repetition, negative thoughts, have to…” Coming across some sites that mentioned OCD, I began to look up the symptoms to see if I might have it.
Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety, or by combinations of such thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions). The symptoms of this anxiety disorder range from repetitive hand-washing and extensive hoarding to preoccupation with sexual, religious, or aggressive impulses. These symptoms can be alienating and time-consuming, and often cause severe emotional and economic loss. Although the acts of those who have OCD may appear paranoid and come across to others as psychotic, OCD sufferers often recognize their thoughts and subsequent actions as irrational, and they may become further distressed by this realization.
What is that supposed to mean? How much hand washing is enough to be considered OCD? What kind of economic loss are they talking about? And isn’t everyone preoccupied with thoughts at times?
Upon further reading I discovered that by obsessions, they meant medical obsessions; intrusive thoughts that pop into your head out of nowhere. Obsessions are not the same thing as preoccupations. The difference is that obsessions are intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety. A preoccupation is a thought someone is engrossed with, may not be intrusive or cause anxiety. An example of a preoccupation is someone stressing about a work project, continuously thinking about it, whereas an obsession could be when someone suddenly starts to think of hurting someone and can’t get the the thought out of his/her head. These thoughts cause anxiety.
To get rid of this anxiety, compulsions, or what I had referred to as “actions” are carried out to get rid of the anxiety. I called all this “doing an action to cancel out the thought”. I felt that if I didn’t “cancel it out” well enough, I had to keep doing it, and that’s where the repetition came in.
I still didn’t know if OCD was what was wrong with me, so I went on an OCD forum and the feedback I received seemed to further confirm my self diagnosis.
I flicked or touched light switches repeatedly, checked every hiding spot in the house come nightfall, pushed the play/pause button on my radio from the start of my drive to the finish as I thought about ways I could die in the car. I was looking for something to sum up all these things about my brain that made me feel nervous, and what I found is that an intrusive thought or obsession causes anxiety and compels me to do something to fix it, whether that be counting or blinking a certain number of times.
Since then, I have learned that OCD is a problem with the chemistry of the brain, not my attitude or ability to cope with stress or me just being sensitive. OCD is not my fault! OCD is not your fault! It’s in the brain from day one, although for some people it doesn’t get triggered until later in life. I kept hearing people say they were “being OCD” about something, but many people simply say this when they are describing perfectionistic behavior, being anal, or clean a lot. Though these qualities are often present in someone with OCD, the difference is the motivation. If someone just likes things clean and wants them to be so because they prefer it and it’s just one of their “quirks”, that’s personality and we all have one. If that person cleans because they feel they have to in order to get rid of the anxiety or the obsessions, that could be OCD.
This was my main problem in figuring out if I had OCD. I couldn’t see the line between a quirk and a compulsion. What helped me to understand was to realize that everyone has quirks, but what makes a quirk OCD is anxiety, and if this “quirk” causes mental pain or feels more than annoyance, then it could be OCD.