Ok, first of all, before we dive into the ins and outs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – I need to say something. It has to be said, and y’all have to listen.
STOP SAYING “OCD” AS AN ADJECTIVE FOR ANYONE WHO IS REMOTELY CLEAN/TIDY/PARTICULAR.
Just stop. Its rude to the person you’re describing, it takes away from people really suffering from OCD and its equivalent to using the R word. I mean it, stop saying “He’s so OCD about organizing his books,” or however it is you’re using OCD. Unless you’re talking about the actual disorder and a real patient just take this one out of your vernacular.
Ok, shew. I had to get that off my chest. Now I’m ready to talk about this condition that can be debilitating, paralyzing and very serious. From here on out I’m going to use the abbreviation OCD (which is cool bc I’m talking about the actual diagnosis, not just a generally clean person). OCD falls into the general category of anxiety disorders. There are two main parts to this diagnosis –
Obsessions: harmful, intrusive thoughts
Compulsions:rituals that serve to neutralize the obsessions
So lets break that down with an example. Let’s say Carly has been diagnosed with OCD. She is obsessed with bird flu and swine flu infections; she can’t stop thinking about what would happen if she were exposed to one of those rare flus. These thoughts are constant, these thoughts seem very real to Carly, and these are her obsessions. To calm herself down and soothe the anxiety she feels over possible infections she washes her hands frequently, she showers for long periods of time in scalding hot water and changes/washes her clothes multiple times a day. These behaviors of washing are her compulsions. In Carly’s mind these compulsions calm her.
Let’s keep this example going though….Carly’s frequent hand washing, long showers and washing her clothes might have been ok for a while, however now Carly is finding it difficult to get to work on time. She feels unable to wake up early enough to fit all her morning compulsions in before work. She is also embarrassed by her red, raw hands and feels she cannot ever shake hands with anyone. Not only would people possibly see her hands but also she might be contaminated if she shook hands with a stranger. So Carly’s Obsessions (thoughts of infections) and her compulsions (washing rituals/behaviors) are getting in the way of her normal everyday functioning. And as discussed in my article about Anxiety – anxiety disorders become clinical when everyday functioning is interrupted.
So who gets OCD? Well about 2.5% of people overall will experience OCD at some point in their life. Men and women get it equally, however men tend to experience onset of symptoms as children/adolescents and women tend to get onset of symptoms in their 20’s. The good news is there are many ways to treat OCD, both with therapy and with medications that help with anxiety.
TL/DR: Obsessions are intrusive thoughts; compulsions are rituals and behaviors that ‘neutralize’ the negative thoughts. Everyday life is interruptedand the person can’t function with these obsessions and compulsions.
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