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What Really is OCD and do I Actually Have It?

You may already be familiar with popular notions of OCD symptoms, like fearing germs or constantly checking to make sure the door is locked. We often joke around with the term, calling each-other OCD if we ever display a bit of finickiness or other personality quirks. However, there is much more to OCD than these pop images. It’s actually a very serious mental illness that can disrupt someone’s career or family life.

What is OCD?OCD is an acronym for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The O stands for Obsessions, a word you are already familiar with, which refers here to repeating and intrusive thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. While healthy individuals are able to push these types of negative thoughts away and move on, those with OCD simply cannot escape. The C stands for Compulsions, a word that here refers to the repetitive behaviors used to calm, manage, or dispel those obsessions.

For example, an obsession may be an extreme fear of illness that is non-stop, which is kept at bay by the compulsion to wash your hands every 5 minutes or repeatedly disinfect areas in the home. Although washing your hands is normal and necessary, those with OCD may do it so often that their hands crack and bleed. The behaviors that we see in OCD may be normal, or at least understandable, but the constant repetition and the intense fear driving those behaviors are not.

Common OCD symptoms include:

  • Fear of germs and contamination
  • Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts, often involving sex, religion, or violence
  • Intense desire for things to be in perfect order
  • Aggressive thoughts
  • Excessive cleaning and hand washing
  • Ordering and re-ordering things in a particular way
  • Compulsive counting, chanting and praying
  •  Constantly re-checking things like the stove or the front door lock

OCD is classified as one of the Anxiety disorders.

This is because experts believe that the symptoms that define OCD are a manifestation of deeply embedded feelings of anxiety. Related conditions include panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias. Although we observe aspects of these other conditions in those suffering from OCD, the obsessions and compulsions are OCD’s defining characteristic.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, and about 18% of the US population, or roughly 40 million individuals, suffer from some form of anxiety. True OCD however, is much less common. OCD only affects about 20 million people in the US or only 1% of the population. The illness usually begins around the age of 19, but 1/4 of cases begin before the age of 14.

The list above includes some of the most common OCD symptoms, but there are certainly many other manifestations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder beside those included there. The way that psychologists diagnose this illness is by consulting the criteria set in the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The manual describes OCD symptoms with the following list of criteria:
A. Obsessions or compulsions are present.
B. The obsessions or compulsions are time-consuming and cause distress and dysfunction.
C. The obsessions and compulsions are not due to any substance use or physical impairment (ex. Brain damage).
D. The obsessions and compulsions are not better explained by another mental health diagnosis.

Based on this list of criteria, you can start to seriously assess your behavior. Does it resemble the true disorder or just a few particularities in personality? It is important to note that self-diagnosing isn’t always correct or helpful. This article does not replace the professional judgment of a psychologist. If you feel distressed over your symptoms, it’s absolutely necessary to seek answers from a professional.

There is plenty of confusion surrounding this disorder because of how often we use it as a punchline. OCD is not having a preference for cleanliness. It is not occasionally double-checking to make sure you turned the stove off. It is not sometimes wishing things were arranged a little better. These are simply facets of your personality. They may seem strange to your friends or family but are totally within normal boundaries.

We often say things like “I’m so OCD”, or “Why are you doing that? Are you OCD?” in regards to these particularities of personality. However, when we make these jokes and comments, we are not using the true definition of OCD. I want to thank you for taking the time to learn more about this illness and dispelling some of the popular myths about OCD. Although entertaining, these myths and jokes can hurt the people who truly suffer from this illness.

If after reading more about OCD symptoms and what this disorder truly means, you think that you have the illness and that it is negatively affecting your life, please seek out professional support. You do not have to let yourself be dragged down by your obsessions and compulsions; life can get better. Please contact us at Breath Life Healing Centers where we have experts with the knowledge and skills to help you break free.

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