Did you know that it is mental health awareness month? Well, it is! I’ve talked about my issues with general anxiety disorder before, but not so much about OCD. OCD is something that a lot of people can relate to, but also something that is often misused in conversation and is misunderstood. Coming from someone who has battled with OCD since childhood, I’d like to not only educate you during this month of mental health awareness, but also share a little bit of my personal experience.
Quick Fact: Did you know that OCD affects 2.2 million adults? To put this in perspective, that is 1% of the US population.
Now, I want to try an exercise with you guys. Close your eyes and imagine a wonderful line of colored pens in rainbow order. Now imagine that the brown pen is right in the middle of the yellow and green. Not just that, but it’s also upside down. Is this OCD? Nope!
Here’s another example…
The world calls this OCD. People use examples like these in their everyday language which has led society to believe that OCD is the obsession with being neat and having things in order. While this CAN be a symptom of OCD, it is actually not a very common one. This is actually much more common a symptom for those with Autism. You wouldn’t go around saying someone is “so autistic,” would you? Then why do people go around saying “you’re so OCD”?
OCD has an average onset of age 18, but some experience it from a younger age. The younger the person, the more likely it is due to a lack of Serotonin in the brain.
Now that we’ve uncovered the myth of OCD being about neatness, here’s a diagram that explains the endless cycle of thoughts one may have.
Here are some common thoughts people with OCD can have…..
- Worrying constantly about catching a deadly disease and/or that you will contaminate others with your germs.
- Fears about contamination with environmental toxins, such as lead or radioactivity.
- An intense fear that something horrible will happen to a loved one.
- Believing you may hit someone with your car or injure someone unknowingly.
- A fear that you might forget or lose something.
- A fear of harming inanimate objects.
- Worry over little things (did I lock the door, etc.).
Not everyone with OCD has all of these thoughts. The person generally has 1-3 of these themes. Their brain knows exactly what area to attack them with. For instance, ever since I was little, mine revolved around #1 and #3. The OCD rules these thoughts by saying things similar to “if you don’t do _______________ then [insert theme here]”
Most of the time these orders are small, harmless, repetitive and often turn into a routine. For about 7 years my mind controlled me on a daily basis. Even though I could recognize that these thoughts were not real and had no control over me, fear ruled. Your mind can believe almost anything when fear and risk are involved.
Breaking the cycle of thoughts and behaviors is incredibly hard at first. It means having the thought, ignoring it, and worrying about if the thought will come true. It’s so much easier to relieve the anxiety by just completing the act and performing the small behavior. Relieving the anxiety, though, just reinforces the cycle.
Today my OCD rarely affects my day-to-day life. It might pop up here and there, but I can usually push it away.
This doesn’t make me weird, I promise. I bet you 99% of the people that know me would never have guessed. Because of this, you might know someone who has OCD too. Next time, think about it when you say you or someone else is SO OCD.