A lot of people say they are OCD because their homes must be clean, or their pens have to be straight on their desks. They use it so casually and to describe themselves; it’s aggravating. I’m not saying I doubt people who say they have OCD, but it’s not something that should be used to define yourself. And most of the time, they’re wrong. They aren’t OCD at all. There is a huge difference between people who want their homes to be clean and tidy (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), and people with obsessive and compulsive behavior.
“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions). Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only provides temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety.” – Psychology Today
Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)
“People with OCPD may spend an extraordinary amount of time cleaning their homes because they want them to be immaculate. They may keep their closets extremely orderly and aligned and may become annoyed if their orderliness is disturbed. Rather than being anxious about this, however, they see their behavior and thoughts as being OKAY. Individuals with OCPD like the world the way they shape it. By contrast, people with OCD don’t like what’s happening to them and are overwhelmed by the thoughts and fears that invade their minds.” -Psychology Today
I write this blog to inform you that this is a disorder that affects every day lives (some worse than others) and has a meaning much deeper than the need to be clean.
A brief description of what I went through/still going through:
I have to put my right shoe on before the left, and start every staircase on my right foot, and climb into bed with my right leg first. You might be thinking, “that doesn’t sound too bad.” It’s worse when I have to climb into bed 4 times every single time, or make sure my feet come off the floor at a perfect angle because I’ll have to start over if they don’t. I have to turn my light off 5, 7, or 11 times every night if the first time isn’t perfect, and the same numbers apply when I run a brush through my hair. I can’t leave my apartment without making sure my closet doors are closed or petting both cats 4 times each, even if it means I’ll be late. If I touch a door handle the wrong way I have to do it until it feels right. I have to click my mouse at work an even number of times, and when I type each finger has to hit a key perfectly or I have to re-type that letter/number. I like even numbers mostly, but if I’m only supposed to touch something once (like a light switch, or to scratch my nose) I stick with odds. I do all these things in the fear that if I don’t, something bad will happen. Some days are worse than others, especially if my anxiety is abnormally bad.
As I sit here and try to explain my OCD in a way that people can understand I think I sound crazy. A lot of people probably do too, even though it’s something I’ve been able to cover up extremely well. I struggle with it every day, but it’s something I’ve grown to comprehend and manage.
When I was younger, I remember having to make sure everything was off my floor before I got in bed and my curtains had to be perfectly covering the window. I really had no idea why I felt the urge to climb up on the window seat to fix the curtains until they were perfect. Honestly, I would often think to myself, “why do I feel this way?” In hindsight, that was the first time I really noticed it. It got pretty bad in 5th/6th grade until I broke my ankle and was on crutches. I couldn’t get around much and it revamped something in my brain and the obsessions weren’t worth the pain in my ankle to actually do the compulsions.
My freshman year of college is when it got to a point where I couldn’t control it on my own. I had a pretty rough year adjusting to academics, athletics, being away from home, injury, and illness. My anxiety was at an all-time high. I started talking to a therapist (for free through athletics, which played a large part in that decision). Initially they thought I had an eating disorder, but lets be honest, anyone who knows me knows that wasn’t the issue. I spent twice a week in her office for a year, and that’s when I learned what it was and how to handle it on my own. It was actually one reason why I wanted to major in Psychology (too bad I hated all my Psych classes).
In recent years it’s been improving. No one knows about it. It’s hard to let people into my life enough to actually see these things happen, and it’s not something I feel
comfortable discussing. My anxiety at times can be unbearable, but I have learned to control it through breathing and burying myself in work or a project. Gymnastics was a huge outlet for me because it was normal to have rituals, and I felt comfortable in the gym. I made the choice to stay away from medication years ago. It was probably denial more than anything else when I made that decision – and continue to make it – but I don’t think it’s necessary.
As someone who lives with this (on a manageable level) I want people to understand we don’t want to do these things, but we can’t shut it off. It is how our brains are wired and anxiety plays a huge role. Many people (1 in 40 adults/2.3%) suffer from OCD. Even celebrities and athletes: Justin Timberlake, David Beckham, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio. It is something I’ve studied, I know way too much about, and I’ve come to accept. It makes me who I am, but it doesn’t define me.