I have a cousin who, to put it mildly, loves organisation. She will spend hours organising her books, CD’s, and computer folders till it makes perfect sense according to her. Random documents strewn across the desktop, things kept asymmetrically on top of the dresser, a non colour coded wardrobe, are all things which can set her on edge.
So, of course, she’s lovably called OCD.
The phrase “Obsessive Compulsive” has somehow found itself being used as a synonym for quirky behaviour at best – and obsessive at worst. But what sets apart ‘having obsessions’ from having an ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’?
Is my cousin in the above example simply one of us with our whimsies or does she suffer from OCD?
What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by unwanted repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and strong urges to act on those thoughts (compulsions).
A person suffering from OCD feels compelled to behave as per the obsessions as this provides relieve – albeit temporarily.
Think of it like a vicious cycle of thoughts: if they don’t act on it they experience extreme anxiety and if they do it, it only leads to more such thoughts after a brief spell of respite.
Here are four things you need to know about it today:
1. They’re Different from Obsessions
Obsessive thoughts are common and occur in each one of us. Research in the field of OCD and anxiety has proven that those who do not suffer from OCD too are inclined to have intrusive thoughts and fears which may be similar to those who do suffer from OCD.
For example, fear of germs and diseases, insecurity about one’s safety, fear of forgetting to do important but daily activities, etc.
The difference is not necessarily in the thought itself, but in the intensity. Most people are able to manage these thoughts without letting it interfere with their ability to lead a “normal” life. People diagnosed with OCD unfortunately can’t.
‘Obsessive’ is a personality trait. OCD is a psychological disorder. When we confuse the two, we are only undermining the severity of the disorder but are also failing to take into account the achievements made by those who suffer on a day to day basis.
2. People With OCD Fear a Thought But Still Act on it
These obsessive thoughts cause them stress and bring about a gamut of additional negative thoughts. Having the thought makes them feel like they must act on it. They fear the behaviour but partake in them anyway in order to avoid anxiety.
Think of them as desperate attempts. These behaviours are called compulsions. They can be either overt actions like washing hands, or checking the locks on doors, or mental actions like counting and prayers.
3. They Feel Trapped by Their Own Minds
Imagine being trapped by your thoughts. Feeling like anything you do or don’t do will only make you feel worse about yourself. Imagine being controlled by your thoughts constantly instead of having the power to control your thoughts.
Feels scary? That’s how it is for them.
4. No, It Isn’t Cute
Roughly 1 in 50 people suffer from OCD. The next time you have hiccups, think of them. And imagine what it would be like to have a mental hiccup; when your brain gets fixated on ONE thought – unable to process anything till that thought has been acted on.
And then imagine having to be quiet about this disability simply because everyone seems to be labelling their inclinations as a psychological disorder. By doing this we are failing in getting these people the help they require.
What we fail to understand is that in any of us, the ‘obsessions’ don’t come with the ‘compulsions’. They’re simply thoughts which we can manage and work around. They do not interfere with our lives.
We don’t go around calling ourselves schizophrenic or mentally deranged. Then why OCD?