It’s OCD Awareness Week once again, a week to “promote awareness, education and understanding about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and related disorders,” according to the International OCD Foundation. Today is also World Mental Health Day.

And it’s still pretty sorely needed, if the replies to this post on the Foundation’s Facebook page are any indication.

As we enter the season of “Obsessive Christmas Disorder!!!” sweaters, what do you want people to know about OCD?

I’d love for them to know a few of my own experiences, although I know everyone’s OCD is different.

I’m a slob. It’s entirely possible to have OCD and not be obsessed with cleanliness. I do have fears of contamination, but they tend to be of the “viruses in my food” variety and not of the “my countertops need to be bleached” variety.

That said, people with OCD who are obsessed with cleanliness don’t just like things to be neat and clean. It’s a compulsion driven by fear, and they often spend hours on the same task because it doesn’t feel like it has been completed correctly yet. This is not just liking pens to be lined up by color on your desk, it’s scrubbing with bleach until your fingers bleed and still being unable to stop.

The worst part of OCD for me was how it undercut my belief in myself. I have intrusive thoughts about committing violent acts. I was repulsed by these thoughts, but worried that having them meant I subconsciously wanted to hurt people. I began avoiding certain situations and places just in case I lost control, because I was so afraid that I would hurt someone. I hated myself for even having these thoughts.

I didn’t know that everyone has the occasional intrusive thought, and it’s the OCD that often screws up our ability to differentiate between having a thought and committing an act. I hated myself and placed extreme, disabling limits on my world because of a completely normal thing. I thought I was a terrible person who couldn’t be trusted and couldn’t trust myself because of a completely normal thing. That’s what OCD does.

I’ve had bouts of religious OCD, too. I spent hours each day reciting the Holy Rosary. I began examining everything I thought or said from the standpoint of “Would Jesus approve?” I knew, with a certainty I’ve never had about anything else in my life, that I was a sinner and going to hell. I prayed every time I left my house because I worried there would be a fire if I didn’t, and then I prayed because I worried that praying for the safety of my cats was selfish and would cause a fire as a lesson to me.

OCD rarely strikes alone. As many as 15 percent of OCD patients also have bipolar disorder, including me, and another 28 to 31 percent have major depressive disorder. OCD can also come along with personality disorders, eating disorders, and other anxiety disorders. These “extras” make it even harder to treat, especially if the OCD masks other mental health issues.

I have a combo of treatments now: Exposure and response prevention therapy has helped more than anything else. I do backslide here and there (mostly on food), so this is not something I was able to do once and forget about. It’s something I have to actively practice in my day-to-day life.

I am on medication and probably will be for the rest of my life. Some people can take medication for a few months and then no longer need it. I’m not one of them. Whenever I stop taking it, my OCD symptoms spike and ERP and meditation are not enough. My bipolar disorder (which also requires medication) probably plays a role in this, as the two tend to feed off of each other.

I practice mindfulness meditation, which has helped me to be able to deal with anxiety without falling into obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. Some people claim that yoga or meditation will “cure” OCD. In my experience, they can be helpful tools, but you still need real therapy.

OCD traps you in your head. It makes you doubt everything. It makes you afraid to do normal, everyday tasks. It makes you do the same tasks over and over because you have to do it right and it never feels right.

OCD is so much more than a desire for order.

What do you wish other people knew about OCD?


Photo by Vivian Chen [陳培雯]