The term OCD has become synonymous with being neat or a perfectionist. If that’s the case, aren’t we all a little OCD at times? We have particular ways we like things done or we feel a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes we just think our way is better than someone else’s. The difference between personal quirks and OCD is that our quirks or preferences probably don’t get in the way of our life too much. We can hopefully still get ready in a reasonable time, get out the door, drive to where we need to go. We likely don’t struggle to interact with people and be successful in our typical day to day activities.
People with OCD can really have difficulty with intrusive and unwanted thoughts or obsessions that prevent them from participating in typical daily activities. In order to temporarily get rid of these thoughts they do a certain behaviors that are called compulsions. The key word in that last sentence is “temporarily”, because unfortunately they have to do the behavior or compulsion every time the thought comes up. So the quick “band-aid fix” for that moment just becomes a part of the cycle that someone with OCD can get trapped in. This routine can keep them stuck at home, add hours to their daily routine, and cause harm to their body or overall health. OCD goes beyond quirks to a level of significant impairment.
It may be helpful to think of it like this, people who are perfectionists don’t necessarily have OCD but some people with OCD are “perfectionists” because having things “just so” is one of the behaviors for coping with their thoughts. Also, remember that OCD is a noun, a medical label to group together a specific set of symptoms. When it’s used as an adjective to describe someone it attempts to stereotype or classify them based on misconceptions about one aspect of the disorder. Having things neat is just one of the numerous behaviors/compulsions that can go along with OCD. People with OCD may need to double check things, seek constant reassurance from others about safety, repeatedly count objects, or spend excessive amounts of time washing or cleaning, just to name a few. All of these behaviors may seem irrational to those on the outside but they actually serve a purpose of providing a brief and temporary relief from the very real and often scary intrusive thoughts that pop in to their heads.
If we learn more about what OCD really is we can help decrease the stigma and stereotype. By educating ourselves more about OCD we can work to raise awareness in the community and help those who struggle with the disorder feel more supported and understood.
In my practice, I work closely with individuals who struggle with this disorder to gain better management of their thoughts and behaviors. We work to challenge the irrational and negative thoughts in a safe and supportive environment. Our goal is for them to be an active participant in their own life rather than living in fear and anticipating worst case scenarios.
The International OCD Foundation is a great resource for additional information. There is also a comprehensive treatment center in Tampa, Fl., Rogers Behavioral Health, focused on helping those with severe OCD.