Sunday 13 December 2015

The facts and myths about OCD

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When we see a person obsessed with cleaning, keeping things in order and symmetry, fussy about rechecking everything multiple times, we tend to label that person as someone with OCD or Obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have always believed that even I have OCD because of my obsession with symmetry and order. But then most of the people I know have similar symptoms. So does it mean everyone has a small measure of OCD? If so, why is it a 'disorder' if it is so common among people? 


OCD is composed of two key words, obsessive and compulsive. It is an anxiety disorder of a combination of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. These obsessive thoughts are uncontrollable, unwanted and intrusive; the behaviors recurrent and ritualistic in a way that you are compelled to do something. Even though you know your behavior is irrational, you cannot resist or control it.


OCD's can be of infinite things but most people with OCD's fall into the following categories:

- WASHERS/CLEANERS : This is the most common form of OCD, in which the afflicted has the uncontrollable urge to wash hands multiple times for the fear of germs or for the fear of inflicting someone else with germs. You tend to feel that you have not scrubbed it well enough and have irrational fear of diseases. This category also contains compulsive cleaners of their (or other people's) households, cars, clothes or whatever they can lay their hands on.

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- CHECKERS : If you know someone who checks whether the front door is locked 200 times or constantly goes into the kitchen to make sure the gas stove is off, that person might be afflicted with OCD. 

- COUNTERS : These guys can't stop counting while doing routine tasks like cleaning or climbing stairs. They are obsessed with numbers. I have been obsessed with numbers all my life too. I cannot bear to watch TV if the sound is on numbers like 13, 19 or 23. This is definitely a symptom of OCD, but I might not necessarily be afflicted by it (read on to know why).

- ORGANISATION/ ARRANGERS : The pile of books has to have all the books one on top of the other. If even one book has a centimeter sticking out, it feels like an itch in the back of our throats. It needs to be put in order, just like the set of knives in the kitchen; they all must be in a straight line., never mind (No 'or' here, it has to be in a straight line!)

Don't get ideas here!
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- HOARDERS : People with this category of OCD tend to hoard or keep everything with them, because of the fear that throwing something away might make something bad happen.

There are other forms of OCD as well such as excessive fear of violence, repeatedly seeking assurances and having obsessive, uncontrollable brutal and violent thoughts.


After reading all this, most of you must have felt like you have one of the above categories of OCD for sure. Well, not necessarily. Our perception of OCD is very different from what it actually is. It is not just about obsessing about cleanliness or symmetry. OCD is always accompanied by feelings of anxiety, distress, guilt or anguish.

There is a major difference between OCD and 'quirks'. While keeping your living room carpet spotless can be categorised under quirk, checking and cleaning the carpet 30 times a day, and still anxiously getting up at 3 O'clock in the morning to check whether the carpet is clean is what OCD is like. You know that it is unreasonable and weird, but you just can't help it; you have to straighten those chairs around the dining table, which gives you temporary relief, and then like a record playing in a loop, you have to do it again, then again and then again. 

OCD always gives you unpleasant, intrusive thoughts. You will always have thoughts about losing your loved ones, or contaminating someone with germs, or doing something bad to someone you know,all in graphic detail (for instance beating up your best friend brutally; you don't know why you will keep obsessing over it but you can't stop it from happening). You will never end up doing it yourself but you will keep having those thoughts over and over again. They don't mention it in movies but it is accompanied by overbearing anxiety and extreme mental anguish. You will also have obsessive thoughts about how you are a bad person and something is terribly wrong with you. Some people also have obsessive thoughts about how they might not have OCD!

Another fact about having OCD is that it is rarely just that. OCD in many cases, is accompanied by panic attacks, tourette syndrome, hypochondria and eating disorders (called OCD spectrum disorders). Many people become more susceptible to depression when suffering from OCD.

People with OCD become more susceptible
to anxiety and depression
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While all the spectrum disorders are treatable, OCD cannot be cured; it can only be controlled. Consulting a specialist, indulging in things you love to do dearly, constant counselling, getting the right amount of sleep are some of the few ways OCD can be kept in check.

I always thought OCD is all about being a cleanliness freak and obsessing about symmetry and organisation (read about pure 'o', which is about experiencing obsessions, minus observable compulsions). I did not know how a person suffering from OCD undergoes so much more. I may not ever understand it completely, but if I try and imagine myself having OCD, I think I would feel terrible about myself every single day and think I am completely crazy. The reason why I wrote this post is to make people realise that labeling an obsessively clean and organised person as one suffering from OCD is ignorant and, to a certain extent, insensitive as OCD is clearly a very unpleasant disorder to have, and there is nothing 'hip' about it.



  1. Very nice article ANimesh, very well written. Thank you!

  2. Nice Article.. Too informative.. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Sreedhar. Any kind of appreciation is encouraging.. It keeps me inspired to post more.