OCD is not a Synonym for Perfectionism


By: Emma Corbeil (@unitdstatesofem)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over. Although this is how it’s defined, it’s important to know that mental illnesses manifest themselves differently in each person.

OCD is actually an anxiety disorder, and it can commonly co-occur with other anxiety disorders such as GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and panic disorder. Something that is very common among anxiety disorders is the act of rumination. Rumination is the process of thinking deeply about something, often overthinking things. This is something key to remember when learning about OCD.

The thought process that someone with OCD has is very different than those without. Often times a fleeting thought will spring into someone’s mind, something that they could be uncomfortable with such as a violent thought, or one that they would consider to be morally wrong. Thoughts like these come across individuals every day and many would brush these thoughts off, but those with OCD tend to ruminate on them.

Intrusive thoughts can become a problem very quickly; what could have been a fleeting thought is now something that a person will obsess over. These intrusive thoughts can frighten the individuals who are dealing with them and they will obsess over these thoughts until it drives them to somehow counteract them. The act that counteracts an obsession is a compulsion.

Symptoms of obsessions include, but are not limited to:
• Fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or by touching objects others have touched
• Doubts that you've locked the door or turned off the stove
• Intense stress when objects aren't orderly or facing a certain way
• Images of hurting yourself or someone else
• Thoughts about shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately
• Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands
• Distress about unpleasant sexual images repeating in your mind

Obsessions typically have a theme, such as the fear of dirt and contamination or the fear of injuring yourself or somebody else.  Symptoms of compulsions include, but are not limited to:
• Hand-washing until your skin becomes raw
• Checking doors repeatedly to make sure they're locked
• Checking the stove repeatedly to make sure it's off
• Counting in certain patterns
• Silently repeating a prayer, word or phrase
• Arranging your canned goods to face the same way

Just like obsessions, compulsions have themes, themes that go together with the obsessions. Many individuals experience these symptoms in a minor matter that eventually grows in severity when gone without treatment. The cause of OCD is not fully known. Although many people may have a predisposition to this disorder, other outside factors can trigger it. Disorders like OCD also tend to run in families.

One key thing that I believe is frequently misconstrued when discussing OCD is the idea that obsessive-compulsive disorder is all about perfectionism. I frequently see in my own personal life as well as the internet people using the term OCD incorrectly. I have heard it and seen it used in many ways including: “My mom hates when I don’t clean my room, she’s so OCD.” “Yeah I like having my desk neat; I’m just OCD like that.” I’ve even seen a share of twitter accounts that use the term OCD to describe supposedly perfect images. As if seeing a stack of perfectly round pancakes would ease my obsession of accidentally hurting my mother.
OCD is not just about liking things in a perfect way.

OCD can be debilitating and can lead to any of the following things:
• Inability to attend work, school or social activities
• Troubled relationships
• Overall poor quality of life
• Anxiety disorders
• Depression
• Eating disorders
• Suicidal thoughts and behavior
• Alcohol or other substance abuse
• Contact dermatitis from frequent hand-washing

Obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment may not result in a cure, but it can help you bring symptoms under control so they don't rule your daily life. Some people require treatment for the rest of their lives. The two main treatments for OCD are psychotherapy and medications; treatment is most effective with a combination of these.

A type of therapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the most effective treatment. This therapy involves gradually exposing you to a feared object or obsession, such as dirt, and having you learn healthy ways to cope with your anxiety. Exposure therapy takes effort and practice, but you may enjoy a better quality of life once you learn to manage your obsessions and compulsions. These types of therapy sessions can also be done with family, especially if a fear of the patient includes friends and family. It is important to know that although treatment may be a difficult process, it is very worthwhile. No treatment plan is going to be the same across the board, but finding what works for the patient is the most important thing.

Before I finish I would like to briefly mention my experience with OCD. I have something that can be known as “Pure O,” this is a form of OCD that doesn’t experience compulsions… As I said, mental illnesses can present themselves differently in every person. My struggle with this disorder has caused strain on my behalf in my relationships with friends and family. I frequently fear that I will cause harm and lash out at the people that I love. And sadly, those pictures of perfectly placed floor tiling are not easing my distress.

If YOU are experiencing OCD, know that you are not alone. I myself deal with it every day. The concept of going through treatment accompanied with the stigma that surrounds OCD can discourage people from seeking help… But I assure you that it will be the best thing for you. It’s not okay to suffer in silence. If you need help, know that there are many options for you.
Lastly, an important step in breaking the stigmatic wall that surrounds mental illness is to simply talk about it. Spread your information like wildfire. Anything that you can do, like the simple act of retweeting information, can truthfully help.

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