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What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
She triple-checks that all the doors in the house have been locked when leaving on vacation. At the airport she grabs the restroom door with a paper towel to avoid germs. Rummaging through her packed purse she uses all the hand sanitizer but saves the empty bottle to use for something else later. When seated on the plane her thoughts turn to dying in a crash. Some people would say this woman has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but OCD runs much deeper than merely being cautious and a little frightened. Her actions may mimic the symptoms, but only a study of her actions would tell if she truly needed help for OCD.
The symptoms in the scenario above become threatening to a person’s mental health when they excessively interfere with daily routines. If the woman spent hours checking the locks of her home, cancelled her trip in fear of germs outside of her home or let thoughts of death, guilt or fear keep her from being able to enjoy a trip, then those symptoms have overtaken her and kept her hostage.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is categorized in one of the four following categories: checking; contamination; hoarding; and intrusive thoughts.
Checking that doors are locked, candles have been blown out or that windows have been closed are all normal acts to protect the safety of the home and the people inside. People with OCD may spend an excessive amount of time checking these things to the point that it makes them late for work or appointments. They feel they cannot leave until everything is secure, and it may take hours before they feel everything has been adequately checked.
People with OCD may obsessively check that smoke alarms are functioning properly, lights and the sink are off and may re-read their own writing over and over to make sure it is not offensive to the reader. They may compulsively read about illnesses that they believe they have contracted. Checking can also include checking on people, like calling or texting obsessively to check on loved ones.
People with OCD feel the compulsion to clean or wash everything. They fear that if they don’t, they or their loved ones will get germs and become ill or even die. The compulsion continues until the person feels they have cleaned everything thoroughly. It doesn’t matter if the object sparkles or that their hands have been rubbed raw from repetitive hand-scrubbing. The person cannot stop cleaning until they “feel” it is clean.
Some people feel a mental rather than physical contamination. When mean words or anguishing thoughts envelope them they try and literally wash away those emotions by scrubbing their skin.
Hoarding aren’t just dirty or messy. They have a difficult time discarding objects that are old, worn or even useless.
As the public’s interest in hoarders grows, treatment for this form of OCD is also improving.
Irrational beliefs, thoughts or images about relationships, religion, sex, violence or superstitions can pop into people’s minds periodically, but for someone with OCD those disturbing thoughts consume their mind so much that they fear they will be the victims or the perpetrators of those actions.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder goes beyond merely checking a door or having an unpleasant thought. With proper mental health care, individuals with OCD can shed their fears, compulsions and obsessions and walk confidently in the world again.