Do You Have OCD?
By Fred Penzel, Ph.D.
I think most of you would agree that trying to figure out who you are these days is complicated enough without having to also deal with new and unusual thoughts and behaviors that you can’t seem to shut off. It’s pretty unnerving to suddenly find yourself constantly going over things you never thought about before, or even cared about. The thoughts or worries may always be on the same topic, or they can change from day-to-day. No matter how hard you try to change the channel in your head, it just won’t. What’s worse, some of the subjects can be extremely scary, creepy, nasty, or even disgusting. They can be about bad things happening to you, your family and friends, or even your pets. Sometimes the thoughts tell you that you, yourself, want to make these bad things happen.
It can be lonely, too. You get the feeling that if you try to explain it to your parents or your friends, they just won’t understand, or you worry that they will think you’re just crazy. Having to do things over and over again makes you feel out of control and it does sort of seem to be crazy. You are probably spending a lot of time wondering, “What is this?” or “How did this happen to me?” or, “Why would anyone do things like this?” You may even ask yourself, “Why me?”
Well, you can stop wondering. There actually are answers to all these questions. Chances are, if the things mentioned above sound like you, you may have a problem known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, for short. Obviously, only a trained psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker can diagnose a problem like this, but the point of this article is to at least give you some information about the problem. This way, you can know what questions to ask these people, and also, having information about something can make it less mysterious and scary. “Okay, great,” you’re thinking, “So maybe I have this OCD thing I never wanted. But how do I know for sure if I really have it? Where did it come from, and how can I get it out of my head and my life in the shortest possible time?”
First of all, it is probably a good idea to know what OCD actually is. Unfortunately, a lot of people overuse the term OCD, and think it describes people who are very neat, perfectionistic, or very organized. You might hear them laugh and say, “Oh yeah, I must have OCD.” This is definitely not what OCD is all about, and couldn’t be further from the truth. OCD is a real disorder that can definitely cause you real problems that are no joke.
OCD symptoms have two parts. First (big surprise) there are the obsessions. What are they? Obsessions are stubbornly, repetitive thoughts or images that keep intruding into your thinking. Also, they aren’t just everyday worries like that test or paper you have to work on, or whether your friends are returning your texts. They can be very doubtful, and usually have to do with some kind of harm happening to you or other people in your life. Sometimes the thoughts can tell you that you are, or will be to blame in some way, or else that you are a bad person and should feel guilty. As you can guess, this results in lot of fear and anxiety. You may find yourself talking back to the thoughts or arguing with them, but this won’t help. Neither will trying to change the channel in your head or to think of something else. It just won’t let you, and it won’t give you a break. On top of all this, the thoughts can seem very real. Real enough to make you want to do something about them.
This brings us to the other half of OCD – the compulsions. Basically, compulsions are anything that you do – mental or physical, to try to get rid of the anxiety that is caused by the obsessions. Compulsions are the solutions people come up with when they have obsessions, and they usually aren’t good solutions. Their purpose is to cancel out or undo the bad things that the obsessions say have happened or will happen. Compulsions can include such things as asking millions of questions to get reassurance; washing, showering, or changing your clothes over and over; double-checking things such as doors, windows, the stove, or even your personal belongings (to make sure you didn’t lose anything); doing magical superstitious rituals with numbers, words, names, etc.; arranging or putting things in a perfect order or trying to do other things perfectly, or saving and collecting really large amounts of things you may not need or want. There are many more types of compulsions that people do than we have space for here. They seem like okay solutions at first, because they can make the anxiety go away for a little while, but they can expand to fill up a lot of your day, and can even seem as if they are taking over your life. At times, when you get anxious, you feel as if you just have to do them, no matter what, or you will feel even more anxious. They can feel like an addiction.
You might be wondering if it is rare. The answer is no. About one out of every forty people has OCD. Just to compare this with other problems, only about one in three hundred has juvenile diabetes, and slightly more than one in twenty has asthma. For OCD, that would mean that out of every forty people in your school, it is likely that one of them has OCD. As you can see, you aren’t alone.
“Well, how did I get this?” you may be asking at this point. “Is it something you catch, or does it have to do with the way you were brought up?” What the experts are telling us is that it is most likely genetic – something you inherited from your parents. There may even be people in your family tree with OCD. Sometimes it could be so mild that you might not even know that they have it. This means that no one is really to blame for this, including you.
What if you still aren’t sure if OCD really is your problem? Here are some questions for you to look over. If you answer “Yes” to one of more of them, it would be a good idea to have talk to your parents and have them take you to see someone who is an expert in spotting and treating OCD, such as a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a social worker.
- Are you often bothered by repetitive thoughts that are unwanted, intrusive, and that cause you to feel anxious?
- Do you spend a lot of time washing or cleaning yourself or your belongings?
- Do you have a much greater-than-average fears of germs, dirt, or chemicals?
- Is your living space filled or cluttered with excessive amounts of possessions or useless items that you are simply unable to throw away?
- Are you bothered by thoughts of acting inappropriately toward other people in violent or sexual ways?
- Do you often feel the urge to check things over and over, for fear of having done something careless that could harm either yourself or others?
- Do you constantly question others or try to get them to reassure you that you have not behaved badly in some way?
- Do you constantly question others or try to get them to reassure you that something bad will or will not happen to yourself or others?
- Do you feel that at times, you have to do special repetitive behaviors or think in special ways in order to prevent bad things from happening to yourself or others, or to cancel out bad luck?
- Are you bothered by blasphemous or irreligious thoughts, or do you constantly think that you are not observing the beliefs or laws of your religion perfectly enough?
- Do you spend a lot of time trying to order or arrange things in your environment, in order to make them perfect or symmetrical in some way?
- Do you feel totally responsible for the well being and safety of others (even strangers), to the point of constantly checking on them and worrying about them?
- Are you constantly troubled by serious doubts, and do you have a lot of difficulty in making decisions?
- Are you overly worried about lucky or unlucky numbers, or do you have to perform particular actions a special number of times to prevent bad things from happening?
The main thing you want to remember is that you are not bad or crazy, even if the thoughts are bad or crazy. There is good help out there, so this means that you can recover from it and have a good life. You don’t have to be ashamed of it, or about asking for help for it. Whatever you do, don’t keep it a secret. Don’t just talk to your friends about it. Talk to your parents or an adult you trust. Don’t wait. The sooner you do something about it, the sooner you will start to feel better.