Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors that are performed to reduce anxiety (compulsions). Approximately 3.3 million Americans suffer from OCD, which outranks other disorders such as bipolar disorder, panic disorder and schizophrenia.
One of those sufferers is me.
I’ve always liked organization, but I thought that was just the teacher in me. I mean, what teacher doesn’t color code her entire classroom? I didn’t realize I actually had a problem until my freshman year of college, when I had a roommate for the first time. Not only was our room/bathroom constantly dirty, but it wasn’t my filth.
I can tolerate my own trash for so long, but I can’t stand for other girls’ hair to get tangled in my toes while I’m taking a shower. I began having panic attacks, constant debilitating headaches and lost focus on any schoolwork. On top of everything, my mom was also undergoing cancer treatment. This is when I knew something had to be done.
A stereotypical symptom of OCD is hand washing. We are usually germaphobes in every way possible. However, there are many other common signs and rituals. Constant checking and counting, repeatedly cleaning certain areas, arranging items in a certain way and never feeling clean are just some of the issues we face daily.
Thankfully, my symptoms have lessened as I’ve learned to control the compulsions. I still re-organize my closet and desk about every two weeks—I just have to get everything straightened back up and spaced out correctly. I’ve never been one to organize my clothes by color. I organize them by article of clothing.
My closet must have every hanger the same space away from each other, spaced correctly on the whole rack. That’s probably the biggest physical aspect still dominant in my life now. Of course, I still can’t stand filth. I don’t keep my fingernails long because I can’t stand the thought of dirt under my nails and not being able to get them clean.
Mostly, the anxiety (obsessions) is what I struggle with more than anything. I seem to constantly be in a state of anxiousness about something. The thing that most people don’t understand is that we worry about the smallest things. It’s important to remember that OCD is a type of anxiety disorder.
Along with anxiety and compulsions, depression is also common among OCD sufferers. This is such a broad disorder, and there are absolutely no cookie-cutter symptoms or defining characteristics. Some people have a constant fear of themselves or someone they love being in danger. I’ve not experienced that as much as some of the other symptoms, so it really just varies from person to person.
The one characteristic that completely surprised me when I was diagnosed is the social aspect of the disorder. I thought it was just a brain/body connection, but it actually heavily affects patients’ social lives. Many of us withdraw from social situations and have trouble making deep connections with friends. We are slow to trust, especially those who know we suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. All my life, I’ve been more withdrawn and socially isolated, but I finally understood why when I was diagnosed.
As you can see, OCD is a multi-faceted disorder. No two patients show the same symptoms or deal with their compulsions in the same way. With 33 million patients in the U.S., it’s pretty likely that you know someone who suffers from OCD, whether you know it or not.
If someone has trusted you enough to let you know about their disorder, please don’t take it for granted—that was a really big mountain to climb. If you don’t know someone with OCD, please respect our fight and join us to raise awareness and educate our community about a very real disorder. To some, it may be a catchy line on a T-shirt, but it’s an everyday struggle to us.