OCD is a hugely misunderstood mental condition.
In part, this is because there’s so much misinformation about the condition, compounded with a great deal of misrepresentation in popular media.
Another reason is that OCD shows up in so many ways, and explaining “OCD logic” is difficult. Even people who have been diagnosed with OCD struggle to understand it.
This misunderstanding can be a problem.
Many people with OCD don’t quite realize what’s happening to them. This means that it can be more difficult for them to seek help. It can also be scary, as you don’t quite understand your thoughts or behavior. Also, many people with OCD are misdiagnosed, which means they might not get the treatment they need.
Personally, I’ve found that understanding my OCD has been the key to dealing with it.
OCD is made up of two parts:
- obsessions, which are intrusive, unwanted, persistent thoughts
- compulsions, which are actions you perform to “relieve” those thoughts
Sometimes, the compulsion is logical.
For example, the obsession might be the persistent thought that you’ll accidentally leave the house unlocked, and your compulsion might be to check the locks 10 times.
For some of us, the compulsions are meant to get rid of the thought. For others, it’s meant to reduce the chances of your fear actually occurring.
For those of us who think our obsessive thoughts will manifest our fears, it’s both.
In other situations, the compulsion seems totally unrelated.
I used to have intrusive thoughts that all my loved ones would suddenly all die. I had a compulsion where I’d wring my hands. Although these seem totally unrelated, it’s what made sense to some part of me at the time.
In that way, a compulsion is a lot like scratching an itch.
Even though you know scratching won’t make the rash go away, you want that temporary relief. There’s a part of you that believes your compulsion will “neutralize” or soothe the threat.
And sometimes, scratching makes a rash worse: it opens your skin, leading to further inflammation and redness.
In the same way, engaging in those compulsions doesn’t help your mental health. But at the time, it feels necessary.
When my dog itches, I don’t feel it — I only hear and see the scratching. And in the same way, people never see the obsessive thoughts that plague me daily. They see only the compulsions.
It’s easy for me to yell at my dog to stop scratching, but it doesn’t help. It’s also easy for people without OCD to advise those with germophobia to just stop cleaning things excessively, but that doesn’t help.
While it sounds simple in theory, it’s as hard as trying not to scratch after you’ve rolled through poison ivy.
And that’s why OCD is so misunderstood: Other people see only the tip of the iceberg.