One reason I don’t like telling people that I have OCD is that I frequently get this response: Oh my god me too! I am such a neat freak! I hate when my house gets cluttered! My friends are always telling me that I’m OCD.
First off, no one is OCD. People have OCD. But that’s beside the point.
My point is that sometimes people think they have OCD just because they have a little quirk (like being a neat freak or liking things to be a certain way). That isn’t OCD. In some cases it could be OCPD (obsessive compulsive personality disorder), but I’ll cover that in a future post. For a quick overview of OCPD, here’s some info.
OCD is an anxiety disorder. It’s a mental illness. People with OCD perform rituals because they feel huge amounts of anxiety and their compulsions calm their anxiety. OCD sets off alarms–very loud alarms–in a person’s head for irrational reasons.
The Difference: An Example
There are two people who keep their homes very neat, very clean. One has OCD and one does not. The person who does not have OCD keeps her home neat just because she likes her home to be neat. It makes her happy or relaxes her. She just like it that way. It’s a preference.
The person with OCD keeps her home neat because she has to, because she gets extremely anxious if something is even a little bit out of place. This anxiety is the kind of anxiety a normal person feel when his or her life is threatened. Some describe it as an apocalyptic-type dread. It’s a fear that something really, really horrible will happen if things aren’t done a certain way.
Of course there is a lot more to OCD than needing things to be neat. There are so many other symptoms. This is just one example.
The DSM’s Definition of OCD
Since I don’t have a degree in psychology, here’s how the DSM defines OCD (taken from emedicine):
“OCD is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) as an anxiety disorder.1 It is characterized by distressing intrusive obsessive thoughts and/or repetitive compulsive actions (which may be physical or mental acts) that are clinically significant. The specific DSM-IV-TR criteria for OCD are as follows:
The individual expresses either obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are defined by the following 4 criteria.
- Recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images are experienced at some time during the disturbance as intrusive and inappropriate and cause marked anxiety and distress. Those with this disorder recognize the craziness of these unwanted thoughts (such as fears of hurting their children) and would not act on them, but the thoughts are very disturbing and difficult to tell others about.
- The thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems.
- The person attempts to suppress or ignore such thoughts, impulses, or images or to neutralize them with some other thought or action.
- The person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his/her own mind (not imposed from without, as in thought insertion).
Compulsions are defined by the following 2 criteria:
- The person performs repetitive behaviors (eg, hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (eg, praying, counting, repeating words silently) in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.
- The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are meant to neutralize or prevent or they are clearly excessive.
At some point during the course of the disorder, the person recognizes that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable. This does not apply to children.
The obsessions or compulsions cause marked distress; are time consuming (take >1 h/d); or significantly interfere with the person’s normal routine, occupational or academic functioning, or usual social activities or relationships.
If another Axis I disorder is present, the content of the obsessions or compulsions is not restricted to it, such as preoccupation with food and weight in the presence of an eating disorder, hair pulling in the presence of trichotillomania, concern with appearance in body dysmorphic disorder, preoccupation with drugs in substance use disorder, preoccupation with having a serious illness in hypochondriasis, preoccupation with sexual urges in paraphilia, or guilty ruminations in the presence of major depressive disorder.
The disorder is not due to the direct physiologic effects of a substance or a general medical condition.
The additional specification of “with poor insight” is made if, for most of the current episode, the person does not recognize that the symptoms are excessive or unreasonable.”
Oh, OCD. You drive me crazy!
So do you see why simply wanting things to be a certain way or being a little bit quirky does not mean a person has OCD? I hope so. I hope I was clear, but of course I have OCD so right now I am obsessing about whether or not I explained things clearly, whether or not I wrote at all coherently. My mind won’t stop screaming that I didn’t get this just right, that if I post it, I’ll only screw everything up. So because I’m supposed to be doing the opposite of what OCD wants, I’m going to post this even though it doesn’t feel “just right.”
Do you have any questions about OCD that you’d like answered? I’m not an expert and I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I can promise to do my best to find answers. I have been researching OCD for the past decade and have come across some great resources. Plus I have a therapist and she is an expert. She is more than used to me asking lots and lots of questions.