By Lisa Pitts

Common Myths about OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects a huge number of people. Approximately 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the United States suffer with OCD, to varying degrees of severity. As most of us know, OCD is an obsession based compulsion to engage in ritualistic behavior, often to the detriment of the sufferer. It can cause a huge strain on the lives of those with it, and those around them. Whilst many sufferers and spokespeople are more vocal about the condition than ever before, stigma and misconceptions still surround OCD. So let’s dispel a few of them…

Myth: “I wash my hands X times per day, I have OCD!”

There is a huge difference between OCD and someone who just likes to have clean hands. Whilst obsessive hand washing is certainly one variation of OCD, it goes far beyond just having meticulous personal hygiene. When I suffered from OCD I didn’t just wash my hands because I wanted them to be clean, I washed them because I needed them to be clean – as if my life depended on it. If my hands weren’t clean, everything would go on hold until they were. OCD by its nature makes you think irrationally. If it doesn’t seem like the end of world if you don’t get the opportunity to wash your hands as much as you’d like, then chances are you don’t have OCD of the hand washing variety.

Myth: OCD is all about cleanliness and hygiene

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is ritualistic behavior that can extend to every area of life imaginable, in many ways. The main subcategories of OCD include (but are not limited to) washing and cleanliness, checking, repeating, ordering & arranging, and mental rituals. As such, even the simplest of day-to-day activities can become ritualized by a sufferer. For example, closing a door – the simplest of tasks for most people, but back when I suffered with OCD closing my bedroom door used to take me about a minute. When I closed it, I had to do so with my right finger pushed up against the right hand corner of the top panel. From there, I had to press the door 16 times to make sure it was shut – with four second intervals in-between each push.  This was because 16 was my lucky number, and four when squared was also my lucky number. If I didn’t do this, I believed with every part of my being that something terrible would happen – I’d tell myself if I didn’t do it that my mother would fall terminally ill, that my home would be destroyed, or that I would have bad luck for the rest of my life. Even though part of me knew it was irrational, I wasn’t prepared to take that chance. The urge was so overwhelming to perform this ritual, that performing it felt like a release. Peace would be restored, and I could continue on with my life – or what life I had with OCD.

Whilst numeric rituals are common in those with OCD, the condition can involve anything, be it objects, people or places. What defines it as OCD, is the overwhelming compulsion to do or think. The severity can be minor or major, and it comes packaged in a variety of ways – not just cleanliness.

Myth: OCD is developed during childhood

Whilst OCD can certainly develop within childhood (usually from the ages of 8 – 12 years), the average onset for most people is around the late teens or early twenties; though it can occur anytime. Therefore it’s not necessarily something caused by a traumatic childhood, or growing up in a broken home. Whilst the causes of OCD aren’t crystal clear, research suggests that a combination of genetics, serotonin levels within the brain, and environmental factors can all play a part.

Myth: OCD is a women’s condition

This isn’t true, OCD occurs within both genders equally.

Myth: OCD can’t be cured

Whilst there isn’t a specific cure for OCD, it doesn’t mean that the condition can’t be cured by various treatments. Whilst there are currently no tests to determine OCD, a diagnosis is made after a doctor/patient interview. From there, various treatments and therapies are available, but the one the National Institute of Mental Health and Harvard Medical School both recommend is CBT – aka, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s also possible that an individual can recover on their own, whether consciously or not. For me, I simply decided that I would no longer have my life ruled by OCD and worked hard for years to break the irrational thought patterns. For those who don’t see that as an option however, help is out there – OCD can most definitely be cured.

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