Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
I have OCD (an anxiety disorder) otherwise known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
In every day speech, it's common for people with a tidy bedroom or desk to proclaim themselves as "OCD." Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, however it is a mental illness that means so much more than an affinity for organization.
OCD is characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do certain actions (compulsions). OCD is distressing and anxiety-evoking. OCD is a disorder defined as the presence of an obsession (an irrational thought or idea that continually repeats) and / or a compulsion (an irrational behavior performed repeatedly). These behaviors can occur together or on their own, and interfere with a person's quality of life and ability to function.
OCD means having a lack of control over certain thoughts or activities, so much so that they inhibit daily life.
Thus, there's a whole population of people that wouldn't appreciate the glamorization or trivialization of their disorder. The correct term for people who do not have OCD that use the term incorrectly should try using the words, "particular", "clean" or "organized" instead.
Despite having similar names and symptoms, OCD and OCPD (Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder) are distinct forms of mental illness that have unique and specific characteristics.
OCPD is a personality disorder which is characterized by a preoccupation with organization, perfectionism & control (both mental & interpersonal) at the expense of flexibility & efficiency. OCPD is often associated with rigidity, anger & inflexibility. OCPD is a personality disorder defined by strict adherence to orderliness & control over one's environment at the expense of flexibility & the openness to new experiences.
OCPD is characterized by personality traits such as: Excessive need for perfection and relentless control over one's environment and interpersonal relationships. Preoccupation with details, rules, lists, and order that can result in missing the major objective of an activity. Excessive devotion to work at the expense of family and friends. Rigidity and inflexibility with regards to morals, ethics, values and / or the adherence to rules. (Source: VeryWellMind)
I started seriously working on my mental health for the first time this past March, at the beginning of Covid and quarantine. Because of Covid and because of my OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and severe depression, I was so relieved that it was going to be virtual therapy.
I always put off therapy because I didn't want to dive deep and do the work. I was also afraid that I would be paired with a therapist that I didn't "jive" with and then I would have to start all over again, opening myself up to a new therapist from the beginning all over again. It seemed too daunting, draining and overwhelming.
I was so fortunate to be paired with an absolutely amazing therapist right from the start. I will talk more about this in another blog post so you can learn more about therapy and virtual therapy and resources where you can get help. You are not alone. I am a huge advocate for therapy and I want others to be aware of the multiple resources available to them.
I have been working on boundaries with myself that I am trying to be more consistent with every day. It's not easy though. I was always (and still am to a degree) Miss. Holistic and Miss. Alternative Medicine. But, I also realize there is a time and place for non alternative medicine too and hope one day the two can evolve closer together. It took me awhile to even consider taking any prescription whatsoever, but I finally wanted to try to see if it helped, as my disorders have been more severe and really amplified during the pandemic. I started taking Zoloft and it has helped so much. But, as I said I still have to work on boundaries with myself daily as far as my OCD goes.
Some examples of BOUNDARIES with myself
that I am LEARNING are...
1) I will not take calls or emails after a certain time.
2) I will say no to things that don't feel good for me or make me uncomfortable.
3) If someone in my life triggers me, I will take a pause to honor my own needs before responding.
4) I am going to set a limit on how much time I spend on social media.
5) I am allowed to choose rest and relaxation time.
As I was only recently diagnosed with OCD, my brother had tweeted out a post (he left my name out, but I am totally fine with it out there) saying:
"A close member of my family didn't get diagnosed until just recently. We need to make it much easier and encourage access to mental health care."
A friend of my brother's tweeted him back with this response:
"I was officially diagnosed with OCD (as part of my treatment for my eating disorder) at 14, and I remember as I told the doctor my history of symptoms, he looked at my Mom and said, "This sounds like it's been going on since she was 9 years old." All this knowing I had a family history of anxiety and OCD, but no one connected that until something serious happened. Even after my ED (eating disorder) recovery, I didn't come to terms with my ongoing anxiety until I was 25, when I talked with adult female friends who were already getting help. All this to say - you never know how the words you say and the stories you share could unlock something for someone, especially when it comes to women and mental health."
As I looked through the reply chain of tweets in response to my brother's post, another women tweeted, "Anecdotally, I've seen in myself, friends, and in memoirs, that 9 seems to be the age that something (whatever that something is) shifts."
Another women tweeted:
"I was diagnosed with OCD at 23 when I was nearly suicidal. Starting exhibiting symptoms at 9. 14 years of suffering."
I was glad my brother tweeted that out because all the responses he got were very illuminating and made me feel less alone and I related to feeling like this from a very young age but didn't understanding what was going on with me.
I remember when I was little (perhaps around 8 or 9 or so) I, for whatever reason was obsessed with stationary (living that Hello Kitty, Sanrio life) and I always had to have all my stationary displayed on my desk a certain way. I remember when I left my bedroom, my friend had moved things around on purpose or in my mind I thought it was on purpose. I didn't understand why I was so angry and upset. Like full on tears upset. It wasn't a normal reaction. I think I even told her to go home. I have glimpses of things that happened and reactions that were not normal even from a young age. It always came from a feeling of not being in control or some fear I didn't yet understand.
I also remember as a teenager watching this Drew Barrymore and Chris O'Donnell movie called Mad Love. Although Drew's character in the movie has bipolar disorder with periods of depression and periods of elevated mood, it was the first time I connected a movie to what mental illness and mental health was and what it looked like first hand from the person suffering from it and those around them.
Now, with the help of therapy, I can connect these OCD manic episodes to things most of the time. My OCD just got really worse over time and family members didn't see it continue because I had my own apartment in Florida and later when I moved to California. Perhaps, they might have always had a sense of something going on with me, but honestly didn't know how to handle it or what to do about it until it was right in front of them to witness. When I talk to my parents about it now, they honestly thought it was just me being an angsty teenager but at times they always thought it could be more than that. I had to really face it when I moved back home recently, because it's quite scary and overwhelming for people to witness someone with OCD and having a manic episode.
Women suffer from anxiety at nearly twice the rate of men and it can have serious repercussions. A coalition of women's health groups is now recommending that all girls and women be screened for anxiety disorders starting at age 13. ( Source: NPR )
As you can see in the image to the right, "The OCD cycle", people living with OCD have repeated, persistent & unwanted thoughts, images or impulses that occur over & over again in their mind. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts increase to anxiety & distress that leads to the need to react / do something.
People living with OCD have repetitive behaviors or mental acts that are meant to reduce anxiety related to the obsessions.
These compulsions lead to a temporary relief, but the person may go back to having the same anxious, worrying thoughts then the obsessions come back.
For me, I have various rituals and / or compulsions that I would do that gave me a sense of control (or temporary relief) in what I would call an out of control world. These symptoms have since decreased with Zoloft.
Things that would trigger these rituals / or compulsions would be when I didn't feel safe or I felt out of control. Examples would be:
Having an upsetting disagreement
Family tension / family issues
Fear of losing someone in my family
My Mom having 2 lumpectomy surgeries (zero stage carcinoma in situ) and radiation (all during a pandemic mind you)
My Dad getting an emergency surgery for a pacemaker this past July (during a pandemic)
Driving to the emergency at 1am for my Dad's high blood pressure (he was fine, thank god....he had just switched his blood pressure medication from morning to evening and that seemed to trigger a super high BP to 190). It was beyond traumatic because when my Mom and I went to walk my Dad inside the emergency, I had completely forgotten about the pandemic and hospital protocol (as I said, it was 1am and I was already having episodes of insomnia and I was in such a daze) that when they told us we could not go inside (or even one of us) I had a nervous breakdown not sure if that was going to be the last time I saw my Dad.
I have also been diagnosed with having Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) which is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome that includes physical and behavioral symptoms that usually resolve with the onset of menstruation. PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt work and damage relationships. Symptoms include extreme sadness, hopelessness, irritability, or anger. Once again, the Zoloft has really helped lessen these symptoms. PMDD on top of OCD would also trigger me to do these rituals that I mention below.
These rituals / or compulsions I would have (or I am still working through) consist of the following:
Obsessively organizing things from morning to night. Literally. I would move from redoing a closet, organizing hangers by color, then move to organizing paperwork, from that move to cleaning the kitchen until every inch was spotless, then move to vacuum cleaning the entire house, organizing my drawers, anything you could think of organizing I would do but without stopping and / or sometimes without eating all day.
Obsessively thinking or beating myself up for not handling a situation correctly.
Obsessively thinking of things in my past (especially at night, hence the insomnia) and how I could have done things differently.
Obsessively thinking about traumatic things that I have be through or have witnessed.
Obsessively sterilizing everything I can think of...I was doing this prior to the pandemic so you can only imagine how heightened and amplified this has become.
Upon entering a plane, I always have to do the sign of the cross, kiss my hand and touch the plane. When the plane starts descending up until the time it lands, I would have to cross both my fingers until the plane landed safely and then I could uncross my fingers. This was a compulsion and ritual I felt I had to do. I felt, I had to do it for fear if I didn't something might happen because I didn't do this ritual.
Obsessively working on my website from morning to night. I need to get better at this because even though it is a passion and enjoyable to me, I don't set limits to how long I work on my website. I now set an alarm to take breaks, stretch, walk, exercise, go to the bathroom and stop for the day. The alarm keeps me on track to implement a healthier way to enjoy working on my website and writing so I do not become overly obsessive or that I use my website as a substitute for my OCD where it isn't enjoyable anymore. I hope that makes sense.....
Those are just some examples above. There are more that I know I am forgetting. These compulsive behaviors are enacted in an attempt to avoid obsessive thoughts and diffuse the inner turmoil brought on by them. I will be writing a follow up post on what I have learned through therapy that has helped me with my OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
I would like to thank my supportive parents and brother, my relatives, my doctors, my therapist, my group therapists, the wonderful people in my group therapy that have shared their experiences, my wonderful friends, The Depression Project and @what.is.mental.illness on Instagram for all your love and support.
Please do not self diagnose. If you relate to a lot of these things, please seek professional help. I wanted to create this post to raise awareness and encourage those who may relate to reach out. I will be doing more posts like this in the future, so be sure to sign up to be on my mailing list, so you don't miss any of my new blog posts.