Debunking Myths about OCD
If you ask a random person what OCD is what do you think they will say? Will they answer that it is an often debilitating anxiety disorder that affects adults and children? Will they say it involves hours of obsessive thoughts and repetitive, distressing rituals to try to relieve this anxiety? Probably not. Instead you will likely get mostly stereotypical and incorrect answers. Most mental illnesses are misunderstood by people who don’t have experience with them and OCD is definitely among them. Today I want to debunk a few of the most common myths and misconceptions about OCD.
1. Everyone with OCD is clean and organized.
OCD is an anxiety disorder that can involve a wide range of different fears. Yes, some people have rituals that involve cleaning or organizing, but only some individuals. Also, when cleaning and organizing are rituals they are not fun; they are incredibly stressful. The person feels compelled to do them to prevent disaster and wishes they could stop. On the other hand, if you find organizing or cleaning fun this is not a symptom of OCD. OCD is not a synonym for tidy, organized, or color-coded.
2. OCD only means washing your hands and fearing germs.
I can proudly say I have OCD and if I drop a cookie on the floor you can bet I will still eat that cookie. A fear of germs and contamination is only one way OCD can manifest itself. There are so many other ways OCD can intrude into your life. For example, other common fears OCD creates include fears of harming others or yourself, fears of doing something immoral or blasphemous, or fears of being responsible for a disaster, such as causing of a fire. OCD is very creative at finding ways to scare you. The different obsessions and compulsions OCD can involve are infinite, and often unique to the individual. For more examples of common obsessions and compulsions click here.
“Lolz, I’m so OCD about putting my m&m’s in rainbow order.” For goodness sakes, no. Let me repeat, OCD is an anxiety disorder. We have terrifying and gruesome thoughts that repeat in our heads, these cause us to feel intense anxiety, and then we do rituals or avoid because we are desperate to try to lessen this anxiety. Unfortunately the relief from the anxiety after ritualizing is only temporary so the obsessions and anxiety come back even stronger the next time. OCD causes a great deal of distress and it also takes up several hours a day, depending on severity. People with OCD often have to leave jobs or are fired; some individuals unintentionally damage relationships with friends or family. OCD wrecks havoc on the lives of individuals with the disorder. Also, it isn’t usually “just OCD.” Most people with OCD have co-morbid conditions such as depression, trichotillomania/dermatillomania, eating disorders, or Tourette syndrome.
4. OCD is untreatable.
I think this is the most important myth to debunk because it is one that could have a large effect on someone with OCD if they or their families believe this. Effective treatment does exist! The recommended treatment is called exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) and it is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves gradually facing your fears. You purposely trigger yourself and learn to sit with the anxiety and discomfort without doing rituals. You let the anxiety come down on its own. I’m not going to lie and say ERP is easy. Exposures are hard and you have to be willing to make yourself uncomfortable. However, they absolutely work. With enough time and practice you no longer need to do rituals to feel safe and you are able to tolerate feeling anxious with the knowledge that it will soon fade. ERP is also often combined with mindfulness, ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), or medication. For help finding a therapist who treats OCD check out this webpage from the International OCD Foundation.
To hear more myths about OCD busted check out this video by fellow OCD advocate Ellen: The Stereotypes and Misconceptions about OCD
Other blog posts for OCD Awareness Week:
Day #1: OCD is when…
Day #2: Debunking Myths about OCD
Day #4: I think I have OCD. Now what?
Day #6: My perfectionism will have to deal with the fact that I missed a day.