Like many mental health issues, the portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder in popular culture tends to reduce it to a punchline or a mild eccentricity. The reality of OCD is far more serious, and if left untreated it can have far-reaching effects on the quality of life for those who live with it.
You probably have heard about obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, but do you really know what it is? If we’re to believe the numerous portrayals of OCD on television, we might think it is a quirky, even humorous disorder that manifests in perfectionism, rigorous cleanliness, attention to order, and frequent handwashing. But while OCD often appears casually or even jokingly in popular culture, the real and debilitating effects of this disorder are typically totally unknown.
Personality disorders by definition cause significant negative impacts to people’s daily lives, relationships, and aspirations. OCD is no different, with repetitive behaviours dominating daily routines and resulting in discomfort, isolation, and shame. Understanding this complex condition underscores that OCD is no joke, and that treatment can help people regain control and peace in their lives.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a personality disorder that causes repeated, unwanted thoughts or impulses to act. People living with OCD find these intrusive thoughts or compulsive actions disruptive and exhausting, and extremely difficult to let go of even with sustained, conscious effort.
Though there are no official subtypes of OCD, clinical experience has shown that OCD tends to manifest in four different types:
- Order and symmetry
- Cleaning and contamination
- Hoarding that links to obsessive thoughts or compulsive actions
- Forbidden, harmful, disturbing or taboo thoughts or urges
While the causes of OCD remain unknown, research has indicated that biological as well as environmental factors are at play. Studies have also suggested that OCD is linked to neurological factors, particularly irregular levels of the mood-stabilising neurotransmitter serotonin.
Understanding the Symptoms of OCD
Each of the four types manifests with a set of different symptoms, but all symptoms are persistent and unpleasant, take up at least an hour of each day, and negatively impact a person’s quality of life and a sense of wellbeing. If left untreated, the symptoms can become debilitating.
Symptoms of OCD can also vary between people, and some with OCD may experience obsessions or compulsions related to more than one type.
Symptoms of Order and Symmetry-Related OCD
- Need for things to be organised or categorised in the “right” way
- Need for actions to be symmetrical (if you pick up a cup with your right hand, you then feel the need to pick it up with your left as well)
- Counting things or actions (such as steps), and being compelled to restart if you lose count
- Irrational fear of something bad happening if things are not placed correctly or counted accurately
- Rigid rituals around counting or organising, for example always starting from a certain place or with a specific action
Symptoms of Cleaning and Contamination-Related OCD
- Sustained, significant fear of germs and infection
- Compulsively washing or throwing away items believed to be dirty
- Not using or doing things you think may get you sick
- Repetitive thoughts about being dirty or exposed to contaminants
- Excessive hand-washing or showering
- Rituals around washing, cleaning or showering
Symptoms of Hoarding-Related OCD
- Buying multiples of the same item when you don’t need it
- Feeling like having a certain number of specific items will protect you from harm
- Ongoing anxiety that you will accidentally throw away something you will need later
- Feeling incomplete or uncomfortable if you lose or throw something away, even if it is not a necessity
- Being unable to dispose of something because touching it may contaminate you
- Compulsively checking your things (clothes, dishes, etc.)
- Not wanting to keep things, but feeling like you have to
Symptoms of Intrusive Thought-Related OCD
- Persistent, disturbing lines of thought or mental images that could be related to violence, sex, religion, illness or death, and often occur with extreme anxiety
- Rituals to attempt to quell or silence these thoughts
- Need to confess your thoughts or seek reassurance from others that your thoughts are not real and have not been actualised
- Ongoing worry that you will become a bad person, may have harmed someone in some way, or will be subject to harm or illness
- Questioning your sexual orientation or proclivities
- Deep sense of guilt, shame, and stress about these thoughts
An Inside Perspective: Multi-Talent Howie Mandel Shares His Experience with OCD
Well-known comedian, actor, television personality, screenwriter, director and author Howie Mandel has a long, successful history on both stage and screen. His important autobiography, Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me, chronicles his life and discusses living with OCD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In an interview with Everyday Health, Mandel describes how obsessive thoughts take hold with OCD.
A thought that enters my head — good, bad, or indifferent — isn’t any different from anybody else’s. The problem is, it’s like a sticking record, and that thought continuously goes through and through like a loop. And I have a compulsion to act on it. The simplest example I can give you is: I don’t think I locked the door, so I go back and I check the door like everyone else. And then I still don’t think I locked the door, so I go back and check the door again. And I still think I didn’t lock the door. And I can go back, like, 30 times. Intellectually, I know that I’ve checked the door 29 times before, but I can’t stop myself from going back and checking it again and again and again.
He goes on to explain that while there is no cure for OCD, management and coping skills are critical, and stresses there are many options for help for those struggling with OCD:
There’s a veritable cornucopia of things that can be done, and that’s what people should know. I’ve been dealing with this for years, and I’ve done tons and tons of things and will continue to do many, many things.
Treatment Options for OCD
There is no one-size fits all approach for treating OCD, but connecting with a mental health professional who is familiar with the different options available is an important first step in seeking help.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one type of tool commonly used to address OCD. CBT involves identifying, examining and altering established patterns of thought to help relieve obsessive thinking. Since stress can exacerbate OCD symptoms, stress-relievers like yoga, meditation, and regular exercise may also be helpful in managing OCD. New technologies, like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive treatment that helps stimulate nerve cells, may also be effective in reducing symptoms.
A trusted therapist can work closely with you to hone in on skills to manage OCD, develop a variety of coping mechanisms, and strategise new approaches when challenges arise.
Exploring OCD Treatment at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab offers a holistic mental wellness programme designed to help clients feel better almost immediately, gain a deeper understanding of their symptoms, and learn skills to manage their condition. We work with each client to develop a highly personalised treatment plan to address unique challenges and offer the best possible outcomes.
Located in beautiful Northern Thailand, The Dawn is home to an international team of experts specialising in a range of treatments, from modern psychotherapies, to proven wellness practices and cutting-edge technologies. The Dawn is the only residential centre in Asia to offer Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatment.
Call us today to learn more about how we can help you manage your OCD and live your life to the fullest. recovery.