OCD came to me one day. After a tiring day at the tennis court where a player kept shoving them onto his opponent whenever she sprinkled water on her sweat drenched face.
"I am tired", they said, a mere whisper. "Tired of being associated with every fastidious person and losing my way in this whirlwind of normalisation"
"I am tired", OCD spoke up again with a heaving sigh, seemingly lost in a string of thoughts that compelled their speech to flow out, afraid of future repercussions. "Just tired of not being able to reach the ones who have birthed me in them without their knowing. I want to help. I really do"
"But they’re quick to violate my boundaries and pair me with people not reflecting what I am"
Enough with the metaphor and on with life. My friend was diagnosed with OCD last week and they never suspected it. Describing their personality would never lead them or anyone to the conclusion of a disorder like OCD according to its picture painted by the society over the course of many decades - they are not pushy, super messy, unbelievably optimistic yet at the whims of their intrusive thoughts for over a decade. Most people with the mental condition don't feel the need for a diagnosis because ironically, the difficulties they endure do not resonate with the popularly believed image of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and in that, they reaffirm their state of perceived normalcy. Moral of the story: someone with OCD doesn't necessarily have to be labelled a 'micro-manager', open all doors with a paper towel, have an undeniable eye for symmetry and be a perfectionist by definition.
So here are 5 facts about OCD that may help in clarifying its definition and maybe even in helping individuals who might have it and haven't noticed yet:
#1: The chemical imbalance will showcase itself in the form of Obsessions and consequent Compulsions
Like sadness and confusion are to depression so are obsessions and compulsions to OCD. The condition in question is a manifestation of unwanted and most times impractical thoughts or images that are recurring and parasitic in nature. In reaction to these mental dilemmas, an individual with OCD may resort to certain actions (or preferred inaction) to combat or ease out these strong thoughts. The intrusive thoughts are labelled as obsessions and the subsequent compelled activity/ritual performed in response to them are called compulsions.
Obsessions may be (and not limited to):
Accident or situations of danger repeatedly playing in your mind
Fear of demise of a loved one
Disturbing thoughts of sexual nature
Constantly checking in on someone to ensure their safety
Following a pattern of a particular activity repeatedly (say, tapping or walking)
Repeating certain words or chants a certain number of times (say,11)
Washing or checking something repeatedly
Note: Obsessive compulsive disorder is a combination of both obsessions and actions in response to those obsessions.
#2: OCD is not an exclusive pass into a club of highly ordered and hygiene conscious individuals
Contrary to societal definition of it, the mental illness has a varied array of symptoms both in the department of obsessions as well as compulsions.
For the friend in case, they came through as:
Having to pick a call in exactly two rings so as not to impose doom on the person at the other end
To chant something exactly 7 times at the end of a prayer
Have extremely disturbing sexual thoughts implanted in their minds and constantly having to block them
Having to walk on a narrow straight line (perfecting each step) to help save their grandmother from any ailments
Not being able to touch their nose without any source of water and soap nearby
While this may not be an exhaustive list and may even be something that a lot of individuals have some point in their lives encountered, what distinguishes the condition from fleetingly unnerving thoughts is the magnitude of emotional distress that not complying to a compulsion might bring, the amount of time these intrusions take up of daily life and how persistent they are.
#3: Knowing, suspecting or rationalising the intrusive thoughts may not help in easing the symptom
We all know that pointing at a depressed friend saying "You should try harder to be happy" is a total no-go. On similar lines, individuals identifying with OCD may understand their obsessive thought process as irrational, but that does very little or nothing in helping them cope with the experiences that they are compelled to go through.
#4: The obsessive thoughts may not necessarily fall under one category.
Let's take the case of my friend again. They have OCD. They began with having obsessive thoughts on the hygiene of their nose. They had terrible anxiety whenever the matter came into her mind (which was very often). Somewhere along the line, They were often overwhelmed with distressing sexual thoughts contaminating their mind. Their thoughts aren't restricted by the boundaries of the definitive box labelled "Intrusions - Category X".
#5: OCD can be treated. You will get better, I promise.
Hey listen.. if you have been diagnosed with OCD (or any other mental illness) or you have your doubts about having one, I want you to know that even though it might seem bleak during the tough phases, it will get better, trust me. Please don't tell yourself that it is a phase or you can do it all alone (there's no doubt that you most definitely can) but it's always reaffirming to have someone who knows how to help you. If at a state that requires you to be medicated responsibly, your therapist and psychiatrist will promptly have you diagnosed and get the help that you require.
As a matter of fact, irrespective of your doubts of having a mental illness, if you need someone to help you cope through life as it is, SCMS has a panel of super supportive in-campus therapists ready to help you all throughout the year. Just drop in and say Hi at firstname.lastname@example.org and give yourself a chance to work things out!