There is a growing trend in using OCD as an adjective instead of a noun. While that is annoying enough for any grammarian, the focal point of the outrage lies in its possible effects on the community of people who truly have it. Let’s delve into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it’s manifestations and misconceptions.
How are we misconceiving OCD?
Akshay Amal, an MBBS graduate from Bhaskar Medical College, Hyderabad says, “We all have on own ‘OCDs’, in a way that compulsive thinking is human nature. For example, having the doubt if you’ve locked your car to checking if the lights are turned off. These are natural things which are indeed a byproduct of compulsive thinking but it’s being alert not having OCD. There could be a lot of factors leading to a person having OCD and it sometimes could be very dangerous. I came across quite a few people who have OCD and all of them had different kind. One was a checker, who used to always check if things are safe. One was a cleanliness freak, who used to wash hands multiple times, use a sanitiser, then wash hands and the sanitiser bottle because it caught dirt as he washed hands and then used the sanitiser again. But, it is not as grave as Alzheimer’s disease and OCDs are curable. Most of them don’t even need drugs and can be cured with simple psychological therapy.”
But, before moving any further, what is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly known as OCD, is an often-debilitating anxiety disorder, marked by intrusive, disturbing thoughts (obsessions), and repetitive, counterproductive behaviours (compulsions). In simple words, it is the unstoppable urge to do ‘compulsive’ things to deal with their ‘obsessions’ that cause fear, anxiety or disgust.
How extreme a form can these compulsive urges take?
These can be as simple as compulsively organising your workspace to constantly checking to make sure that the lights are off and then switching them back on to check if the light is working and then switching it off again; yes, this happens. It gets worse when you turn the light on and off 10 times according to your ritual, or someone you love will die. And, the worst could be if you have the urge to kill, or you are paranoid that somebody else will kill you or your loved ones. Fred Denzel, PhD is a licensed psychologist who has specialised in the treatment of OCD and related disorders since 1982. He blogs on ‘International OCD Foundation’, on how to deal with similar urges.
Is every person, who has OCD, a cleanliness freak?
No, simply no. They can have different compulsions on the basis of their obsessions. Obsessions can include irrational thoughts or fears about germs, or safety. Common types of compulsionsinclude:
You just do not throw away anything that is in your possession. When I say anything, it is everything. Ranging from a empty water bottle to a giant packaging of your television which arrived recently, you just cannot throw them away since you fear that awful things could follow if you throw them away. You deem everything as resourceful and keep it safe as you fear that times of scarcity are just around the corner. Let’s not even get started on the food stock that is piled up.
You are compulsively forced to fear germs. For example, you could frustrate yourself with your desire to wash or sanitise hands. The fear of contamination could actually drive you to the mid space between the pleasure of being clean and the frustration of the urge of washing it again anyway.
This could involve checking the locks/lights/schedule over and over again. For example, you keep spelling all the words that you speak in your head whenever you speak and this just doesn’t stop. If it is a complicated word, your mind activity is heightened and this gets worse; lines and words, it’s like DiCaprio constantly searching for his totem in ‘Inception’ in your head.
You tend to organise your things at your workplace, finish a task, reorganise and you sit there thinking about other ways in which you can organize. You reach home and you start organising things in your drawing and bed rooms.
So, if you like to clean or organise obsessively, does that mean that you have OCD?
Not necessarily. Former presidential speechwriter and Author, Jeff Bell, authored a booked called ‘When in doubt, make belief.’ The book is an OCD inspired approach of Living with uncertainty. He explain it in that an easy way to differentiate OCD-driven behaviours from non-OCD-driven behaviours is simple if understand the theory of Pleasure vs Distress. For example, if you derive ‘pleasure’ in organising your wardrobe, but not doing it for a day due to some other work does not cause ‘distress’, then viola! You do not have OCD. But, if you are doing it despite your lack of time for it, which is intern causing you distress – because you just can’t stop doing it – then, you do have OCD.
What is OCPD?
An acronym for ‘obsessive compulsive personality disorder’, OCPD is entirely different from OCD. Though it is possible for a person to be diagnosed with both. James Claiborn, Ph.D., another member of the International OCD Foundation Scientific Advisory Board, writes: “OCPD is a personality disorder. This means it is a disorder made up of enduring traits or patterns of behaviour. While these traits may be seen as maladaptive or interfering with function the person with the personality disorder thinks the traits are reasonable and make sense. People with OCPD tend to be preoccupied with rules so much that they may miss the point of what is going on. They tend to be perfectionistic, rigid, stubborn and miserly.” In simple language, a person who has OCD, always knows that his obsessions are irrational and are compulsively making him/her do things; which cause distress. Whereas, people who have OCPD get so preoccupied with rules, that they tend to believe that they are being reasonable.
Now, what is so wrong about the misuse of this term? Glad you asked.
While this being grammatically wrong is reason enough, but a few other reasons could be:
- Misinformation about OCD may stop genuine sufferers from realising that they even have OCD. Hence, calling out for help, or guidance becomes a never ending battle for them
- People trivialise it by the comments/jokes on social media, everyday life, home and almost anywhere. This literally curbs from taking the mental health resources from taking OCD seriously.
- When a person who has it is asked about it, they not only have to build up the courage to reveal their illness; they also have to educate the people around them about what that actually means.
- Lastly, your miscommunication could be driving a person diagnosed with acute OCD insane. Trivialisation and misunderstandings around what they are experiencing only makes this worse.
Is it Curable?
While there are a handful of prescribed methods to control OCD, a few can be treated by simple psychological exercises. A common incompatible response to an obsessive thought is simply by yelling the word “Stop!” loudly. Akshay Amal, MBBS student offers a rather common and simple exercise, “They can also often use other incompatible stimuli, such as tweaking a rubber-band which is tied around their wrist whenever they have a thought or a compulsive urge to do something. This way, they will eventually decrease doing that certain thing.”
What can we do?
Joel Rose, director of OCD Action of United Kingdom, says, “Five years ago people wouldn’t have known what you were talking about if you mentioned OCD. Now they have a sense of what it is about and use it, but don’t really fully understand it. The next five years will be about working to fully educate people.”
So, the next time you are about to slip out the term OCD, think about it twice. If you see somebody use it instead as an anal-retentive, beatnik, or clean freak; just spread the love. With knowledge and understanding, comes the power to seek help, and save lives. Each time you do that, except for the fact that it makes you majorly human to support this cause by solving the problem, instead of being one; you can be sure that the grammarians and people who have OCD are immensely grateful to you.