Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is known in popular media as that problem that people who are really, really picky and phobic about cleanliness have. Unfortunately, this is not even close to what OCD actually is. Most people have huge misconceptions about OCD, helped by shows like Monk, which have made them think that being perfectionist, anal-retentive, or overly habitual is what being OCD is all about.
There are multiple types of OCD, and it is certainly much more complicated and difficult to deal with than TV makes it look. For those who suffer from OCD, watching popular media depicting it is basically just one extended cringe fest. Below we will go over some of the lesser known facts about OCD and bust some of the misconceptions.
10. Adrian Monk From The Hit TV Show Is Not A Good Example Of OCD
The hit TV show Monk is famous for its depiction of a detective with severe OCD. However, the truth is that OCD is probably one of the few disorders that the character actually doesn’t have. Monk is depicted as having phobias of almost everything, which isn’t really what OCD is about at all. And he is also depicted as being very cleanly and overly picky about little things, but that isn’t really OCD either. He is a grab bag of so many different symptoms with so little congruity that it is amazing anyone can claim he has any one particular disorder at all.
For many who suffer from OCD, this depiction is hurtful because it makes light of the disease without properly explaining how it works at all. It is described as wacky and he is shown to be anal retentive and extremely hard to please and work with, but this is also not representative of OCD either. While Tony Shaloub is a great actor, and does his best to provide a sensitive performance, the show falls totally flat in terms of any kind of realism.
9. Many Sufferers Of OCD Suffer In Complete Silence
Many people like to think of OCD as a very public disease. Those with OCD will constantly perform little rituals that show how “crazy” and “wacky” they are to everyone around them. These rituals, like touching a doorknob many times, are often played for laughs in popular media – while the person with actual OCD feels great shame at what they are doing. While some who suffer from OCD do things like this, many of them actually don’t. It is often depicted like that because it is easy to show that on TV, but many who suffer from OCD suffer almost entirely in their own heads.
Much of OCD actually stems from persistent bad thoughts that keep occurring, often of a sexual or violent nature and involving friends or loved ones. Normal people would simply feel disgusted by the thought and move on, but those with OCD obsess over it and feel great shame. That means many with OCD will create mental rituals they go over to push the bad thoughts away. For this reason, many who have OCD are completely invisible in their suffering, totally dealing with it within their own heads.
8. Making Light Of OCD Makes It Harder For Sufferers To Get The Help They Need
The constant jokes about OCD may be funny to those who make them, but to those with OCD, it makes it harder to get the help they need, and it can also be very hurtful. People saying “I am so OCD” because they don’t like their vegetables to touch their mashed potatoes – those people are anal-retentive – and others who make light of it by making jokes about touching doorknobs or what have you, are making things much harder for those who truly suffer.
When you are an object of ridicule, especially if you are one who mostly suffers in your own head, then you are unlikely to come out to others as needing help – this is on top of the fact that there is already a stigma behind going to see mental health professionals. Those who joke about OCD should think twice about what they are doing. OCD is a disease marked almost entirely by great feelings of shame, and the mockery only makes those with it feel even more ashamed about what they do. At the very least, if someone is going to joke about OCD, they should get a better understanding first of what it actually is.
7. OCD Is Characterized By Persistent Unwanted Thoughts That Won’t Go Away
Like we mentioned earlier, OCD isn’t really about not wanting your peas to touch your chicken, or being really obsessed with making sure your shirt is tucked in perfectly and not a lock of hair is out of place. There is a disorder for this when it is taken to an extreme, but that is not Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by extremely disturbing thoughts that pop into people’s heads involving usually things of a sexual or violent nature and often involving friends and family.
While even normal people have weird thoughts like this pop into their heads now and again, the difference is that a normal person just moves on, knowing that they don’t associate with such things. However, someone with OCD feels guilty that they had the thought at all, and starts obsessing that there is something wrong with them because they had the thought. Trying not to think about something makes you think it all the harder, which makes the sufferer feel even more guilt on top of that previous guilt. Those with OCD will then do physical or mental rituals to distract themselves when the thought or thoughts try to intrude again, so they can avoid the guilty and horrible feelings. Some people will get caught up in their physical ticks to the point they hardly think about the thing they are trying to avoid thinking about anymore. Instead, they just feel a vague sense that something horrible will happen if they don’t keep the rituals up – that horrible thing generally being that the thoughts pop back up again. The best way for an OCD person to deal with this is to reassure themselves that they shouldn’t feel guilty, and not try so hard to forcibly push the thoughts away.
6. Being Incredibly Cleanly, Germaphobic Or Picky About Food Touching Is Not OCD
As we talked about earlier, being OCD is not the same thing as being really picky and cleanly. Those people are often called “anal-retentive”, but there is also a clinical term for people who take being super cleanly and neat and on the ball to the complete extreme. This disorder is called obsessive compulsive personality disorder, and is quite distinct from OCD. This disease, which is closer to one of the diseases that the character on Monk actually has, is characterized by someone who has to not have their food touching, always has to have perfectly pressed clothes, and combed hair, etc.
Oftentimes this person had a stricter upbringing, or had some event happen that shook their feeling of security. Those who have OCPD (obsessive compulsive personality disorder) are doing what they do to make the world continue to feel right, but their reasons tend to be much different. They aren’t really dealing with bad thoughts or specific feelings of doom if they don’t keep everything just so. Instead, they just have a really strict regime of keeping everything they way they wish, because in general, it gives them a feeling of safety and security. While both fall under anxiety disorders and both have obsession involved, that is as close as they actually get to each other. When many people say OCD, they really mean OCPD.
5. For Many People, OCD Takes On Religious Connotations
There is also a special form of OCD known as scrupulosity, which may or may not involve the trademark intrusive thoughts. Those with this issue deal with a special religious version of OCD. Essentially, they become so obsessed with following the rules of religion to the letter that it makes it very hard for them to properly live their daily lives. One sufferer spoke of how, when studying for her Bat Mitzvah, she was so worried about pork fumes that she was scrubbing her hands constantly red raw. She would say her prayers over if she had to and ignore people to make sure she said them just right.
This is something a lot of OCD sufferers who are religious deal with, and the sad thing is they are more likely to suffer alone because they are so afraid of how people will judge them if they tell them what they are dealing with. These people tend to be very afraid of making any religious mistake and being punished or being in disfavor with their God of choice. Unfortunately this can be a very tricky form of OCD to deal with, because the sufferer can even think that intrusive thoughts are actually being influenced by demons, making the whole thing even more complicated.
4. Those With OCD Are Often Suffering From A Lot Of Guilt About Their Unwanted Thoughts
The truth is that at its heart, OCD is almost entirely about guilt. Whether it is guilt at what you did that you fear a deity will punish you for, guilt about the thoughts you had, or guilt about something you did wrong, or any kind of guilt. Those with OCD have a short circuit in the brain wherein when they feel guilty about something, they will start obsessing over it constantly in order to make themselves feel better and try to reassure themselves. Unfortunately, because their reason they are seeking assurance is because of guilt, and the feeling is strong, they will invariably make themselves feel even guiltier.
Those with OCD will then go to their go to rituals when it all becomes too much, and the obsessing has started to make things worse. Now they will try to push away all thoughts about the thing that is bothering them, in an attempt to improve how they feel. Those with OCD will often also feel guilt at how poorly they manage their own symptoms, which only decreases their sense of self-worth even more. This is why it is so important that people understand what the disease is and don’t make light of it as much. It is already something that tends to wear down and batter those who suffer from it, so mocking them and making light of their suffering only makes it harder for them to cope.
3. People With OCD Are Hyper Aware Of Their Problems And Very Embarrassed By Them
Let’s be clear: while people with OCD are often a laughingstock, especially on TV, it is not funny to them at all. Those who suffer (like this author) are hyper aware of the things that they do. If it is currently a physical ritual, they try to hide the fact that they do it from others, because it is insanely embarrassing when others find out. If it is a mental ritual, it is much easier to hide, but they are still very, very aware that they are doing it, and feel shame even as they are performing their rituals in order to avoid more guilt.
So while it may be often depicted as someone who doesn’t really understand just how “crazy” they are, the truth is that many people who are mentally unhealthy, except for those with delusional disorders, are well aware of their mental problems and how crippling they are. In fact, they are probably much more aware of the issue and how it is affecting them than you, the casual observer, could ever be. The best way to deal with it is sensitivity, like any disorder, and if comedy is to be done, the comedian should at least take the time to properly understand what they are joking about so they can give it a proper treatment. If you want to help someone who you think has OCD, the best thing you can do is be someone they can talk to about anything – be their guilt free zone where you can get them talking and assure them that they don’t need to feel guilty all the time.
2. Persistent OCD Symptoms Can Lead To Depression And Other Mood Disorders
As you might imagine, having OCD can be very, very frustrating. Sufferers will go through bouts where they are doing better than other times, and sometimes worse. However, overall, it is a chronic problem that can be difficult to manage on an ongoing basis. You can be going well, and then something happens that triggers a thought from a horrible episode and you are doing terrible again. A life event happens that is extremely awful and you can find yourself relapsing when you had made a lot of progress. Constantly feeling guilty about horrible thoughts and trying to repress them is incredibly difficult to deal with on an ongoing basis and so many people who suffer from OCD end up with other mood disorders.
Roughly three out of four people with OCD end up with depression as well, because of how depressing it is to deal with the chronic issue of OCD. It is hard to feel good on an ongoing basis and feel good about yourself when you are constantly either feeling guilty or obsessing about thoughts or actions in an attempt to avoid feeling guilty, or guiltier. The worst part is, the rational part of the OCD sufferers brain knows that their feelings of guilt are completely irrational, but try as they might, they can’t just turn those thoughts off. In a way, the constant feelings of guilt are just as much an obsession as the rituals themselves.
1. People With OCD Can Get Better At Controlling The Problem But There Is No Cure
There are many ways to treat OCD, and to help those who suffer with it, but the truth is that there is no known cure. No one is sure if it has a genetic component or not, but there is some belief that it runs in families. Regardless of how it comes, once it is there, it is there to stay. Those with OCD will never completely cure their dilemma, and will have to deal with the issue to some degree or another for the rest of their lives.
However, this doesn’t mean everything is grim. While it may always be a problem lurking in the background, those with OCD, if they do the right things or seek the right treatment, can ameliorate the symptoms to some extent. Images may still pop into your head, but accepting and acknowledging that they are they, but there is no reason to feel guilty about them, and then practicing taking a breath and moving on, can help the sufferer deal better with their issue. Forcing yourself to break a ritual now and then, and then reminding yourself afterwards that nothing bad happened is another way you can help break yourself of the more debilitating symptoms.
Most of all, it is about practicing letting go instead of obsessing over things and allowing yourself to feel guilt if necessary, but then move on and force yourself to stop worrying about it. Nothing will cure someone with OCD, there is no magic bullet. But with many mental health disorders, with the right treatment, those with OCD can still at least live a relatively happy and normal life.