“I have studied biology and know how bacteria works. Nonetheless, I have recurrent thoughts that I have ‘missed a spot’ when washing my hands and that surviving bacteria will take the opportunity to infect me with an illness. I rewash my hands carefully, making sure soap suds cover every inch before rinsing them off again. Often, I do this a number of times before feeling safe.”
Do you have anxiety-provoking thoughts that just won’t go away? Thoughts that you can’t dismiss whether or not they seem rational? Maybe you see images of terrible things happening or have urges to do self-destructive acts. If so, you may be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
OCD is commonly portrayed in media as an obsessive commitment to cleanliness or neatness, and that can certainly be part of it. However, it is more complex than that. While some people suffering from OCD are excessively concerned about hygiene, others think no more about cleanliness than anyone else.
If you are suffering from OCD, you regularly battle obsessive thoughts that cause distressing emotions such as fear and disgust. For example, you may think that the stove has been left on even after having checked it over and over again, that you will die in a car crash, that a loved one will get hurt, or that you have poor hygiene.
You may have very little control over the situation presented by your obsessive thoughts, but they compel you to do certain routines and rituals to try and prevent a negative outcome. These may be related to the subject of your obsessive thoughts. For example, you may repetitively wash your hands to prevent possible hygiene issues. Alternatively, the rituals may have little to do with the obsessive thoughts. For example, you may feel compelled to bang your hand against a wall a certain number of times to prevent a loved one from dying.
Whether or not you believe that these compulsions will change the outcome of a situation, you turn to them to decrease the severe anxiety caused by the obsessive thoughts. OCD can be very distressing, and some sufferers turn to other means to try and get rid of the obsessive thoughts, including alcohol and substances.