Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: What It Is & What It Is Not

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

As someone who is open about living with OCD, I feel that it is my duty to combat the stigma (misconceptions & stereotypes) that surrounds this particular mental illness. Coming forward about my struggles and willingly allowing myself to be vulnerable hasn't been easy, but I know that the more I normalize these conversations about mental health, the easier it will be for others to get help and feel comfortable sharing their own stories.

To start off, I want to clarify what OCD is NOT, based on common stereotypes & misconceptions.

  1. OCD is not a verb; you cannot be OCD. Just like any other physical condition or disorder, OCD is an illness an individual has and is diagnosed with. Imagine how it makes a person who has OCD feel when you downplay their illness with careless remarks, like "OMG, I'm soooo OCD!"

  2. Having OCD is not a choice. It isn't something a person can turn on and off when they please, just like any other physical or mental illness. Before getting frustrated, annoyed, or confused with someone who has severe OCD, consider the fact that a mental illness is a serious sickness of the brain and managing it is sometimes out of that person's control.

  3. OCD is not a joke. This generation has done an outstanding job with being careful and accepting of the many beautiful and diverse identities that our population consists of, but because mental health identities are not visible, they are often forgotten. Because of this, jokes and careless remarks about people who have mental illnesses and disabilities are thrown around and I hope that by educating my community, I can change that hurtful type of language.

  4. OCD is not a synonym for clean-freak, perfectionist, germaphobe etc. While many people who are diagnosed with OCD suffer from perfectionism and hand-washing compulsions, these habits are typically the least severe compared to the other obsessions/compulsions a person has. A person does not have OCD just because they like to clean things and wash their hands often. Quite frankly, many people whoo have OCD don't even have those types of compulsions or obsessions, but either way, if you are not diagnosed with OCD, it isn't right to act as if you do based off of one action or preference. Personally, perfectionism and cleanliness are clear parts of my identity and OCD, but the other obsessions and compulsions that I have had to live with are far more severe, time-consuming, and debilitating.

So, what is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a mental health condition characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions.

  • Obsessions are "unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that occur over and over again and feel outside of the child's control" (IOCDF).

  • Compulsions are "must do" behaviors or rituals that ease the anxiety and distress caused by obsessions.

I hope you were able to learn a little bit about what OCD is and what it is not from this post and I encourage you to learn more on the OCD page on my website.

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