“Dad, I have OCD, I’m not germaphobic.”
- Conversation between me and my father every few months.
I was diagnosed with having obsessive-compulsive disorder when I was young. I also have a chronic tic disorder where I physically twitch my nose, like a bunny or Samantha from Bewitched, though apparently I can’t do magic. (Dammit.) Though I was diagnosed with both around the same time (tic disorders usually accompany other disorders, like ADHD, sleep disorders, and OCD), my father only really understands how one works. The tic disorder is simple and something he can see: I randomly and often twitch my nose, which I have no control over. That’s basically it. It takes less than a second, I don’t have to stop the world – or whatever I’m doing – to do it, and it doesn’t really affect me personally. It’s lessened as time has gone on, and though its back it disappeared for a good few years of my life. My tic is not obtrusive to other people, because it is a small motor change that people don’t necessarily notice, or care about when they do. My brother, who had Tourette syndrome (or TS, which means both verbal and motor tics), was a lot more noticeable, and a lot less accepted. I lucked out between the two of us, though I suppose that could be argued since his tics have completely disappeared and mine has recently come back with a vengeance.
I also lucked out with my OCD. I have – and always had – a mild case. I really do not think that my frequency or amount of time I have to spend on rituals has gotten worse. *knock on wood* But this does not mean it’s rainbows and pretty music and prancing unicorns about to send me to a My Little Pony video. It’s mild, but it’s still a fucking mental disorder.
It’s also damn misunderstood. (Hence this post, and others like it in the blogosphere.) Most people associate it with a cleanliness that is seen as abnormal, or organizing with an attention to the tiniest detail, or labeling every item in the fridge. Sometimes they go a step further and realize it’s about a number, that the person with the disorder has to do X two times or for forty-nine seconds, and if they screw up they have to do it again or they think they’ll die. Or maybe they realize people with OCD wash their hands a lot, both in frequency during the day and in quantity for each individual hand wash. And yes, this can be part of someone’s OCD. They could also be confusing the person with someone who has obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; the basic difference between OCD and OCPD is that people with OCD are anxious and realize something is “abnormal”, while people with OCPD usually derive pleasure and/or see nothing wrong with their “rational” obsessions and compulsions. (While I have accepted that I have OCD and probably always will to some degree, I do not see my obsessions or compulsions as rational, nor do I derive any pleasure from them. I accept them; I do not like them.) And sometimes the person is just neat, or clean, or organized, or like their label gun. These are not signs of OCD in and of themselves.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is broken into two parts: the obsessions, and the compulsions. Obsessions “are recurrent, persistent, intrusive thoughts, images, ideas, and/or impulses which seem to arise from out of nowhere.”  Common obsessions include “thoughts about contamination,” “repeated doubts,” “a need to have things in a particular order,” “aggressive or horrific impulses,” or “abhorrent sexual imagery.”  Compulsions are “repeated behaviors or mental acts performed in order to decrease the fear and anxiety generated by obsessive thoughts or images…The compulsions may initially lessen the anxiety and have a calming effect, but over time this positive effect lessens and persons with OCD find that they must alter and/or increase the rituals in order to obtain relief [from the fear and anxiety]. Common compulsions involve cleaning or washing, checking, hoarding, requesting or demanding assurances, repeated actions, counting, and ordering.” 
Now, for me personally, my obsessions run across the board. The quote in the beginning of this post refers to contamination. I obsess over being “contaminated.” My fears about contamination are directed at only a few things though; I am not afraid of germs in general. For instance, my parents’ garbage cans contaminates me when I am near them. I don’t even have to touch them; someone else opening one up and having the lid slam so that air blows on me contaminates me. I have to take a shower. I mean, I HAVE to. If I don’t, I will sit and grow more and more anxious, my breath will get heavy, I can get hot flashes, my chest will be tight, I’ll start to sweat, my heart will race…in other words, if I don’t shower after taking out the trash at my parents’ place, I will have a panic attack. Which means while it can take my mom or dad about two minutes to take out the trash, it can cut into my time by a good half hour, if not more.
And that’s just one example of many. I have the thoughts about contamination, I have the repeated doubts (like having to physically recheck the locks I can see are closed, that I in fact just closed), I have the need to have things in a particular order (though this is my least likely obsessive thought), I have the aggressive and/or horrific impulses, I have the abhorrent sexual imagery. Out of all of them, the worst for me personally is the abhorrent sexual imagery. These thoughts especially sneak into my head before I fall asleep. At this point, I’ve gotten used to some of the vile images and can continue into slumber land. Other times they can make me cry. The contamination, doubts, and organization are time-consuming; the impulses can send me into a fight or flight response, making them tiring; the sexual images are emotionally draining and disturbing. Give me a repeated doubt over an abhorrent sexual image any day of the week.
My compulsions don’t run across the board quite as much as my obsessions. I wash my hands often during the day, and depending why sometimes two or three times for each individual hand-washing incident. I’m a checker – locks especially, but closed doors too. I’m not really a hoarder nor do I request or demand assurances nor do I have a great need for orderliness. I do repeat actions, but I don’t have to count them.
Right now, I’m living with my parents. (Hello crappy economy.) In my parents’ home, my bedtime ritual is simple but most be performed every night. I close my closet doors. Then I close my bedroom door, usually pushing against it to make sure its shut all the way. Then I turn out the lights. Then I make sure my closet doors (they slide) are completely closed again. Depending on a number of things, sometimes I have to do this more than once; check my closet doors are closed, check my bedroom door is closed, turn the lights on and off, check my closet doors are completely shut again. Once, twice, maybe thrice. I don’t think I’ve ever gone beyond six times, and usually its once or twice. This is me repeating an action, not counting them. (To clarify: I don’t have to shut my lights out four times every night; sometimes I do have to repeat the action four times though.)
I saw the movie Phoebe in Wonderland recently, which had the title character as a young girl with OCD and TS. Though I wasn’t paying the strictest attention when I watched it, watching Phoebe cry because she couldn’t stop, she just can’t and she doesn’t know why and she doesn’t want to but she has to, has to has to has to…that resonated with me. I’ve accepted my OCD at this point. It can be time-consuming, it can be tiring, and it can be draining. It can be scary and it can be boring. I’ve worked on defeating it. But accepting it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to have it.
Related Links and Notes:
Ableist Word Profile: You’re so OCD! – This is about using the phrase “you’re so OCD,” some of the author’s obsessions and compulsions, and some offshoots of OCD (such as trichotillomania)
Wiki: mysophobia – I’m including this because it mentions the same difference I do, which isn’t necessarily made in books about OCD: germaphobia is different from a person’s fear or anxiety about contamination.
Side note 1: This post is very much “this is what OCD is and this is how it affects me,” which means I didn’t really talk about issues such as the image of someone with OCD, how it is treated in certain demographics, and so on. Partly because I was writing this post specifically about my experience, and partly because I’m unqualified and/or don’t know anything about those areas. But if you do please leave a comment or link about it because I do think that is an important topic, I just haven’t as yet done research on it.
Side note 2: I didn’t really talk about how people use OCD in sentences (if only because I am completely unqualified to do the grammar part well or correctly), but I think it’s important to note how some people say “I’m OCD” and some say “I have OCD.” I have this disorder; I’m not this disorder. But for some people, where OCD really does restrict their movements in extreme ways, they are the disorder; it’s not just a part of their lives but an overwhelming facet. So that’s one side. But I think the other is that people don’t think “I’m obsessive-compulsive disorder” when they say “I’m OCD,” they think of it the same way as saying “I’m sad/angry/happy/etc.”
 This is my personal experience. Someone with the exact same tic disorder may have had a completely different experience. But I was never teased all that much (at least to my face) and I have – even at such a young age – a very healthy “fuck you” attitude to stranger’s opinions about myself, so staring and/or asking me about it didn’t bother me much. I got more shit for my last name (which I never actually minded because I love my real last name) than I ever did about my tic disorder. Again, MY experience. I have an ability to make friends easily, and I’m not really shy, so a tic disorder didn’t really affect my self-esteem or how I interacted with other kids my age. It can be very difficult, considering kids make fun of anything “different,” but it wasn’t really my experience.
 BTW, when I say or think that, I have to knock on something. Not necessarily wood, but when I don’t knock on something the anxiety builds inside until I am one step away from a panic attack, and I have to perform a counter-ritual. It’s the same reason someone – even if it’s just myself – has to say “bless you/me” when I sneeze. Do I actually believe anything bad comes from not saying it? No. But if I don’t, then the anxiety builds, my muscles tense, I clench my jaw, and I am once again a step away from a panic attack. Fun, huh?
 Using quotes is not a recommendation of this book. This was the first book I grabbed off the library shelf when I decided to write my post about OCD, and I always planned to use it only for definitions (mostly so I wouldn’t have to spend five hours trying to word them), not as a reference. It seems okay, but again, not a recommendation. For all I know a later chapter talks about how you should sacrifice water bottles to save your OCD love. I doubt it, but considering some of the drivel published, who can be sure. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: New Help for the Family by Herbert L. Gravitz, Pg. 43
 Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: New Help for the Family by Herbert L. Gravitz, Pg. 44
 Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: New Help for the Family by Herbert L. Gravitz, Pg. 44