#2. You Know There's Something Wrong With You
Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images
One of the many differences between OCDers and people who are just "quirky" -- besides a role on a major sitcom -- is shame. Let's be clear: If you regularly check your pockets to confirm that you've still got your car keys, or if you prefer your sandwiches with the crust cut off, or if you only eat red Starbursts, you're not suffering from OCD. Those are just quirks, and also the red Starburst is obviously the best. People like quirks when they're cute, fun, and harmless. When they involve licking light switches or hitting yourself over the head with your shoe, people just think you're "crazy."
But you'll believe it of yourself as well. You'll be standing in your bathroom at three in the morning, scrubbing your pocket change because you've been awake for hours wondering if it could contaminate your clothes and make you a danger to the people around you, and you'll be unable to stop, but you'll know that what you're doing is crazy.
Like the people who keep making yellow Starbursts.
OCD is "ego dystonic," which means "out of sync with your ideal self" or "making you look and feel like an asshole." People with personality disorders usually think they're always in the right, and people with psychosis often don't realize that their delusions are coming from their heads. But one of the defining aspects of OCD is knowing that your thoughts are bizarre and your rituals are senseless.
Additionally, OCDers don't even get any joy out of their compulsions. Relief, sure, but it's temporary, like scratching a mosquito bite or responding to a YouTube comment. You don't want to count all the leaves on every tree you pass, you have to.
Which leads to you excitedly reacting to "Winter is coming" like a bizarro Stark.
There are people who are perfectionist control freaks and love every meticulously planned minute of it. But they have a different diagnosis: obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. OCPD involves being neat and exacting to the point of disrupting one's life and being really annoying to everyone else; it's all of the OCD stereotypes with none of the anxiety or shame. They're kind of the trustafarians of the obsessive-compulsive world.
#1. It's Rarely Just OCD
The day I was diagnosed with OCD was one of the best days of my life. Finally, I knew what was wrong, and I could get it treated. Then my doctor told me, "Oh, you've also got panic attacks and depression and generalized anxiety. Sorry about that."
Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty Images
"Also there are spiders living under your skin. Kidding! Man, I am an irresponsible doctor."
Panic attacks, Tourette syndrome, hypochondria, body dysmorphic disorder, and eating disorders are all so-called OCD spectrum disorders. They're diagnoses in their own right that exist on their own but also hang around in the background while OCD fucks your mind. They're like its creepy cousins.
"They asked if they could crash with me for just a couple of thoughts; next thing you know,
they're ruining my fancy synapses and using the guest neurons."
OCD also often coexists with depression. This is partly because of chemicals and genetics, and also because constant obsessing and feeling forced to keep everything you've ever owned to the point of isolation can be pretty fucking depressing. Studies show that having OCD from an early age tends to make you more susceptible to depression because it wears on you so much. You're also at higher risk of suicide.
The good news is that OCD and its tag-along disorders are treatable. There are all kinds of medications and therapies that can help alleviate symptoms. And since the spectrum disorders are linked, one treatment can sometimes cover all symptoms. OCD is not something that can be cured, but it can be controlled.
My own OCD has been in check for more than 13 years now. I still do have tendencies -- I'll tap out the lyrics to songs on my fingers, obsess over details, and worry about stupid crap. Still, it's better than it was. Now the only all-consuming compulsion I have is to set the record straight about OCD.