By Andrea Byrne
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurring unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).
Typical obsessions would be contamination, harm, need for symmetry or exactness and forbidden sexual and or religious thoughts. Typical compulsions would be cleaning, repeating, checking, ordering or arranging and mental compulsions.
TheCity.ie spoke to Simon Tierney, spokesperson of OCD Ireland, who said: “There is a problem with public perceptions of this condition, OCD is a term that is used quite flippantly. People will use it to describe non clinical levels of tidiness, whereas the reality is that this is an illness which has been categorised by the world health organisation, as being within the top 10 debilitating illnesses in the world.
“It’s a condition that can be chronic, it’s something that causes an enormous amount of suffering for those who are living with it, a huge amount of anxiety, but for their partners and families as well. However, it is an extremely treatable condition, which is hopeful. “
Tierney said: “I think there are still a lot of misconceptions about what OCD is, it can describe a lot of different types of anxiety. OCD Ireland also support people who are dealing with body dysmorphia and trichotillomania.
“I think that there needs to be more specific information for people, particular young people in education around mental health. I think there is a danger that there is not enough awareness or time given to illnesses outside of the area of depression, obviously it is extremely important. But, there are a lot of people also who suffer with illnesses such as OCD.”
Jack* spoke to TheCity.ie about his OCD journey: “I realised something was up when I was seven years old. I had a lot of compulsions. It started out with the stereotypical ones like checking, hand-washing and fear of contamination. I didn’t realise what that was until I was about 16 or 17, when it was getting to the point where it was really overtaking my life.
“I came out when I was 17, so those five or six years previous were just very stressful. They involved a lot of anxiety and I think that it fuelled the OCD because that’s when it started getting worse and that’s when it started becoming a bad thing in my life. I think whilst I had tendencies, and the disorder was there in my brain, it was only when anxiety came into my life in the form of being in the closet that I really started to develop OCD.
“When I came out I was ready to face the compulsions and the obsessions that I was having, I had never said it to anyone before in my life. A lot of people with OCD get obsessions and compulsions to do with sexuality, and I got really confused about my sexuality. Not because I was genuinely confused, but because my disorder was suddenly telling me I was straight one day. My mind was convincing me so much that I was going to change sexuality randomly. It was just a completely stressful time and that definitely made it worse.
“My OCD always comes in cycles, two week or monthly cycles. In the beginning I feel okay, I’m not compulsive or obsessive, but when it gets to the end of those cycles, I can find myself feeding into my compulsions. At the bad times it may take me an hour to do one simple task, like brushing my teeth or closing a door … at one stage I got so consumed by my OCD that I didn’t even want to get up in the morning because I knew it would take me three hours to leave my house”
He continued: “Anyone in the beginning stages of OCD, I would tell them, talk to people about it. Find a few people in your life who you trust, and who you are open to talking about it with.
“One of the big things about OCD is that people who have it, live with it in shame and embarrassment because of their compulsions. Whilst everything you do is irrational, the person with OCD knows it is irrational and that’s why I think it makes it so hard because you’re doing these things which you know make no sense, and living with that is hard.”
It is a disorder that is quite often stereotyped by the public. TheCity.ie surveyed 100 people through SurveyMonkey on some of the more stereotypical symptoms that are associated with OCD to see how people perceive the disorder.
OCD is one of the most misunderstood disorders out there due to misconceptions of the disorder shown throughout the media. These were the questions put to the public to challenge symptoms associated with the disorder.
A: Do you think stress causes OCD? OCD encourages unmanageable feelings of fear and anxiety. Stressful situations can of course enhance those feelings, but stress alone does not cause the disorder to occur. Someone with OCD cannot simply stop “stressing”. Yes – 61% No – 39%
B: Do you think OCD is rooted from people’s childhood? OCD is thought to be caused by one’s childhood experiences, but it is not the case. It has been said that the disorder can run in families through genetics, but not because of a trauma and or a dysfunctional home environment. Yes – 85% No – 15%
C: Do you think tests can confirm OCD? OCD can be diagnosed through a series of tests which look for three signs of OCD. If you show signs of obsessive behaviour and or compulsive behaviour, and if these behaviours are interfering with your everyday life. Yes – 80% No – 20%
D: Do you think OCD always involves an obsession with neatness/cleanliness? An obsession with having things neat and or clean can be one of the more common compulsions associated with the disorder but it is not always the case. Other compulsions caused by the disorder are repeating, checking, ordering and arranging: fearing something bad will happen if these compulsions are not completed. Yes – 10% No – 90%
E: Do you think there are stereotypes of OCD? Yes – 85% No – 15%
It is time these stereotypes are quashed as according to OCD UK, 1.2% of the population suffer from the disorder. As of now there are no statistics for Ireland.
Simon Tierney said: “I am often asked, what is the difference between someone who is especially tidy and someone who has OCD. The difference is someone who is preoccupied with cleanliness or tidiness, they do that because they want things to be a certain way, a clean and tidy environment.
“For a person who has OCD, the consequences of not having their environment in a certain way, is catastrophic in their own minds. This leads to potentially extreme levels of emotional turmoil. We would always advise people to get medical attention from a qualified doctor or therapist.”