Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects a little over one percent of the adult population in the United States. That number sounds small, but it’s considered a common disorder. Unfortunately, most people do not know how to recognize Ocd, which leads to many misconceptions about the disorder. Here we dispel the myths surrounding 'Pinterest OCD' and discover what real OCD looks like for those who live with it every day.

OCD: What is it?

Occurring often with other mental health issues, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness that occurs when a person experiences recurring, distressing thoughts (obsessions) and performs a ritual response (compulsion) in order to get rid of the anxiety that accompanies those thoughts.

The thoughts are commonly called “intrusive” because of their unwanted, persistent, and unsettling nature. The compulsions that a person might perform are intended to reduce or erase any feelings of fear or discomfort that arise.

Intrusive thoughts occur to all people, with or without OCD. We’ve all had the idea that we could easily jump off a balcony even though we have no desire to do so. We have these thoughts all day, every day of our lives. Usually, they come and go, harmless, with us none the wiser. However, the OCD sufferer not only notices the thoughts but attaches meaning to them. She assumes these thoughts mean something about who she is or what she wants. Because of this, she looks for a way to reassure herself that this is not the case.

Thus, compulsions are born.

What OCD looks like

Compulsions appear in all manner of ways, some more obvious than others. Someone with an OCD fear of contamination may wash their hands over and over. Other compulsions are completely internal, like a mental ritual. A person with religious OCD may perform a silent prayer. Still, other compulsions may have nothing whatsoever to do with an OCD sufferer’s fear.

A mother may feel the need to switch the lights in the house on and off in a certain order or else her son will die. This type of thinking is called magical thinking. While irrational, magical thinking feels real to someone with OCD. Common compulsions include hand-washing, counting, checking, mental rituals, rearranging, and tapping.

Just like with compulsions, OCD varies incredibly in how it manifests. OCD is a tricky mental illness in that it’s constantly evolving and changing. No two people suffer the exact same way, and what bothers one person with OCD may not bother another. In addition, OCD frequently changes for one sufferer, so in June he may be afraid of harming his mother, and in July he may be afraid of contracting tuberculosis. Below is a list of common OCD types.

  • Religious (Scrupulosity)
  • Losing control of oneself
  • Harm
  • Perfectionism
  • Contamination
  • Pure O (no visible compulsions)
  • 7. Sexual
  • 8. Superstitious

Intrusive thoughts don’t scare the OCD sufferer because they’re wanted or they’re fun. They’re scary because they encompass everything we do not wish to be.

By definition, intrusive thoughts are the opposite of who we are and what we want, and that’s not just wishful thinking. Intrusive thoughts are ego-dystonic, which refers to “aspects of one's behavior or attitudes viewed as inconsistent with one's fundamental beliefs and personality”, as stated on dictionary.com. By definition, intrusive thoughts are not who we are; they are quite the opposite.

'Pinterest OCD' and other myths

Many of us have seen the t-shirts and the funny pictures: "I have CDO; it's like OCD, but the letters are in alphabetical order as they should be!" "I have selective OCD: I haven't vacuumed in two weeks but don't you dare touch the silverware!" This is what I like to call "Pinterest OCD," where obsessions and compulsions are just organization and cleanliness quirks meant to be laughed at.

The content implies a happy oddity rather than a debilitating illness. It also dangerously simplifies the disorder, which can lead to inaccurate self-diagnosis and romanticization of a serious issue.

We also hear OCD referenced in everyday conversations. "I organized my closet by color. I'm so OCD!" Again, a mental illness is used as a cutesy adjective, ignoring the crippling affects OCD can have on a person's mental health. Much of this simply results from misinformation or ignorance and is easily corrected and forgiven. Still, with so many adults and children potentially undiagnosed, it's important to get our information right in order to direct those with OCD toward the help they need, rather than laughing it off as a strange personality trait.

Hopefully, if you have OCD and are searching for answers, this will grant you some peace of mind. Millions of people share in your struggle. You are not alone. If you know someone with OCD, be sure to show them a little extra grace. Often we find it difficult to save any for ourselves.