Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Magnification of Normal Doubt

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When you think of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), you may picture the famous Howard Hughes, who was, at one time, the richest man in the world. His passion for women, airplanes, and movies made him famous, but this mental disease caused his decline.

 Hughes was affected by OCD — a serious psychological problem that affects between 2.2 and 3.3 million Americans every year. This means that out of every 40 people you pass on the street, one of them is probably suffering from OCD.

 People suffering from this illness often appear to live normal lives. However, obsessions can spiral them down into an unhealthy state. The most common problem people with OCD have to deal with is a constant feeling of filthiness. This may cause a person to wash their hands five times in a row or to clean their house for eight hours every day.

 This need to be clean can make their skin raw and bloody — but they can’t stop. They might also repeat the same action over and over again (like checking a locked door) because they constantly fear that they have forgotten to check it. They may also repeat words or phrases, or save useless old items because they fear that they will need them later.

 What’s so interesting about this disorder is it is just a magnification of a problem that the majority of us deal with every day: doubtfulness. Take for instance, annual spring cleaning. You might be cleaning your house while finding old items to throw away. Inevitably, there will be a number of items you will look at, thinking, “I never use this. I should throw it away — but what if I do need it later?”

 Usually people will just bear it and toss the item out, but sometimes we may hold onto a few items that we’re just too doubtful to give up. Well, people with OCD take this to the extreme. Their minds are filled with these irrational thoughts of keeping old things, even newspapers, and they may not be able to part with anything.

 Unlike people with other mental disorders, those suffering from OCD know that they are being illogical or irrational. Regardless, they can’t control what they do. This means if you know somebody with OCD, the worst thing that you can do is tell them something that they already know — that their thoughts are irrational.

 Also, avoid playing tricks or games on people with this illness and do not try to use anger, threats, guilt, or shame to make them change. The only thing you should do is to suggest that they get cognitive and medical help. With any luck, your acceptance and support will help that person gain control of his/her life again, even if the disease never entirely goes away. After all, none of us are really perfect.