Envisage, your mind got stuck on an undeniable notion or image, and this got replayed in your mind over and over again no matter what you did, you don’t want these thoughts — it feels like a barrage. Along with the thoughts come intense feelings of anxiety. Anxiety is your brain’s freight system.
When you feel anxious, it feels like you are in danger. Anxiety is an emotion that tells you to respond, react, protect yourself, DO SOMETHING! On the one hand, you might recognise that the fear doesn’t make sense, doesn’t seem reasonable, yet it still feels very real, intense, and true. Why would your brain lie? Why would you have these feelings if they weren’t true?
Feelings don’t lie, do they? Unfortunately, if you have OCD, they do lie. If you have OCD, the warning system in your brain is not working correctly. Your brain is telling you that you are in danger when you are not. When scientists compare pictures of the brains of groups of people with OCD, they can see that some areas of the brain are different than the brains of people who don’t have OCD.
Those tortured with OCD are desperately trying to get away from paralysing, unending anxiety. Quirks like this can usually be chalked up to personality or preference, but in some cases they may point to a more serious issue: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition marked by obsessive thoughts and compulsions that affects scores of people.
What We Know About Obsessions
- Contamination Fear or distress about coming into contact with dirt, germs, sticky substances, or chemicals (e.g., household cleansers), or getting sick, or getting others sick after touching “dirty” or “contaminated” items
- Accidental harm to self or others Fear of harming yourself or others through carelessness.
- Symmetry and exactness A need to have items ordered in a certain way (for example, according to colour, size, or facing a certain direction).
- Often, the content of obsessions sounds very odd or makes no sense. For example, a child with OCD might say that he or she needs to arrange all the teddy bears from smallest to biggest or else something bad will happen to mom.
- Some kids and teens feel a strong need for things to be perfect or right. For example, your child might not be able to start her homework until her books are all ordered and perfectly arranged, or cannot turn in an assignment until she is certain its perfect. Other kids struggle to tolerate if something isn’t 100% right, focusing on doing the right thing all the time or thinking about every tiny mistake.
- Forbidden thoughts Entering into adolescence is a time of sexual maturity and most teens think about sex and sexual identity during this time.
What We Know About Compulsions
- Washing or cleaning Washing hands excessively, sometimes until they are raw and bleeding.
- Checking These types of compulsions can involve checking doors, locks, or backpacks, to make sure everything is safe.
- Some children and teens check to make sure that everyone is okay. For example, calling family members to “check” that they are safe.
- Counting, tapping, touching, or rubbing Compulsions can involve counting, touching, or tapping objects in a particular way. Some children and teens have lucky and unlucky numbers involved in their rituals (e.g., needing to touch a door four times before leaving a room).
- Ordering/arranging- This compulsion involves arranging items in specific ways, such as bed sheets, stuffed animals, or books in the school locker or book bag. For example, a child might need to line up all the shoes in the closet so that they all face forward, and are matched by colour.
- Mental rituals Not all children and teens with OCD will have compulsions that can be seen. Some perform rituals in their head, such as saying prayers or trying to replace a “bad” image or thought with a “good” image or thought. For example, a teen might have a bedtime prayer that he or she mentally repeats over and over again until it “feels right”.
Here is an animated short video about how it feels to be obsessive.