You may double-check that the doors and windows are locked, or you might like things in a certain order — and people close to you are giving you a hard time about your “OCD.”
For the nearly 3.1 million adults in the United States who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in its clinical version, behaviors like those described above are often only the tip of the iceberg.
If you are concerned that you might have OCD, it’s important to seek the help of a mental health professional, as this mental health issue is complex and, unfortunately, often highly misunderstood.
In his private practice, board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Goldenberg has the training and considerable experience helping patients with OCD. He is an expert in both evaluations and treatment of OCD and can help to differentiate between being overly cautious and having a true mental health condition.
While receiving a formal evaluation and clinical diagnosis (or ruling out a clinical diagnosis) is the only way to truly know whether you have OCD (or not), here are some general guidelines to get you started.
Busting some OCD myths
If you believe the Hollywood narrative, OCD is a disorder that always leads to irrational behaviors, such as washing your hands incessantly, not touching anyone or anything, not stepping on the cracks of the sidewalk, or arranging your things in a certain order and freaking out if they are disturbed.
There are some snippets of truth to these portrayals. However, they are over generalizing and only painting the outward picture of what is, ultimately, a cognitive and thought driven internalized problem.
There are two components to OCD:
1. Obsessive and intrusive thoughts
Before an outward behavior starts, there is almost always a thought that compels it. These obsessional thoughts are the “O” part of OCD. With OCD, these thoughts are negative, intrusive, recurring and persistent. This could be a fear of germs, a fear a loved one is in danger or a fear of being sick will an illness. This thought is not fleeting, but persists, causing considerable anxiety, distress, worry, and fear.
The person has trouble moving onto other thoughts and despite often knowing their fears are out of proportion to reality, they cannot change their thoughts patterns. This often keeps the individual from enjoying or being able to fully engage in their life and daily activities.
The “C” or compulsive side of OCD involves outward behaviors, some of which were referenced above. To address or relieve the stress and discomfort caused by the obsessive thoughts, a person acts on them via these compulsive actions.
These actions often go beyond what’s considered normal or rational. Checking that you locked the doors and your garage is a good idea. Checking three, four or more times and/or driving back across town several times to check again is problematic. What is driving these behaviors are negative and ruminating thoughts of the dire consequences that will come with not performing the repetitive action.
It’s important to note that you can have the obsessive side of the OCD equation without the compulsive side. In other words, you can obsess about something in your head without acting on it. This bottled-up obsession can be equally as debilitating.
Identifying and treating OCD
A good first step in figuring out whether you have OCD, and would benefit from evaluation and treatment, is to consider how much impact your obsessions and compulsions have on your life. If they place any limitations on your ability to function in the world around you, or keep you from enjoying your life, it is time to meet with a mental health specialist, like a board-certified psychiatrist.
As we mentioned, Dr. Goldenberg is an expert in OCD and can work with you to review your symptoms to determine if you meet the diagnostic criteria for OCD. He will also evaluate to make sure nothing is missed that could be causing or making the symptoms worse, like past trauma, other types of anxiety, or depression symptoms etc. (Even if you do not have OCD, Dr. Goldenberg can still help you better manage your thoughts and/or behaviors or provide referrals to the appropriate treatment for you.)
If Dr. Goldenberg finds that you have a diagnosis of OCD, he offers both therapies and medications options that can help you find freedom from this mental health condition.
To get started, we invite you to schedule a free, 10-minute phone call with Dr. Goldenberg, who treats patients in both California and Alaska. Simply click here to set that up.