The Messy Truth About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
I hear comments all the time:
“My place is so perfect. I’m so OCD.”
“No, it has to be neat and clean. I’m so OCD.”
“You should see how I organized my Star Wars collection. I’m so OCD.”
I was born with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I struggled throughout my childhood, through multiple high schools and left college after just one semester—consumed by my obsessive thoughts. I barely made it through my twenties. In my early thirties, I hit rock bottom. I was bedridden in my parent’s guest bedroom, paralyzed by OCD.
One year included three psychiatric hospitals; intensive outpatient therapy; two months at the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital in Boston; being kicked out of said OCD Institute; and living on the streets of Boston in the middle of winter with little money, no transportation, no job and severe OCD and separation anxiety.
It took hitting rock bottom to get the help I needed. After eight scary therapeutic months, I was “reborn” and moved to Los Angeles a healthy, happy and thriving member of society. I finally understand the point of the therapy my loved ones had desperately been trying to get me into.
Why do most people believe the myth that OCD is just about a hyper-organized desk or color-coordinated closet? The reality is that most of the 3 million people with OCD in this country struggle just to function on a daily basis. They’re not bragging about the “benefits” of OCD.
Well, Hollywood’s general portrayal and perspective of OCD is limited. Movies and TV present OCD as quirky or fun. Characters often use their symptoms to their advantage, almost like a skill or superpower. Hollywood has created the belief that OCD is just double-checking, hand washing or a strong dislike of germs. Hollywood and the media rarely address the reality of this serious condition—it simply seems funny to watch, and not too difficult to live with. So, many individuals with OCD continue to struggle in silence, afraid to seek help.
OCD typically looks nothing like what you see on television. I didn’t wash my hands; I didn’t check, organize or clean; I wasn’t afraid of germs. My OCD was based in my fear of losing control. OCD is complicated like that; it preys on your unique fears and anxieties that have no basis in reality. For some people that’s germs, for others (like me) it’s extremely taboo topics, like self-harm.
To you, these fears and anxieties seem irrational and easy to brush aside, but the actual experience of having OCD is losing that rational perspective. Your brain can’t shrug off these fears. It’s a constant battle between uncertainty and truth inside your brain. That’s why the disorder is a far cry from: “I love when my kitchen is put away perfectly. I’m a little OCD.”
Ethan S. Smith currently lives in the Los Angeles area working as a successful writer/director/producer/author and OCD Advocate. Ethan was born with OCD and struggled most of his life until receiving life-changing treatment in 2010. Ethan was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual OCD conference in Los Angeles and is the current International OCD Foundation’s National Ambassador.