Many people leave home worrying that they’ve left the oven on or the front door open, or they must avoid a certain unlucky number. It’s normal sometimes to have doubts, worries or superstitious beliefs. But with OCD they become so excessive that they control your daily behaviour.
OCD involves behaviour, or compulsions, in reaction to a set of obsessive thoughts that are continuous, repetitive, anxious, time-consuming and often out of proportion in reality. In other words, you keep thinking you’ve got to do something according to a certain rule, or else something bad will happen. The compulsions are ritualistic and repetitive actions – far worse than everyday rituals or habits – that temporarily relieve the obsessive thought. For example, checking door handles several times in order to prevent an accident from happening to a loved one. Or counting an exact number of steps before getting in the car. A common form is anxiety about illness and germs, and the sufferer will repeatedly wash hands and clean themselves and their surroundings.
This need to ‘act’ on the thought and obey certain rules is powerful and convincing. It usually alleviates the anxiety for a short time, but the obsessive thought will return and gradually get worse. The condition often develops in childhood and gets progressively worse in teenagers. There are many types of OCD: obsessively checking things, washing and cleaning, orderers (constantly placing objects in a certain order) and repeaters (repeating the same action), hoarders and people with scrupulosity – in other words, having to be thorough.
Common conditions that closely resemble OCD are tic disorders – for example a vocal tic disorder such as snorting. Tic disorders are involuntary behaviors in response to a feeling of discomfort. It’s much more common for OCD and tic disorders to occur together when the conditions began in childhood. Many OCD sufferers also have depression, and some have accompanying food disorders.