Some people naturally tend to be more neat, tidy, and orderly than others. These traits can be useful in many situations, both at work and at home. In obsessive-compulsive disorder, however, they are carried to an extreme and disruptive degree. Obsessive-compulsive people can spend many hours cleaning, tidying, checking, or ordering, to the point that these activities interfere with the rest of the business of their lives.
Obsessions are recurring ideas, thoughts, images, or impulses that seem senseless, but nonetheless continue to intrude into your mind. Examples include images or fears of leaving on lights or the stove or leaving your door unlocked. You recognize that these thoughts or fears are irrational and you try to suppress them, but they continue to intrude into your mind for hours, days, weeks, or longer. These thoughts or images are not merely excessive worries about real-life problems and are usually unrelated to a real-life situation.
Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that you perform to dispel the anxiety brought up by obsessions. For example, you may wash your hands numerous times to dispel a fear of being contaminated, check the stove again and again to see if it is turned off, or look continually in your rearview mirror while driving to handle anxiety about having hit somebody. You realize that these rituals are unreasonable, yet you feel compelled to perform them to ward off the anxiety associated with your particular obsession. The conflict between your wish to be free of the compulsive ritual and the irresistible desire to perform it is a source of anxiety, shame, and even despair. Eventually, you may cease struggling with your compulsions and give over to them entirely. The most common compulsions include washing, checking and counting.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often accompanied by depression. Preoccupation with obsessions, in fact, tends to wax and wane with depression. This disorder is also typically accompanied by phobic avoidance — such as when a person with an obsession about dirt avoids public restrooms or touching doorknobs.
It is very important to realize that as bizarre as obsessive-compulsive behavior may sound, it has nothing to do with "being crazy". You always recognize the irrationality and senselessness of your thoughts and behavior, and you are very frustrated (as well as depressed) about your inability to control them. If you are suffering from this disorder, you are not alone: approximately 7 million people in the United States have various degrees of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
This disorder was once thought to be caused by early childhood experiences as described by Freud. It is now known that this disorder in most cases involves some imbalance in brain chemistry. When compulsive behavior seems to alleviate anxiety, individuals feel better and convince themselves that there really was something to be afraid of in terms of their obsessive thoughts. It is a vicious circle.
With cognitive behavioral therapy along with medication, individuals with this disorder do very well in a relatively short period of time, i.e. a few weeks.
Some people believe there is no help available. This is just not true. This disorder is completely treatable. If you think that you have this problem, be proactive. Take action. With help, you can live a meaningful life without the problems associated with this disorder.