People expressed interest in this post existing (???? hahaha guys ARE YOU SURE), and I am taking a day or so off of my internet hiatus to procrastinate on stuff, so here it is!
Caveat: Despite my PhD in Astrofeelings and the fact that I sometimes imagine I am a medical student when going to the Dunkin Donuts attached to the hospital near my apartment, I am not a medical doctor. I have also only ever been me and experienced my own perceptions, when it comes to personal experience I speak only of my own. ANYWAY.
1. THE VERY BASICS AKA THE PART MOST PEOPLE HAVE TROUBLE WITH
OCD = obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is actually (unpopular opinion?) a super misleading name, because the word “obsession” is so widely used and often in a positive context. “I’M TOTALLY OBSESSED WITH AVATAR! IT’S THE BEST!” It’s not that kind of obsession. (I have actually seen people conflate the two in fandom discussions and just…no. Don’t do that.)
obsessions = shitty anxiety thoughts you can’t get rid of
compulsions = stuff you do to deal with or neutralize the shitty anxiety thoughts
OCD is first and foremost an anxiety disorder. That seems really straightforward, right? But that’s the main thing that people misunderstand, which then spreads into a million other misunderstands. Compulsions (the washing/checking/counting that you so often see portrayed) do not exist in a vacuum, they are a way of dealing with the seed of the illness, which is persistent, intrusive anxiety. A way to make it stop, however briefly, an outward manifestation of the internal anxiety.
Sometimes compulsions are not external, but are in fact mostly inside your head. Asking yourself questions, reviewing events to make sure something REALLY HAPPENED, reassurance seeking - all of these are compulsions too, because they’re ways to deal with the pre-existing anxiety.
Here is the best way I’ve found to describe what it is like for me. You know the rainbow wheel on Macs? That spins when your computer gets overheated? It’s like that, but in your brain - it latches onto something unpleasant or frightening or the worst possible possibility, a memory or a thought or a replay, and spins and spins and doesn’t let go. And then you start to overheat. You can reset the computer by doing a compulsion but it will just start again. You haven’t actually fixed anything for longer than a small handful of time - if anything you’ve damaged the system more. But at least you’re not spinning.
Trying to ignore that spinning wheel is very, very difficult. Sometimes you can’t. And the really fun catch of OCD is that the person dealing with it is aware that it makes no sense. There’s a fundamental disconnect between the obsession and reality and, as clear as it might be, does not respond to logic. This is called “ego dynastic”. The symptoms of the illness are not a part of the personality of the sufferer. They are not fundamental to their self-perception. This is why saying “Oh, I’m so OCD!” in addition to making so sense grammatically, makes no sense…in general.
2. You know people with OCD and you have no idea who they are. Seriously. So do I. People who have this illness get INCREDIBLY GOOD at hiding their symptoms, often they have no actual visible symptoms at all. You could know somebody for years and never figure it out, you could spend your whole life not being diagnosed for any number of reasons. Nobody wants to be treated differently or answer annoying questions or be under scrutiny by their classmates and colleagues. It’s a strange and fine line to walk, because people have a very specific perception of OCD that is super culturally ingrained, perhaps in some ways more so than many other mental illnesses…
3. …from the ~*~mainstream media~*~. Which I will get to in the next installment!