When you hear “OCD” you may picture someone repeatedly washing their hands, or switching a light on and off dozens of times. This may be the case for some people, but really, these are stereotypical assumptions we make about what OCD looks like.
Many people with OCD only struggle internally. This can make it very difficult to seek out help or treatment, because all of the symptoms are hidden. There can be shame and embarrassment in admitting to having thoughts and fears you know don’t make any logical sense.
We all occasionally have intrusive thoughts about something that causes fear, such as being in a plane crash. Most of us can talk ourselves out of that fear well enough to get on the plane and get to where we need to go. We may even laugh about it later.
For people with OCD, trying not to think about the plane crash is next to impossible. The more they try not to think about it, the more they feel “stuck” thinking about it.
This becomes distressing, and that’s where the compulsions come in. Sometimes the compulsions are an attempt to stop the thoughts, and sometimes it’s about preventing the feared event from occurring.
“The plane might crash” becomes an obsession – a person with OCD can’t simply dismiss the idea and move onto something else. It becomes unbearable, so they decide “If I walk up and down the stairs 18 times the plane won’t crash”. This is irrational, but that’s the nature of the disorder. This is how the cycle goes.
OCD takes up a lot of time and energy. It is disruptive to daily life, and can be extremely isolating and frustrating. Knowing that the fears are unlikely to come true doesn’t help. Knowing that the compulsions aren’t likely to change the course of anything doesn’t help.