You wash your hands raw
Touching a handle in a nasty public bathroom or pretty much anything on a subway skeeves most people. But if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), what happens after you grab the subway pole goes way beyond a squirt of sanitizer. You might think: That subway pole I touched is covered in germs. If those germs get on me and into my body, I might get sick. I’m a mom of three, I can’t get sick. What if I can’t go to work? What if I get so sick that I die? What will happen to my kids? All those unwanted thoughts and disturbing images rolling through your head—that’s the obsession, explains Jeff Szymanski, PhD, executive director of the International OCD Foundation. Obsessions often have themes, and this one is rooted in an irrational fear of contamination, most commonly from germs. To make the worry go away, you wash your hands—but like, 50 times. And your hand-washing routine may be so elaborate that it makes you late for work or causes fights with your family. This compulsive behavior indicates a disorder, says Szymanski, because it’s done to counteract an obsession, it’s excessive, interferes with day-to-day life, and you can’t help but do it. If you’re suffering from these OCD symptoms, try these proven ways to cope with the disorder.
You HAVE to clean your house
Not because your mother-in-law is on her way over and you know she’ll comment, not because the kids just tracked mud through the house, and not because the house simply needs it. If you have OCD, you may feel like you have no choice but to clean because if you don’t, someone in your household is going to catch salmonella and it’s going to be your fault. Similar to hand washing, cleanliness moves into disorder-land when it’s propelled by an unreasonable fear, is time-consuming and stresses you out. You don’t have to be cleaning for a zillion hours a day either, says Reid Wilson, PhD, adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. The actual scrubbing and wiping may only last an hour, but you obsess about it for much longer—you worry about your family getting sick, about whether you cleaned well enough, and how long the cleaning will take tomorrow.