by Mallory Butcher, staff writer
MAY 2022 — One winter morning, students dragged snowy shoes through the hallway on their way to class. Tables and chairs stood against the walls. Suddenly, a student in the crowd slipped on the melting ice. They tumbled forward, bumping their left hip into a table. Dread surged, the feeling of imbalance knotting in their gut. They had to correct it. Despite the darkening patch of skin and the racing crowd, they pushed through the mass back towards the table. The student limped into class a few minutes late with two purple bruises, one on each hip, but momentarily free of an overwhelming weight.
This scenario accurately describes one person’s experience of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, most commonly abbreviated OCD, which is a mental disorder characterized by frequent, uncontrollable thoughts or tendencies that interfere with daily life. These urges raise anxiety in the person affected with the disorder and encourage them to engage in said urges to relieve stress.
According to Dr. Randon Welton, the Margaret Clark Morgan Chair of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychiatry at Northeast Ohio Medical University, “Two to three percent of Americans have OCD. Of that, half of them are diagnosed before they turn 20, and a quarter are diagnosed before they turn 14. There are no really major demographics or groups not affected, but men are more likely to show symptoms than women.”
Welton claimed that those with OCD are around ten times more likely to have a close relative with the same disorder. However, no biomarkers (molecules inside an individual that indicate the presence of a disease or other condition) have been located to confirm a genetic link.
Sophomore Mason Lewis has experienced many tendencies of OCD in addition to his family history, though he has never been officially diagnosed. He described one such compulsion: “Before sitting down, I have to brush off the seat with my hand or something. I normally Purell my hands multiple times a day. With my bag, I have to touch the straps multiple times to pick it up.”
He said, “I haven’t been to the doctor since I fully got into my OCD ‘phase.’ I know my mom has OCD. It was much worse when she was a teenager.”
Young adults are the most common group to show signs of OCD. Welton elaborated on this, noting that “Early on, many say that they didn’t realize their behavior is abnormal.”
Lewis didn’t recall behaviors he experienced at a young age, but he remembered, “starting to notice it through sixth-grade, and it’s just gotten worse over the years. I know the first tendency I had was I had to sit halfway off the seat, and that’s when I started to develop the tendency to brush off the seat. Then, I could sit on the seat fully.”
If someone with OCD does not complete a tendency or compulsion, Welton said that they experience intense stress and are unable to concentrate on any other tasks.
“If I don’t do those things, my brain doesn’t feel right,” Lewis explained. “It makes me think about it more like, ‘What if this happens? What if that happens?’ It kind of makes me do it after a little while.”
In contrast to the acclaimed experiences, public perception of OCD is often described as inaccurate.
“It seems bizarre,” Welton stated before elaborating. “OCD is oftentimes made fun of. It’s the typical joke of a person driving around a block and feeling like they hit someone while driving, so they get out and check. Even though they didn’t, they have to drive around the block five more times.”
Lewis agreed, describing common stereotypes: “They’re perfectionists. They need everything a certain way. Most people think of OCD as organized, having everything tidy, and stuff like that…. When people do something a certain way, they say, ‘Oh, it’s just something from my OCD.’”
Though equated with perfectionism, OCD has displayed itself to be very different. Lewis concluded, “OCD can be more things than just being a perfectionist. There are lots of tendencies that happen that don’t make you a perfectionist. You can’t control what tendencies you have.”
For more information on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, click here to read an article from the National Institute of Mental Health.