What the Heck is OCD?
With OCD, “communication errors” occur when information is transmitted between different parts of the brain. Certain chemicals that help transmit messages in the brain aren’t working like they’re supposed to. This causes unwanted, disturbing thoughts, fears or worries, including thoughts that can be the opposite of what you really believe about things like religion, violence or sex. For example, you KNOW you’d never hurt anybody, but the OCD makes you keep getting these strange thoughts and pictures in your head about punching someone really hard for no reason. And these thoughts can really upset you.
The thoughts themselves are bad enough. But it’s the endless repetition of these thoughts, called obsessions, that can make you feel miserable and get in the way of a lot of other things you want to do. It’s like having the thoughts stuck in your brain.
Sometimes instead of getting weird or scary thoughts, OCD makes you have certain urges or feelings that something has to be done “just right” or “just so.” Like you have to keep rewriting a word until it looks OK. Other people think the word you wrote the first or second time was fine, so you should just stop. But they don’t get it; you have to keep writing it until YOU think it looks OK. These OCD urges and feelings can make you feel very uncomfortable or even upset.
So what do you do? Your brain figures out ways to make you feel better. This is where compulsions, or rituals, come in. If you’re unbearably afraid of germs, your brain might tell you to do a ritual like washing your hands over and over again, even until the skin is raw. If your OCD makes you feel afraid of someone breaking into the house at night and hurting your family, your brain may tell you to check the door and window locks dozens of times before going to bed. Or you may ask your parents to check the locks for you until they get so sick of it that they yell at you. Maybe the teacher’s answer didn’t sound just right to you, so you have to keep asking her to repeat the answer until it does. The problem is that these compulsions may make you feel better temporarily, but the obsessions just keep coming back.
There are a lot of symptoms of OCD. To learn more, you can read about OCD symptoms on this web site, or check out other web sites listed in the More Resources section of this web site.
One thing is clear: you can’t make OCD go away by continuing to perform compulsions. You need a treatment called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).