“We’d make fun of Dad all the time… still kind of do,” says Anita, a choir director, with a laugh. Her father, Dan, was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), nearly a decade ago.
“We always say we don’t need a smoke alarm, because Dad can literally not leave the house or go to bed without checking the stove three times to make sure it’s been turned off… even if no one even cooked that day!”
Although never officially diagnosed, Anita says she sees some of her father’s obsessive-compulsive traits in her. While the family has chosen to stay lighthearted over the diagnosis of OCD (which is often erroneously mistaken as simply a personality trait rather than a disorder), she says she and her family understand that for some people – men in particular – have a rough time with it, almost to the point that it becomes a debilitating issue.
“Growing up, looking up, it was tough,” she shares. “Dad would be obsessive over certain things. I remember one road trip we had… we were probably already two hours into a ten-hour trip, and Dad couldn’t remember if he’d turned on the house alarm. My stepmom tried to tell him, ‘Don’t worry, Dan, it’ll be okay, we live in a safe neighborhood.’ But Dad wouldn’t have it. He was so distressed over it that we literally turned around just to make sure the alarm had been set. It was.
“But either way – even if someone had been around to check, Dad needed to be the one to make sure it was on. He needed to see it for himself. That’s what made him feel better – not actually the house alarm being on.”
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder – it causes an individual to feel trapped in their obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are the thoughts and urges that make a person distressed, while compulsions are the behaviors that the distressed person participates in to feel better about the obsessions.
Because everyone feels troubled or distressed now and again, OCD can be hard to diagnose, but when certain thoughts and behaviors persist, they’re amplified and pointed out as symptoms of a mental illness.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has classified OCD in its own category of mental illness recently, when for so long it was considered part of the family of anxiety disorders. Still, anxiety does play a part in OCD, along with the following sources of fear: getting sick, getting hurt, upsetting authority figures, being unclean, losing sentimental or important items, maintaining perfection or symmetry.
Men traditionally are challenged with sharing that something is “wrong,” turning to rituals to assuage their anxieties, instead of seeking assistance. The problem with this is that the behaviors they participate in don’t help over the long-term – they’re temporary sources of relief, but the pain is sure to come back.
For Dan, it was behavioral (checking lights to make sure they’re turned off, knocking on the door three times, turning the stove on and off to ensure it is, indeed, off). Other men may wash their hands or shower excessively, hoard items, arrange things in a specific way around the house or the room, or dwelling on something they’ve done.
There are a number of subtypes of OCD; it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of a deal. There are harm obsessions (frequent thoughts of harm coming to themselves or those they love); symmetry or counting obsessions (the need to rearrange items, words or even thoughts until they get it just right); hoarding obsessions (the anxiety of having to throw away anything, even purposeless or useless things); sexual or violent obsessions; and contamination obsessions (the feeling of being dirty – think of the word ‘germaphobe.’)
Here’s the thing: if you are a man, and you feel you may have OCD, take a deep breath and feel comforted in knowing it is absolutely treatable. OCD doesn’t just affect women, and there’s no need for you to feel less than just because you may (or do) have OCD. If recovery is what you seek, reach out – there’s compassionate, and confidential, help available.