To help people understand OCD a little better, here are some simple OCD and non-OCD examples.
Not OCD = washing your hands frequently.
OCD = washing your hands because you looked at a bottle of poison, and worry that poison particles might have floated onto your hands.
Not OCD = keeping a clean house, and being tidy to a fault.
OCD = cleaning your house even though you don’t want to, because of an object that touched something that touched something that touched something else that might have touched something dirty months ago that has since been cleaned, and now all of these objects are probably contaminated.
Not OCD = being conscious and careful about germs.
OCD = worrying that germs can travel in ways they actually don’t, or believing that certain numbers or colors are associated with the spread of germs (i.e. “If I looked at something blue/the number X, I’ll probably get sick”).
Not OCD = enjoying routines and following rules.
OCD = following routines and rules that you hate because you feel like if you don’t, something bad will happen.
Not OCD = keeping objects straight and neat.
OCD = readjusting an object even though you know it probably is straight, because it just doesn’t feel right.
It’s impossible to diagnose OCD based on one symptom alone and as you can see, the problem has less to do with being clean or orderly and more to do with being unable to tolerate even a small amount of uncertainty. People with OCD are more aware and afraid of uncertainty than other people. We obsess over something that might happen as though it probably will, or already has happened. We do this not because we’re uptight or even generally excessive worriers, but because our brains tell us something is wrong. It’s the same feeling we get when something actually is wrong, like when we get injured or make a serious mistake, so it’s the most difficult feeling in the world to ignore — but we must learn to ignore it. That’s why beating OCD is so difficult.
OCD isn’t something that inspires us to be cleaner, neater, and more efficient in our lives; it’s something that holds us back, because it means our brains are telling us we have to deal with problems that don’t even exist. Certainly, people with OCD can be more detail-oriented, good at focusing, and observant — and if so, we can learn to use those powers to our advantage. But those things are not the essence of OCD, and not the core of our problem.