People always call themselves “OCD” because they like things neat or wash their hands a lot. That isn’t OCD. Actual obsessive-compulsive disorder is debilitating compulsion to perform rituals beyond any normal behavior. People also forget that OCD includes thoughts—i.e. obsessions. A person can have one or both of them. I don’t really have compulsions, but my OCD consists of unwanted, intrusive thoughts.
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted because of their content, which often includes disturbing violent or sexual thoughts, images, and fears about one’s identity. Obviously, they wouldn’t bother you if you wanted them. It isn’t a question of simply trying not to dwell on them; much of the distress comes from not being able to stop. It often involves something near and dear to you.
For example, if you have a newborn, you might think, “What would happen if I snapped its neck and threw it out the window?” You’re horrified but you can’t stop thinking of killing it while questioning what the hell is wrong with you and why you’re so fucked up and evil. The more you try to stop, the more you keep doing it, which triggers more panic that you actually are a monster and everyone is about to find out.
Sometimes it’s just harmless repetitive images or short phrases. Other obsessions sort of come and go, like a mental fad. Sometimes they come as a physical urge, like riding as the passenger and suddenly wanting to grab the wheel and pull the car into a telephone pole.
As a religious person, I experience some of the most intense ones in church, unsurprisingly. They can range from the harmlessly stupid to the lewd and obscenely blasphemous. My method of trying to calm myself down is to shake my head a little bit and mentally recite a list of all the obscenities I can think of, and that usually gets it out of my system. If I try not to think about it, it only worsens.
Again, these are unwanted. There is zero desire to dwell on them in any way. That’s why they freak you out. They’re not the random thoughts that pop into everyone’s minds from time to time. They are relentless, disturbing, and intractable.
But I promised you I’d tell you the most disturbing part. What I just told you is not the most disturbing part.
What IS the most disturbing part is when I have really absurd and embarrassing images of other people making weird faces and dancing in a cringey manner. I mean really bizarre, embarrassing, and cringey. The WORST part is if I am talking to them while music is playing and the image pops into my head. I will never, ever, not think of them when I hear that song.
My respect for many people is gone due to what I have imagined them doing. Some people, I can’t even look at their face and I hope I never see them again. I find myself wondering, do other people know what I’m thinking? Can they hear my thoughts? Do they see them dancing? Or are they judging me because I am imagining them dancing and they think I’m enjoying it?
No, sir, as a matter of fact, I am not enjoying it. Your shimmying and pelvic-thrusting disturb me to no end.