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What is OCD anyway?

A friend is explaining his preferred way of eating gummies. He sorts them out by colour and (he insists) flavour and works his way from least favourite to favourite.

“When did you first know you have OCD?” my teenager teases.

“That’s CDO to you missy,” he doesn’t miss a beat, “in alphabetical order as it should be”.

We hear many jokes and flippant comments about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Those that like order in their world and think better when the dishes are washed often blame a self -diagnosed version.

But the real thing is a condition that can occupy several hours every day and cause years of debilitating anxiety, lifestyle changes, health risks and missed opportunities.

Natasha Daniels, this month’s guest on the Wonderfully Wired Podcast, is both an anxiety and OCD expert. “ I always say OCD is anxiety’s bigger, badder cousin, because it can really tear you down. It can make you more disabled or really struggle more than a lot of other disorders” explains Natasha.

In my experience those with actual diagnoses are less likely to refer to or joke about OCD. Of the many challenges that Wonderfully Wired kids and adults face, it feels like this ‘bigger, badder cousin’ is the least likely to be openly talked about.

So why is the condition so misunderstood and what can be done for those struggling with OCD?

Here are my OCD 101 quick fire findings so far.

OCD is not:

  • Simply a tendency to be neat

  • A cause for shame

  • The same as anxiety

  • Untreatable and pervasive

  • Excessive worry without acting on such worry with repetitive behaviours

For us to start calling it OCD, both obsessions and compulsions must exist. Let me explain.

OCD thrives in a CYCLE


People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have repetitive, intrusive thoughts (called obsessions) that urge them to do something or avoid doing something.


These obsessions don’t match up with the person’s actual desires and values but instead of being able to dismiss them, the thoughts feel significant and cause anxiety.


Someone with OCD will either do something, or avoid doing something to make the distress go away. Such actions are called Compulsions.

The rotten thing is that OCD is fed by such compulsions and the relief they offer is short lived. The person senses that the compulsion must really have been needed (and the obsession was obviously worthy of fear) and so the even bigger, badder cousin bully grows.

And the whole cycle repeats.

OCD can look different for different people coming in different themes and subtypes.

Some Subtypes of OCD

Checking OCD involves intrusive thoughts about safety or making mistakes and urges checking-based compulsions to ease the distress.

Contamination OCD causes intense anxiety about spreading germs and contracting disease.

People with Counting OCD are compelled to count certain patterns to feel safe.

Harm OCD centres on thoughts of harm coming to people and suicidal OCD centres on an intense desire to harm oneself .

Hoarding OCD causes the inability to get rid of anything.

More than the normal doubt in relationships, someone with relationship OCD feels unbearably insecure in relationships.

The treatment of OCD involves breaking the cycle and ideally combines medicine with therapy.

In many other cases, when responding to the challenges that Wonderfully Wired kids face I encourage CBT or COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY which involves retraining our brains to ‘think differently’ about situations. Such a cognitive approach helps us cope with anxiety but not with OCD.

“We don’t speak to our OCD” Natasha says because it grows it. Instead she recommends Exposure Response Prevention. (ERP)

Exposure Response Prevention ERP

ERP carefully exposes someone to situations that trigger obsessions and helps the person to resist acting on them.

ERP teaches people that they can put up with their distress without turning to compulsions. At first ERP makes the discomfort worse as patients push through the discomfort instead of doing whatever it takes to avoid it.

When a person can tolerate the discomfort they rely less and less on compulsions.

This month’s content centres around anxiety but I’ll get Natasha back into the studio to talk about OCD if we have enough interest. Take a poll here.

Other sites you can visit for more

AT Parenting Community

Should I have Natasha back to talk about OCD on the podcast?

  • Yes, we have a diagnosis and need help

  • Yes, someone we love might be battling OCD

  • This is not a concern for us

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