While Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) presents some very particular symptoms, it is still quite possible for people with the disorder to go undiagnosed. The symptoms of OCD are not always as obvious as pop culture suggests, and your private thought patterns and rituals could be less common than you may think.
While OCD can be quite upsetting, there are a variety of factors that may make it so that someone with the disorder doesn’t receive a diagnosis. “Usually, the thoughts and behaviors lead to significant distress and anxiety,” Dr. Kashmira Rustomji, a psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, tells Bustle. “However, sometimes it can be a pattern that feels so normal to someone that they miss the signs they have the illness. Furthermore, stigma plays a large role in seeking help and may prevent people from doing so.” Your own misconceptions about what OCD is, plus the ingrained nature of the symptoms themselves, may mean the disorder is not something you’ve given much thought towards.
OCD may also go undiagnosed the symptoms are similar to other mental health issues. “Co-occurring mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder can complicate diagnosis because symptoms will often overlap,” licensed psychologist, Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, of Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells Bustle. “From the outside, worrying associated with OCD might look like generalized anxiety disorder, especially to someone who isn’t familiar with the differences.” This confusion is another reason it’s particularly important to pay attention to your symptoms.
Of course, a mental health professional is required to make a diagnosis, but examining your own thoughts can still be a very helpful process.
Here are seven little things you do in private that could be a sign of OCD, according to experts.
1. You Do Every Task To Perfection
If, even when you’re in private, you struggle finishing a task until it’s perfect, you may be experiencing a symptom of OCD.
“We think of these individuals as high achievers, […] however the obsession to ‘do it right’ and the compulsion to keep going until it is right — no matter how good the work actually is — can be a sign of OCD,” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. If you feel bound by the need to get things done perfectly, you may benefit from seeing a professional.
2. You Write Lots Of Lists And Reminders
If your private time is filled with list-making and note taking, particularly if it’s because you’re afraid of forgetting things, then you may be experiencing OCD symptoms.
“We look at this as organized, on top of things, and being sure and safe to get work done,” Dr. Klapow says. “But the obsession around the thought of possibly forgetting, and the compulsion to write it down so as not to forget, can turn itself into a vicious cycle were more time is spent making lists and reminders than actually doing the tasks on the lists and reminders.” If you feel like you absolutely can’t function without making lists, it may be worth checking with a professional to see if you have OCD.
3. You Clean Your Space Often
Obsessive compulsive disorder means that not only do you feel like you need to do an activity, but you also fear what happens if you can’t finish the task. So if you clean your home not for a love of making it clean, but for a fear of having it messy, then it may be a sign of OCD.
“The obsessional fear of having a messy home, or a space that is not predictable, leads to the compulsion of constantly reorganizing furniture, clothes, anything in the house so that everything looks nice and serves a purpose,” Dr. Klapow says. If, when you’re alone, you’re constantly organizing and reorganizing, it may be a good idea to ask your doctor or therapist about this tendency.
4. You Check Everything Twice
Checking is a common symptom of OCD that not everyone might realize they have. If your alone time is marked by always double and triple-checking that you’ve done what you need to do, in preparation for a worst-case scenario, then it may be a symptom.
“A common compulsion for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder is the need to repeatedly check things before they leave their house, believing that it will somehow cause them harm,” Dr. Raichbach says. “It’s normal to verify that the doors are locked before leaving for the day, but feeling the need to check and re-check multiple times might be an indicator of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” If you feel that you always need to prepare for the worst by checking, then you may want to speak to a professional about this.
5. You Make Sure Things Are Symmetrical
A symmetrical living space is quite aesthetically pleasing. But if you’re spending your time in private making sure things are symmetrical, even in other people’s houses, it may be a sign of OCD.
“Someone with this [kind] of OCD may have difficulty leaving their home in the morning if the pillows on their sofa are not perfectly arranged or their bed is not made up to the point that it feels ‘right,'” psychologist Dr. Heidi McKenzie, tells Bustle. “They may spend extra time on this before leaving the house, even to the point of risking being late to work because they will feel too unsettled if they don’t arrange things just so.” While tilting a painting so it’s symmetrical is not necessarily a sign of any disorder, feeling unable to function until things are “just right” may be an issue worth addressing.
6. You Can’t Stop Rethinking A Situation
Everyone overthinks things from time to time. If, however, your alone time is spent being overcome by rethinking one specific situation or memory in your head, you may be experiencing OCD.
“[People with OCD] may sit alone rethinking a particular situation, conversation or other interaction, or, they may rehearse an upcoming one and go through it over and over again,” psychiatrist Prakash Masand M.D, founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, tells Bustle. Not all OCD involves outward habits. So regardless of whether you end up with a diagnosis of OCD, if your overthinking is making it hard to participate in daily life, it’s important to check in with a professional.
7. You Text All Your Friends For Reassurance
Racing thoughts are a common symptom of OCD. If, even when you’re alone or in private, you can’t turn off your troubling thoughts to the point of needing constant reassurance, you may be experiencing a symptom of OCD.
“A person [with OCD] may ask endless questions about the possibility of them having a serious disorder or a possibility of having unknowingly done something that may be morally wrong,” Anna Prudovski, psychologist and clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Services, tells Bustle. “This constant reassurance-seeking is actually a compulsion. A person is using it to reduce their anxiety caused by an intrusive thought.” If you feel that you cannot deal with your anxieties without texting a bunch of friends for reassurance, then you may want to bring that up with a professional.
Not all private habits of people with OCD are immediately noticeable. It’s important to understand that, like other mental health disorders, OCD is as much about the thoughts as it is about the actions. “Much of this illness is lived in the intrusive thoughts that people have — fears, intrusive and disturbing thoughts that lead to anxiety — and that can impact the ability to work or attend school or live comfortably because they can be so distressing,” Dr. Rustomji says. While not everyone with these symptoms will have OCD, it is still important to know that you don’t need to live with distressing thoughts — and that treatment is possible.