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Do I Have OCD?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From a teen in the U.S.: So I was talking to some people who have OCD and realizing my similarities with their behavior.

When I touch things on one side I have to even it out and that can lead me to repeatingly touching or rubbing said thing until I’m satisfied or distracted. Sometimes I make the corners of my mouth red and raw by rubbing food against them trying to even them out. My touching thing doesn’t actually have to be physically touching something. Like I had the cursor on my computer on one side for too long I felt like I could feel it so I had to even it out. Same with tapping on one side of my screen or what side I lean on while going up a ladder in Minecraft.

I also noticed that I prefer my right side over my left and if I leave something on the left for too long and try to even it on my right I’m almost never satisfied cause my right side is more important???? Like if I touch my left hand on something soft then try to repeatingly touch said thing with my right I won’t be satisfied because my left hand touched it first.

Thank you for writing. I can’t make a diagnosis on the basis of a letter. For that you need to see a mental health counselor. But I can tell you that what you are reporting may be consistent with symptoms of OCD. On the other hand — and this is very important to consider — there is a difference between having some personal “quirks” and actual OCD. Many people have little rituals or habits or things they say to themselves when under stress that give them comfort or that help them manage some anxiety in doing a task. Many star athletes, for example, have rituals they engage in to give them luck. It is only when such habits start to interfere with social, occupational or academic functioning that they move from being quirky thoughts or behaviors to OCD. Further, to meet the criteria for OCD, the behaviors also have to be time-consuming (an hour or more a day) and cause you major distress. Your letter doesn’t indicate either.

If you do have OCD, you can get treatment for it. The most effective method seems to be a type of Cognitive Behavior Therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) that is done in weekly visits with a trained therapist. Sometimes the therapy is augmented with some medication, usually an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). For that reason, it is preferable to see a therapist who collaborates with a psychiatrist, as only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication. Reportedly, 70% of people treated this way learn to manage their symptoms or eliminate them.

I suggest you see a therapist for an evaluation. You may find that your habits are within the normal range. If you do have OCD, you can discuss what type of treatment might be most helpful for you.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie

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