OCD: Beyond the stereotype

TW: this story contains references to self harm and suicide.


Monica Gellar, Adrian Monk, Emma Pillsbury: all popular tv characters that have reduced Obsessive Compulsive Disorder into caricatures for decades. Hollywood has forced these stereotypes down viewers’ throats, furthering the stigma and alienating those who suffer from the actual disorder.

But we are not a stereotype.

OCD is a joint anxiety disorder that consists of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts, which are unwanted thoughts that a person cannot stop thinking about. Compulsions are a variety of physical tasks a person carries out to temporarily get rid of an intrusive thought.

Each person with OCD has a different story, diagnosis and method of coping. Because the media frequently condenses our narratives into one, it is up to us to share our own experiences.


Liana’s story: When I was diagnosed with OCD in 2017, I denied it. I remember a few months after my diagnosis when I was 15, my mom tried to talk to me about my OCD and I told her that there was no way I had it because my symptoms were nothing like those of the neat freaks or germaphobes that represented OCD on tv.

But there is no right or wrong way to have OCD.

Before I got treatment, obsessions and compulsions ruled my life. I dealt with Harm OCD, intrusive thoughts centered around hurting myself or others, and I could not stop thinking about it, no matter how hard I tried.

While Harm OCD ruled my mind, Checking OCD occupied my every move. Every night, I spent 20 minutes checking every door and lock, going as far as to check my closet and under my bed for any intruders. Rationally, I knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but whenever I tried to avoid these compulsions, I would obsess over it, asking myself: “Did I actually check to see if the front door is locked? I should check my bed again.” Eventually, I would give in.

Several weeks after my parents brought me to therapy, my mom told me that I should consider medication.

I refused.

I told her that taking medicine meant that I was not strong enough to function on my own. My mom helped me realize that there is no shame in taking medicine, because OCD is an illness, and like many illnesses, it needs to be treated. Letting go of the shame I had clung to, I took medication for two years, and I was finally able to acknowledge my OCD, realizing that I was the same person I had always been.


Sarah’s story: Despite years of mental health advocacy, I used to have a limited picture of OCD that didn’t include my symptoms. Intrusive thoughts of suicide and self-harm have plagued me for years, leading to a lack of trust for my own mind. Because I wasn’t actively suicidal, it wasn’t until I entered college and lived on my own that I realized my thoughts of suicide could be dangerous, potentially leading me back to the self-harm addiction that ruled my middle school years.

I resisted openness with family and friends for months, attempting to pray away my undiagnosed illness.

After a year away from home, I finally approached my therapist about my need for relief. In minutes, she identified major traits of the disorder within me. While I currently experience symptoms of Harm OCD, I have also displayed two other subtypes of the mental illness: Relationship and “Just Right” OCD. Relationship OCD distorted my thoughts and turned what could’ve been a healthy relationship into regret, while my “Just Right” OCD is centered on physical sensations and sounds that I compulsively repeat. I have spent years knocking on tables and scratching trays in an effort to release the intense physical tension that builds as a result of my OCD, but was unwilling to register my symptoms as a problem.

After my diagnosis, I felt like a fraud rather than a mental health advocate for how little I truly grasped the concept of OCD. Childhood idiosyncrasies and relational failures flooded back to me as I mourned for the girl I could have been if I had received treatment when I was younger. At the time, I blamed myself for my ignorance when I should’ve focused on the fact that I now had an opportunity to seek emotional closure.

While I still feel loss over years of untreated OCD, months of therapy and proper medication have empowered me to accept my diagnosis and find renewed trust in myself.


Someone you know may be feeling trapped by the stigma, afraid of what others will think of them or too ashamed to admit it to themselves. We urge you to be willing to listen to your peers. Validate your friends’ experiences rather than the empty authority of a stereotype.