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How do you explain OCD to someone?

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When I try to explain it, it always sounds petty.  I would like to be able to explain in a way that will help my friends and family understand why it is so debilitating.

If I just try to explain how it feels, it just sounds like I need to toughen up and not get so anxious.

OCD does deal with doing things that are not necessary, and fears that are not really valid, so I can see how someone (who does not experience it themselves) would find it more of a personality quirk than a serious disability. 

The fact that we are self-aware of it probably just adds to the confusion.

How can we explain it in a way that gets the point across that it is a serious disorder, while acknowledging that the content of the obsessions/compulsions are not serious issues?

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It's really hard to put across what OCD is like. How would you prefer to describe it? 

I'd probably go with, OCD sets up a predicament where something bad might happen and you could prevent it, you do what you feel is necessary but in doing so the standard is set so if the predicament or one similar occurs again you have to repeat or feel like a bad person for being so careless. Repeating buys into the idea that your input saved the day making it very important to keep the standard or maybe a bit more just in case. The cycle is maintained, setting higher and higher standards with ever increasing negative feelings. 

Not very succinct but I gave it a go! :D

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There is more info that should help on the main OCD-UK website. 

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Did you ever have to stand up and give a speech or recite a poem in front of the class or the whole school? You know that feeling of dread and anxiety you got waiting for your turn? You just wanted to run away? You could physically feel the anxiety?

Well, that's how I feel every time I get a scary thought. And I get a lot of scary thoughts. And I get this overpowering urge to do something to stop the feeling. What I do doesn't make a lot of sense, but it gives me some relief. Until the next time...

How's that?

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Here's a few examples I have used/thought about:

"You know how some people are really afraid of things like spiders.  If you put them near a spider they freak out?  But if you take that spider away they aren't worried anymore?  Well for me its kinda like that, only even when you take the spider away my brain still freaks out.  I KNOW the spider isn't there, but the switch in my brain that says "its ok to relax now" just doesn't want to switch.  I keep feeling super scared even when it doesn't make sense not to"

"You know how some people have asthma?  Where sometimes they just have trouble breathing?  Its kinda like that, except instead of having trouble breathing, I feel fear and anxiety.  I don't WANT to feel that way, just like a person with asthma doesn't WANT to have trouble breathing.  I can try and avoid certain things that make me feel that way, like an asthmatic can try and avoid certain things that make them have trouble breathing.  But sometimes they have trouble breathing no matter what they do, and sometimes I feel anxious/nervous no matter what I do."

"So, imagine you are hungry.  What do you do?  You decide to eat something.  Maybe you still feel a little hungry so you eat a little more.  Eventually you feel full and you can stop eating.  Now imagine if you never felt full.  No matter how much you eat you still feel full.  Now replace feeling hungry with feeling fear and anxiety.  Thats what having OCD feels like, no matter what you seem to do, even if for another person it would make the fear go away, it seems like the fear won't stop.  Its not just that I feel afraid, its that even when I do things that should help me not be afraid, like analyze a situation, I still feel afraid."


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I don't know. A therapist once tried to compare it with a song being stuck in your head. That didn't convince me at all. 

How do you explain the feeling of total uncertainty to someone? You could say to the person that there was 50% risk that their family was being suck in a burning house and then ask that person if he/she would be fine with not turning back. Now if you would say to that person that you fear the stove being turn on and that leading up to the burning house scenario he/she would reply that the risk are not even close to 50/50 and that is true. But it's all about that feeling of uncertainty and we all feel it and we feel and think that our life depend on it. 

I don't know, because you are trying to explain a feeling and I personally have problems even recalling how bad I really feelt when I am feeling fine, I am really feeling what I feelt back then. 

Polarbear's explanation was better, trying to explain that you have anxiety and that you are linking that anxiety to you and your responsibility.


Sorry if this is unclear wanted to give it a try but not that much time right now.

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I once read something trying to explain what ocd felt like.

A plane has crashed and the person you love most in the world is on board and it has been reported that only 50% of the passengers survived, imagine the anxiety and the need to know that they are safe.

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