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Obsessive compulsive cleaning

Over recent years more and more people have become aware of the trials and pitfalls surrounding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Films like The Aviator and celebrities “coming out” about the illness have seen it properly enter the public consciousness. It is amazing just how much of OCD revolves around cleaning and hygiene, CHT looked to find out more

OCD is “an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviours that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).” At least according to Fox News Health.

According to the same source it affects around 2.2 million American adults. ocduk.org states that 12 out of every 1,000 people in the UK suffer from the disorder, which equates to roughly three quarters of a million people. The site says that though OCD was once considered rare it has likely always been a common ailment, with misdiagnoses and shame on the part of sufferers preventing it becoming notorious sooner.

A person’s level of OCD can be anywhere from mild to severe, but if severe and left untreated, it can harm people’s performance at work and ruin their personal lives. People with OCD often suffer from related conditions such as eating disorders, anxiety and depression. As with other mental illnesses it usually begins to manifest in adolescence and there is some evidence that it may run in families. It strikes men and women equally.

OBSESSIONS
Exactly what people obsess about varies from keeping possessions in certain places through to fear of certain “unlucky” numbers. Compulsions are just as wide ranging, encompassing repeating certain actions, hoarding things and even confessing imaginary sins. But it is those connected to cleaning and hygiene that concern us here.

Fear of contamination, germs and disease is possibly the most common obsession. Cleaning, washing and the like are equally common compulsions. According to anxietycare.org.uk washing and cleaning compulsions are far more common amongst women than men, unlike OCD in general. They typically manifest with people performing endlessly repeating rituals, most commonly (and notoriously) washing hands, but anything that can be cleaned often is.

THE SITE EXPLAINS:
“The rituals are a response to an obsessive fear of contamination – and the choice of what contamination to fear is often highly illogical. For instance, some OCs have a deep fear of dog faeces, but are not particularly worried about human faeces, or those of cats and other animals. For others, it is the other way round.

“Washing and cleaning OCs commonly feel threatened by ‘germs’, asbestos, radiation and even fibreglass. Those who are obsessed with dog faeces often worry about the invisible organism called toxicara canis, which is said to infect many dogs.

“It is worth noting that in all these examples, the ‘real threat’ is something invisible – germs, microscopic fibres, waves of radiation. OCs are of course well aware that most ‘normal’ people do not find these things particularly worrying.”

All of this can have a massive impact on people’s lives. Howard Hughes famously ended his life as an eccentric recluse because his condition was so bad. Other people can end up avoiding other everyday activities, ocduk.org lists some of the most common as:

  • Using public toilets (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Coming into contact with chemicals (fear of contamination).
  • Shaking hands (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Touching door knobs/handles (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Using public telephones (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Waiting in a GP’s surgery (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Visiting hospitals (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Eating in a cafe/restaurant (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Washing clothes in a launderette (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Touching bannisters on staircases (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Touching poles (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Being in a crowd (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Avoiding red objects and stains (fear of contracting HIV/AIDS from blood like stains).
  • Clothes (having to shake clothes to remove dead skin cells, fear of contamination).
  • Excessive tooth brushing (fear of leaving minute remains of mouth disease).
  • Cleaning of Kitchen and Bathroom (fear of germs being spread to family).

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