How Can I Tell If I Have OCD?
Being a clean freak doesn't necessarily mean you have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Q: It drives me crazy when things aren't perfectly neat. Could I have OCD?
A: Let's get this clear: Being a neat freak does not equal OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Plenty of people tidy up 24/7 because they were raised to be fastidious, like things to be in their place, or have organizational issues that could cause them to lose stuff without a system (color-coded folders, say). Maybe you just love how the kitchen cabinets look when the plates are stacked according to size; that's a quirk, not a psychological issue.
The important question is whether you can let yourself skip your cleanliness ritual and not worry. Someone with OCD is controlled by her thoughts and behaviors; she might compulsively wash her hands or check a specific number of times every night that she turned the oven off, for example, and feel completely dirty or disturbed if it doesn't happen. Are you wrecked with anxiety if you don't straighten things up? Will you spend time doing so no matter how illogical it is? OCD can become all-consuming and interfere with relationships. It often causes fights with others who don't understand your inflexibility and leaves you upset when you can't control your environment.
The good news is that OCD is treatable. Research shows that a combination of exposure therapy (repeatedly confronting the thing that makes you anxious without responding to it, such as walking by a messy pile of clothes and not folding them) and medication is helpful. If the situation is mild, a self-help book that enables you to understand OCD and guides you through exposure therapy exercises may suffice. But it's generally best to see an OCD specialist who can customize a treatment for you.
Gail Saltz, MD, is a psychiatrist and television commentator in New York City who specializes in health, sex, and relationships.