Inside the Life of Someone with OCD

Published By Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP
May 24, 2024


Emily wakes up to the sound of her alarm at 6:00 AM. Before she can leave her bed, she engages in a series of mental checks: confirming the safety of her environment, ensuring that no harm will come to her loved ones, and repeating a specific phrase in her mind that she believes will keep her day on track. This routine takes nearly 30 minutes, significantly longer than she would like, causing her to rush through the rest of her morning activities.

As Emily begins her day with these rigorous rituals, it’s clear how deeply her routines are intertwined with her struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a condition that involves persistent, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors.

Obsessions and Compulsions: The Hallmarks of OCD

Obsessions and compulsions are the primary identifying features of OCD. Their time-consuming and distressing nature can significantly disrupt a person’s ability to function in daily life.

What are Obsessions?

Obsessions consist of persistent, unwelcome thoughts, images, or impulses that frequently enter an individual’s consciousness. Typical obsessions involve concerns about cleanliness, severe anxieties regarding safety or security, apprehensions about causing harm to oneself or others, or distressing thoughts related to sexual or religious topics. These obsessions generally trigger substantial anxiety or discomfort.

What are Compulsions?

In response to their obsessions, people with OCD feel driven to repeat certain physical or
mental behaviors, known as compulsions. The compulsions are meant to head off the distress that comes from the obsessions or to prevent the occurrence of some dreaded situation or event. People with OCD can develop obsessions and compulsions over just about anything, but there are some primary ones that occur most often. Common compulsions include repeating words or phrases mentally, excessive cleaning, hand-washing, ordering or arranging objects in a particular way or checking things (like whether the door is locked or the stove is off). These behaviors are often performed according to rigidly applied rules.

The compulsive behaviors, while temporarily relieving the anxiety caused by the obsessions, are not pleasurable and must often be performed multiple times. The relief provided by the compulsions is usually temporary, leading to more frequent and intense obsessions, which in turn require further compulsive actions. This creates a distressing cycle that can consume hours of a person’s day, making normal functioning difficult.

Anyone can have a compulsion at one time or another. However, in people with OCD compulsions are significantly impacted by the condition, taking hours out of their days and even dominating their lives.

As we continue along Emily’s daily journey, it is evident the extent to which obsessions and compulsions affect her life.

A Look Inside OCD: Emily’s Day Continues

Emily washes her hands several times as she prepares for work, each hand-washing session lasting exactly two minutes, as dictated by her internal compulsion. She follows a strict order for dressing and arranging her breakfast, which must be laid out symmetrically—a process that provides a temporary sense of relief from her anxiety.

During her commute, Emily’s mind is flooded with intrusive thoughts about causing a car accident. These fears compel her to take a longer route that avoids certain intersections she deems as “risky.” She also repeats a safety affirmation every time she passes a green light, a ritual that she feels compelled to perform to prevent accidents, despite knowing logically that it has no influence on traffic lights.

At her job, Emily is known for her meticulousness, a trait that her colleagues admire but also one that is partially driven by her OCD. She spends excessive amounts of time organizing her workspace and documents, which must be aligned at perfect right angles. Her productivity is often compromised because she re-reads emails several times before sending them, ensuring there are no mistakes or unintended meanings that could harm her professional relationships.

During meetings, she struggles with the urge to perform counting rituals under the table with her fingers, a compulsion that helps manage her anxiety but also distracts her from fully engaging with the content of the discussions.

Lunch is another challenging time for Emily. She avoids certain foods she irrationally fears could lead to illness and opts for foods she considers “safe.” Before eating, she must use her hand sanitizer, applying it exactly three times, which draws curious glances from her coworkers.

After work, Emily’s rituals continue at home. Entering the house, she must turn the doorknob back and forth three times to ensure it’s properly locked. Dinner preparation is time-consuming because she follows an exact procedure for washing vegetables and utensils multiple times. Watching television provides little relief; Emily often replays scenes to catch specific details she fears she missed, which could, in her mind, prevent an undefined catastrophe.

While getting ready for bed, Emily’s compulsions peak with a skincare routine that must be performed in an exact sequence and duration. Before sleep, she checks all appliances and doors repeatedly to ensure everything is secure and safe, a process that can take up to an hour.

Despite her exhaustion, falling asleep is difficult as she battles with the fear of not waking up, which compels her to set multiple alarms.

Throughout her day, Emily’s OCD symptoms dictate many of her actions and decisions, leading to considerable distress and time consumption. However, with ongoing CBT therapy and the support of understanding friends, she is gradually learning to manage her compulsions, aiming for a balance that allows her more freedom and less anxiety in her daily life.

Every Day With OCD – The Impact

The cycle of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) deeply impacts every area of a person’s life, including their mental and emotional health, relationships, professional life, and overall quality of life.


Personal and Social Life

OCD can severely disrupt daily routines and social interactions. The time and energy consumed by compulsions can limit an individual’s availability for social activities, leading to isolation and loneliness. Social interactions may also be strained by the need to hide their compulsive behaviors or by the embarrassment these behaviors might cause. Additionally, the fear of judgement can make individuals with OCD reluctant to engage in new relationships or maintain existing ones.


Emotional and Mental Health

The obsessions and compulsions cycle is exhausting and highly stressful. People with OCD often experience intense feelings of anxiety and fear related to their obsessions, as well as frustration and despair over their inability to control their thoughts and behaviors. This chronic stress can contribute to other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and sleep disturbances, compounding the individual’s overall emotional burden.


Professional and Academic Performance

OCD can hinder professional and academic achievements. The compulsions and rituals may consume so much time that they interfere with work or school responsibilities. This can decrease productivity, cause missed deadlines, and make it difficult to maintain concentration and focus. The fear of making mistakes or the need to perform tasks perfectly can further exacerbate these challenges, potentially impacting career advancement or academic success.

Physical Health

The chronic stress and high anxiety associated with OCD can also have physical health consequences. Physical symptoms, including headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and a weakened immune system can all be caused by chronic stress. Specific compulsions, such as excessive washing, can lead to skin problems or other physical injuries.


Financial Impact

The effects of OCD can extend to financial aspects of life as well. The need for repeated medical appointments, therapy sessions, and medications can be pricey and create a huge financial burden. The disorder can sometimes impair an individual’s ability to work consistently or pursue career opportunities, potentially leading to financial instability.

Overall Quality of Life

Ultimately, the pervasive and persistent nature of OCD can diminish a person’s overall quality of life. The constant battle with intrusive thoughts and the compulsion to perform rituals can dominate a person’s day, leaving little time or energy for personal interests, relaxation, or enjoyment. The sense of being trapped in a cycle of anxiety and compulsion can deeply affect one’s sense of freedom and personal autonomy.

Treatment of OCD

“You lose time. You lose entire blocks of your day to obsessive thoughts or actions. I spend so much time finishing songs in my car before I can get out or redoing my entire shower routine because I lost count of how many times I scrubbed my left arm.”

-Kelly Hill, as quoted by The

There are several treatments that can help relieve the symptoms of OCD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy, particularly exposure and response prevention (ERP), is the most effective treatment for OCD. ERP involves exposing the person to thoughts, images, and situations that trigger their OCD while helping them learn not to respond with compulsions. Over time, this technique reduces the anxiety associated with obsessions and decreases the need for compulsive behaviors. Studies show that CBT can help improve communication between brain regions that depend on the neurotransmitter serotonin.


Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed for OCD. These medications can help reduce the severity of obsessions and compulsions by altering the balance of chemicals in the brain. Examples of SSRIs used in OCD treatment include fluoxetine, sertraline, and paroxetine. Sometimes, other types of medications may be used if SSRIs are not effective.

Therapy Combinations

Combining medication with therapy often yields better outcomes than using either strategy alone. This integrative approach allows for the simultaneous management of OCD symptoms on both a biochemical and a behavioral level, enhancing overall effectiveness.

Other Therapies

Other psychological therapies, such as cognitive therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), may also be beneficial. These therapies help patients challenge the content of their obsessive thoughts or change their relationship to their thoughts, respectively.

Prognosis of OCD

“It’s like being controlled by a puppeteer. Every time you try and just walk away he pulls you back. Are you sure the stove is off and everything is unplugged? Back up we go. Are you sure your hands are as clean as they can get? Back ya go. Are you sure the doors are securely locked? Back down we go. How many people have touched this object? Wash your hands again.”

-Toni Neville, as quoted by The

The prognosis for individuals with OCD varies. With effective treatment, many people experience a significant reduction in symptoms and an improvement in quality of life. However, some individuals may continue to experience lingering symptoms to some degree. It’s also common for symptoms to fluctuate over time with periods of improvement followed by exacerbations.

Early intervention tends to be associated with a better prognosis. Chronic, untreated OCD can become a lifelong condition that significantly impairs an individual’s functioning and quality of life. However, even in these cases, treatment can still provide meaningful benefits.

Ongoing management might include continuous or periodic therapy, medication management, and support from peers or support groups. Education about the disorder and developing a strong support network are also crucial for managing OCD effectively over the long term.

  • International OCD Foundation. (2010). What Causes OCD? International OCD Foundation.
  • ‌National Institute of Mental Health. (2022, September). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.; National Institute of Mental Health.
  • ‌NHS. (2023, April 4). Overview – Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).; NHS.
  • Schuster, S. (n.d.). 17 Quotes That Prove OCD Is So Much More Than Being Neat. The Mighty.

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