Living and Working with OCD
On the TV show Glee, high school counselor Emma Pillsbury is known for unusual conduct, such as polishing each individual grape in her lunch before eating it. While such behavior might entertain viewers, living with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is anything but funny for the estimated 3.3 million American adults diagnosed with this condition.
As this article notes, OCD is an anxiety disorder that traps people in endless cycles of repetitive thoughts and behaviors. “Sufferers are plagued by recurring and distressing thoughts, fears, or images (obsessions) they cannot control. The anxiety produced by these thoughts leads to an urgent need to perform certain rituals or routines (compulsions). The compulsive rituals are performed in an attempt to prevent the obsessive thoughts or make them go away. Although the ritual may temporarily alleviate anxiety, the person must perform the ritual again when the obsessive thoughts return. People with OCD may be aware that their obsessions and compulsions are senseless or unrealistic, but they cannot stop them.”
Many people with OCD are very afraid of germs. They may wash their hands repeatedly, clean with extreme dedication, or shy away from shaking hands. (Sufferer Howie Mandel routinely “fist bumped” contestants while hosting Deal or No Deal in order to avoid hugging or make prolonged hand contact.) Some people may insist on having things organized in a certain way. (Soccer star David Beckham has talked about his addictions to rearranging hotel rooms and organizing refrigerator items.) Others may be so afraid of making a mistake, such as forgetting to lock a door or making a typo, that it takes an extreme amount of time to leave the house or turn in a project.
Medication and cognitive therapy often help those diagnosed with OCD. If a colleague exhibits symptoms of the disorder, respecting his or her space will be appreciated. Avoid disturbing the set-up of the person’s work area, and don’t be offended if he or she doesn’t want to shake hands or is quick to use hand sanitizer after physical contact.