You wash your hands raw
Touching a handle in a nasty public bathroom or pretty much anything on a subway skeeves most people. But if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), what happens after you grab the subway pole goes way beyond a squirt of sanitizer. You might think: That subway pole I touched is covered in germs. If those germs get on me and into my body, I might get sick. I’m a mom of three, I can’t get sick. What if I can’t go to work? What if I get so sick that I die? What will happen to my kids? All those unwanted thoughts and disturbing images rolling through your head—that’s the obsession, explains Jeff Szymanski, PhD, executive director of the International OCD Foundation. Obsessions often have themes, and this one is rooted in an irrational fear of contamination, most commonly from germs. To make the worry go away, you wash your hands—but like, 50 times. And your hand-washing routine may be so elaborate that it makes you late for work or causes fights with your family. This compulsive behavior indicates a disorder, says Szymanski, because it’s done to counteract an obsession, it’s excessive, interferes with day-to-day life, and you can’t help but do it.