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Howie Mandel Opens Up About Managing His OCD: "It’s a War Worth Fighting"
Mandel is tired of the idea that people who are tidy are a "little" OCD. "You can’t have a little OCD," he says.
America's Got Talent Judge Howie Mandel has long been vocal about having OCD, a.k.a Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — but now he's sharing even more details about the often-painful process of managing his symptoms and what he wishes the public understood about the realities of the condition.
Howie Mandel opens up about managing his OCD
“I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and go, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m a little OCD, too. I like everything in order. If my room is not clean, I’m just not happy. I've got a little OCD,'" he told Today.com of the widely-used "everything at a right angle" depiction of OCD, as in shows like Monk. "You can’t have a little OCD," he adds.
Before officially being diagnosed in his 40s, Mandel revealed, he was staunchly unable to admit that there was anything wrong. “I wouldn’t go see a therapist. I wouldn’t go see a psychiatrist. I would not talk about the word 'mental health' at all,” he recalled, detailing the ways he made his wife and kids "miserable" with his inability to touch things that might be dirty. “My wife just gave me an ultimatum. She goes, ‘I can’t do this anymore and I can’t have the children do it anymore. And if you don’t get help, that’s it...So it was an ultimatum that made me ultimately go to therapy, and I got diagnosed (with OCD).”
Getting help was a life-saver
It took more work just to get over the mental block of admitting that he really did have OCD. “I was embarrassed that I had this problem, and when you have a mental health problem, there is a stigma,” he said. A stigma that he's now trying to fight so that others in his position can start getting help.
“The inability to control your brain with these obsessive thoughts and the compulsion to fight them is far more prevalent in somebody with OCD. (Other) people have weird thoughts that go through their head and then it goes away,” he explained, warning that sufferers are often misdiagnosed if their initial mental health practitioner isn't an OCD expert. Still, it's worth it to push through and find the right supports and coping skills. Or as Mandel put it, "When one is suffering, when one is drowning, you need to say 'Help!' Otherwise, you just quietly drown."
Thankfully, Mandel has the support of doctors and other professionals, as well as his wife Terry, whose patience he doesn't take for granted. Calling her a "saint," he said, "The hardest thing is having OCD. The second hardest thing is being with somebody who has OCD if they legitimately have OCD and they’re not just persnickety. And it was always tough on our relationship...[Terry] has been nothing but supportive. It’s important to have people around you who are there for you. That's key, but they don't know to be there for you if you don't talk about it."
There is no cure for OCD, but Mandel is living proof that people with it can still go on to live productive, happy lives, saying, "I’ve been really successful. I have a beautiful family, and I love what I do. But inside my head, it is a war zone, and it’s a war worth fighting, and I continue to fight it."