To those outside looking in, OCD may not seem like a “real” illness. So someone washes their hands too frequently or perhaps they count the tiles in the floor as they walk. What’s the big deal? It’s a very big deal for people who have to deal with serious OCD on a daily basis. It’s not as if people suffering from OCD want to indulge in the obsessive behaviors they practice – most of them would give almost anything to be able to get their OCD under control and not have it completely dominate their lives. What we now know as OCD was probably even more difficult to live with years ago because science did not have the same understanding of the disease that we have today. Unfortunately, people with OCD were probably just considered “crazy” in the past, and sufferers were probably ostracized more than people are today. There are a number of famous figures from history that experts now believe may have been suffering from OCD, and some of the names may surprise you.
1. NIKOLA TESLA
You would not find many people that will dispute the importance of the discoveries Tesla made in his day. Tesla displayed a number of characteristics that indicated he had OCD, including an obsession with the number three. While eating he always had to keep a total of 18 napkins on hand, and he was known to count the times he chewed when he was eating a meal. He also had an unnatural fear of objects that were round, women’s earrings and jewelry in general. In what may be a commonly-recognized sign of OCD, he also refused to shake hands when meeting people, and he was very repulsed by the idea of touching hair.
2. MARTIN LUTHER
The man that was instrumental in the creation of the Protestant Church may have suffered from OCD. Historical records show that he experienced “fleshly lust, wrath, hatred, or envy against any brother,” which constantly “vexed” him. No matter what he did to banish such things from his mind, he had no success. Other thoughts that plagued him were described as “blasphemous,” and they caused him a great deal of confusion and frustration. The experiences he described are very much classic signs of OCD in which thoughts that are counter to what is desired invade the mind constantly.
3. THOMAS “STONEWALL” JACKSON
Jackson made a name for himself as one of the most capable and effective generals of the American Civil War. Along with his reputation as an outstanding military commander, he was also know for his very odd behavior. While he was able to perform brilliantly when it came to battle, his personal life was an entirely different story. He reportedly struggled with strange obsessions, hypochondria and eccentric behavior in general. He had a habit of lifting one of his arms in the air to “balance” his circulation because he believed that one of his arms was longer than the other.
4. HOWARD HUGHES
Hughes was an extraordinarily successful business man, aviator and filmmaker. As many people know, Hughes had a serious aversion to anything he thought was harboring germs or other contamination. It was after he was involved in a serious plane crash in 1946 that his behavior became even more eccentric. During 1947 he secluded himself in his screening room for four months and lived on chicken, milk and chocolate while he used containers to relieve himself instead of going to the bathroom. He also ordered his assistants not to speak to him unless he spoke to them first. Hughes was fully ruled by his OCD and whatever other mental illnesses he may have been suffering from when he died in 1976 after a long period of seclusion. At the time of his death he was also suffering from malnutrition and weighed just 99 pounds.
5. ERNST LANZER (“RAT MAN”)
This patient’s fate came to light thanks to treatment he received from the legendary Sigmund Freud, the man who is regarded as the father of modern psychoanalysis. Lanzer was seen for the first time by Freud in 1907 and ended up becoming one of the most noted OCD patients in history. At the time he was suffering from irrational and intense fear of a female friend. In addition, he also harbored a bizarre fear that his father would be tortured using a method that was supposedly devised by the Chinese and involved a rat. Other obsessive thoughts also invaded Lanzer’s mind such as the idea of cutting his own throat with a razor. Despite Freud’s exaggerated claims to have “cured” Lanzer, it was later revealed that he continued to suffer from OCD-like symptoms after treatment.
6. THE WILLIAM HAMMOND CASE
U.S. Military doctor and neurologist William Hammond encountered an extraordinary case during the 1800s that ended up going down in history as one of the earliest documented cases of someone who engaged in compulsive washing behavior. The patient, and 18-year-old woman, was obsessed by the notion of becoming “contaminated” by her surroundings. She eventually reached the point where she was unable to touch anything without washing her hands afterwards. Her mother reported that she was washing her hands more than 200 times in a single day at one point, and while walking on the street she would take care not to let her clothing come in contact with surfaces around her or passers-by. She was well aware that her actions made no sense but reported that she was unable to stop them, revealing some of the most well-recognized symptoms that OCD patients experience.