These days, saying you’re ‘OCD’ about something is common. I’ve heard mentally stable people say offhandedly that they’re ‘OCD’ about something more times than I can count and you probably have too. The phrase has become a thoughtless verbal trend.
THERE’S A DIFFERENCE
Being detailed and particular about how you like a certain thing is completely different to suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Psychologists say that OCD should not be confused with idiosyncrasies and preferences. ‘OCD is often misunderstood as a disorder that simply means being overly detailed or perfectionistic.’
OCD often originates from an inability to emotionally process a difficult experience. It is not a choice but an utterly debilitating anxiety disorder. OCD is not a term to be used lightly, in casual conversation.
I had several emotionally difficult challenges the year I turned eight years old. My inability to cope with everything that was going on in my world led me to develop OCD.
It took me a long time to get ready for school each morning. I believed that my ponytail had to be perfect, my matching socks had to be exactly the same height and my shoelaces had to be the exact same length on each side – tied perfectly the same as my other shoe.
At school, my handwriting and colouring had to be perfect and so I wrote and coloured very slowly. I often had to start over again because I believed my work wasn’t good enough – I couldn’t handle even a shadow of imperfection.
After school, I’d sniff my hands to check for smell and then wash them to make sure they weren’t dirty, repeating the process as I did my homework, until it was time to have a bath that night.
I spent hours and hours with these obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. They went around in a never-ending circle, day in, day out. I drove my family nuts.
‘…the invasive can kind of take over, crowding out all other thoughts until it’s the only one you’re able to have, the thought you’re perpetually either thinking or distracting yourself from.’ Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Even as a child, I knew my thought spirals and compulsive behaviours weren’t normal but I couldn’t stop. I felt trapped. The unwanted thoughts about what I should do, even though I didn’t want to do them, kept coming. I was haunted by obsession.
My world made me anxious. I felt powerless. OCD put me in a cage where it was just me and the obsessions. It was a torturous kind of safety. If I didn’t achieve these obsessive perfections, I’d break down in a fit of frustration.
Year by year, OCD slowly loosened its hold on me. Perhaps because physical illness took over my life and there wasn’t much room for anything else. Or perhaps because I maladapted in another way by developing Borderline Personality Disorder.
Today, I technically don’t suffer from OCD because my behaviour is no longer compulsive but I still do, sometimes, have to fight off a barrage of OCD thoughts.
Many OCD sufferers aren’t so lucky and don’t manage to grow out of it. They live lives of almost constant mental torture.
OUR JOB IS TO BE SENSITIVE
I’m hopeful that with an increase in mental health awareness, the careless trend of people saying they’re ‘OCD’ about something might fizzle out.
Let’s not, in any way, belittle people with OCD. Their suffering is real. Let’s speak about OCD with the sensitivity and respect it deserves. I believe we owe OCD sufferers, at the very least, this one small courtesy.
Remember: ‘We all may have strange idiosyncrasies such as avoiding bath sponges, organizing our closet by colour and pattern, or refusing to touch the restroom door in public, but these habits should not be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder.’
Thank you for caring enough to read this post,