Actually, You’re Probably Not “So OCD”
Sarah Gay | On 12, Jun 2013
Trigger warnings for mention of disordered eating and suicide
The first time I heard the term OCD, it was used by my peers in middle school because they thought it was a big deal that they organized their skittles by color, or took a Facebook quiz that told them “Congratulations, you’re so OCD!” Unfortunately, this trend was not outgrown after middle school. Last year, a peer of mine insisted that she must meticulously wash her hands every time it crossed her mind, telling a friend that it was proof of “how OCD” she was. When I asked about how it affects her, she told me she wasn’t diagnosed. She was just playing.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (not to be mistaken with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder) can, of course, be a reason behind such behaviors. Compulsively washing hands, excessive counting or arranging—these things can often signs of OCD. However, being organized or over-hygienic are traits that are easily separable from the disorder, rather than a concrete sign. With OCD, anxiety is prevalent with these and other behaviors—either as the cause of said behaviors, or the effect, or both. Someone with the actual disorder will have feelings as if they have to perform these actions, possibly accompanied by the idea that something bad will happen if they don’t. And, contrary to those who find their habits to be a cute trend, someone with the disorder must have the symptoms to a degree that disrupts their daily life.
Obviously, it’s good that these people don’t actually have the disorder, right? So who cares? The problem is that, like with any joke or flippant reference to something that harms people, it trivializes the actual thing. When I was told that I have traits of OCD (not actually diagnosed with it), I thought it wasn’t a big deal at all because so many people joked about it or claimed to have it. I figured it was the common cold of mental illnesses. However, my sudden rise in OCD tendencies directly correlated to a year of disordered eating, obsession over control, and severe anxiety. Here, a woman talks about her experience with OCD and severe anxiety. When an illness affects your life in such a profoundly negative way, it’s generally not appreciated when people take it so lightly.
Control also happens to be a huge part of OCD, at least for some people. My therapist often relates my feeling of being controlled through childhood with any OCD related issue or behavior. When you feel out of control, then you seek to get it back in any way—perhaps putting your focus on being as organized as possible, or arranging things needlessly. In school hallways, stores, or other large and crowded public places, I place all my focus on not stepping on lines or cracks in the ground—a silly, simple thing that I use as a coping mechanism so as not to focus on the anxiety provoking situation and feelings of helplessness and entrapment. Women in particular may often face this problem—forced into the rigid expectations of society and often of their own family, they can end up feeling powerless without an outlet of control, thus unconsciously turning to alternate methods.
So if OCD is a troubling illness that affects your quality of life—why is it a joke? Why is it a trend? The people who misuse the term seem to have little clue what the illness is actually like, turning something painful and difficult for others into something that is no longer taken very seriously, negatively affecting the lives of everyone suffering from the disorder. Heroes Get Remembered but Legends Never Die is a documentary written by John Tessitore about his friend who had recently taken his own life due to issues related to his anxiety and OCD. The writer of the blog page specifically states that “If you think OCD is a cute, quirky, trendy disorder, please watch this film.” It’s sad when a condition is so disrespected that this even needs to be said. While it is not usually thought of as a life-threatening disease, mental illnesses affect people differently. Though the person who has intruding thoughts disrupting their daily life has just as legitimate of an illness as someone who takes their life over the stress, it is not at all justified for anyone to mock the illness—by thinking it’s cute, quirky or funny rather than ad the potentially life-damaging illness it is.
Written by Sarah Gay