Dear everyone: Please stop saying “I’m so OCD”. Because, let’s be honest, you probably aren’t.
It’s a phrase many of us use when we find ourselves cleaning our bedrooms, colour coding paperwork, or alphabetically arranging our book collection. But actually, OCD is so much more than being clean and tidy. It’s a very genuine, serious mental disorder and this needs to be addressed.
Knowing very little about OCD is no crime – we aren’t born knowing everything about everything – but an unwillingness to educate yourself, and have the decency to listen to things from the perspective of OCD patients, is where the problem stems from. There are far too many misconceptions when it comes to this disorder, and we need to change that.
But not to worry! The Unedit had the chance to talk to somebody living with OCD. Charley Spencer, a 20 year-old student living in Bristol, was diagnosed with OCD in her first year of University. Not only has this been a learning process for herself, but she’s willing to offer some insight to the rest of us.
“As someone living with OCD, I can tell you that there are two responses that I get almost every single time I tell people about my diagnosis. One: does that mean you’re tidy? You must be great to live with. And two: oh my God! I think I have OCD as well because… (insert a long list here with them going into detail about how they like their pencils organised).”
“If you think you have OCD because of little quirks and niggles which can annoy you day to day (for example that wonky picture hanging up) then you do not have OCD. All you are displaying are traits of OCD which everyone has and while, yes, they can contribute to the diagnosis of the disorder in some people, they’re not enough to categorise yourself as being so OCD.”
The people who brand OCD as a condition for clean-freaks are only touching the surface layer of this condition. What they aren’t considering, is why some sufferers are clean, organised people. And notice how I say some, not all.
Charley lives every day of her life with OCD, but does not come across as an overly tidy person. ‘My room is kept the same as any other students, and it doesn’t bother me at all if it’s slightly messy or if things are slightly out of place.’
People with OCD often have compulsions. These are actions or rituals that must be carried out, to avoid obsessive thoughts building up and causing anxiety. Somebody might feel relief from washing their hands, another person may feel inclined to double check they’ve locked their front door, others may have a routine of touching certain objects… the list goes on.
Okay, so we’ve cleared that up. But you said something about obsessive thoughts – what’s that all about? Well, these are uncontrolled thoughts, images or urges that cause unwanted feelings of anxiety, stress, and unease. Common obsessive thoughts can revolve around suicide or loved ones being in danger, so we’re not talking about light-hearted day dreams here.
People with OCD use their compulsions to calm themselves down, and control their obsessive thoughts. You see? It all makes sense now.
But actually, it gets even more complex. Some people with OCD have hidden compulsions. Rather than having obvious rituals – like cleaning – they use mental processes to relief their stress. This is known the ‘pure O’ form of OCD, which Charley experiences.
She explains: “As someone with mostly the ‘pure O’ form of OCD I can often be told that because I don’t regularly exhibit compulsions in front of others, then I don’t really have the disorder. To say this can get frustrating is an understatement, as most of the people who say this generally don’t have a great level of knowledge about the disorder themselves, particularly in comparison to the doctor who diagnosed me.”
But hey, it’s only OCD right? It’s just about being clean! What’s the big deal?!
“What people don’t realise is that the intrusive thoughts which make up a large percentage of the diagnosis criteria for OCD can be terrifying and constant to the person experiencing them,’ says Charley. ‘This in itself can cause a whole bunch of other symptoms including: depression, anxiety, inability to concentrate, suicidal thoughts, fatigue and many others.”
If you know somebody living with OCD, you have to bear in mind this isn’t something they can simply switch on and off. It’s part of their mental state, and joking about it trivialises a condition people battle with 24/7. “What people don’t realise is that while you’re going around treating this disorder as nothing more than a few funny ‘quirks’ there are people living and breathing this disorder on a daily basis, and for many it can be almost impossible to deal with, as nearly one third of those diagnosed with OCD will attempt to harm themselves at some point in their lives.”
Rather than rolling your eyes at somebody with the disorder, as they insist on touching that light switch for the 14th time, think about the alternative. These people aren’t idiots. They know that their routines are silly, but they do it because they have to. Let the highly disturbing obsessive thoughts build up in your head, or rid them by turning all the jam jars so the labels line up – which would you pick?
“The thing which upsets me most is people’s lack of knowledge into the condition and how it can affect the people living with it. I really think a lot of the stigma surrounding the condition is caused purely by the misconceptions people have due to a lack of willingness to do a bit of research, or even just ask someone with the condition what it is like for them. I am always happy to talk about my disorder and it is not something I shy away from, as I want more people to know about it and just how they can support those around them with OCD.”
We can’t all be experts, especially if we don’t know about something from first-hand experience. But we can all be open-minded. We can all be kind. We can be supportive. At the end of the day, doing something as small as listening to somebody, can be all the help you need to give.