It seems like every few months, I see someone on social media or encounter a stranger in a public setting exclaiming something like “I HATE when things are disorganized. I am SO OCD!” This is not OCD. It is not an adjective. It is not merely desiring a clean and organized car, house, desk, etc. It is undoubtedly not the punchline of a joke.
I can speak from over a decade of experience when I say that for those of us suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is incredibly hurtful and actually almost feels like we are being gaslighted when others use those three weighted letters in a context other than a professional diagnosis. And for the record, one cannot be OCD; they can only have OCD.
OCD is Not Just Cleaning or Fear of Germs
While it is true, myself included, that many of us with OCD feel the urge to keep everything tidy, organized, and squeaky clean to avoid illness and germs, there are many children and adults who are diagnosed with OCD, who couldn’t care less if their dishes were in the sink or the dishwasher, or if they had a little mud on their tires.
Furthermore, many people with OCD, again, myself included, have many other compulsions, rituals, and obsessions besides or beyond what people stereotype. For example, I have always thought that the number six is evil, that the color orange is bad luck, and that overcast skies are predictors of an unpleasant day. When I come in to contact with things in sixes, or that are orange, or if it looks like it might rain, I have to repeat specific set phrases to myself in order to wish away the bad juju.
My Compulsions Are NOT Easy to Control
I would need at least three (maybe four) hands to count how many times a parent, boyfriend, classmate or shockingly even a therapist or counselor on occasion, has asked me: “Why don’t you just stop listening to the OCD part of your brain?”
I wish it were that easy. I’ve prayed it was so simple. But sadly, it’s not. But OCD is stubborn! I cannot wish it away. No medicine can fully dissuade it. Even therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy are not guaranteed.
Of course, I am not naive. Although I have gotten much better at calming my nerves, which in turn, prompts my brain to produce fewer obsessive-compulsive behaviors, they are still there. The second I ignore a thought to count how many panes of glass are in a window or to wash imaginary germs off my hands, I feel the all too familiar anxiety rising hot in my chest, threatening to suffocate me from the inside.
If I don’t act on the compulsion almost immediately, I could face made up consequences that even though I know aren’t real, such as getting a stomach bug that evening, they still feel authentic. No matter how long I have dealt with the empty threats of my mental disorder, I still am unable to shake the notion that if I do not blindly follow the irresponsible guidance of my inner monologue, my life will spiral swiftly out of control.
I Am Human Just Like You
The same people that stereotype all those with OCD as neat freaks, may also tend to think that all people diagnosed with a mental disorder, no matter how mild or severe, are crazy. This is not usually the case. For the vast majority of those diagnosed with OCD, they will never be hospitalized, they will not go on a killing rampage or lock themselves in their houses.
And, for those whose OCD or other mental disorders get the better of them, and hospitalization is necessary for their health or the health of others, they still deserve your respect, understanding, and the same dignities you enjoy.
Just because I suffer from OCD, I need you to know that I am not crazy. I am not only scared of germs or forgetting to turn off the hairdryer. I am also not just my OCD.
I am a human just like you, and although I have my faults, as does anybody, I am trying with all my might to live a “normal” life. I am worthy of your patience, and to be treated as your equal. I am most likely stuck with OCD for the rest of my life, and I have pretty much come to terms with that. But I have not given up. I will continue to fight the voice in my head that demands too much of me. I will continue to write to dispel the stigma around OCD and suicide. I will never be a victim of my mental illness.