OCD, despite popular belief, stands for obsessive compulsive disorder- not obsessive cleaning disorder. I was diagnosed in January 2018 and have since spent most of my time rolling my eyes at how the condition is seen by the general public.
Despite working in the health industry, my colleagues, (unaware of my diagnosis), will casually remark that they need medicines to be stacked neatly on the shelves because they are, ‘so OCD’. Some friends have expressed annoyance at switches being on when nothing is plugged in - they also “have OCD”. People I’ve shared my diagnosis with have sympathised with me, saying, ‘I know how you feel, I’m a really tidy person too’.
If only OCD were that easy.
OCD is different from a desire for things to be tidy
An average tidy person’s need to stack things neatly is actually a desire. A messy shelf might bother them in the short term, but they could probably go home at the end of their shift and forget about it. They’d like to organise it because it makes the workplace look nicer, but it’s not crucial to anyone’s wellbeing. With OCD, there is no desire to perform the compulsion- the cleaning, the tapping, the checking, the ruminating. We know how embarrassing and irrational our behaviour is, but we do it to protect us or those closest to us from harm.
Tidying the workplace to make it look better makes sense. It may be unusual to you but praying 25 times that I won’t be sick one night and 35 the next, even though I’m not religious, made perfect sense to me as a child. It also caused me massive distress. If I couldn’t ask my dad if I was going to be sick, I went into total meltdown. At the age of 7, I was desperately begging to borrow someone’s phone at a sleepover so I could sneak off to perform my nightly ritual. While my friends watched movies and ate junk food, I was in the bathroom, whispering to my parents to pick me up, to make excuses for me not being able to stay. I didn’t know it yet, but OCD was robbing me of a childhood full of normal experiences. I survived in cycles and rituals.
Fast-forward to me aged 13. OCD has reared its ugly, destructive head in the form of eating disorders, meaning I compulsively exercise to get rid of the calories I eat, and I know so much about nutrition it should be worrying. I have memorised food labels, so I know which ‘bad’ foods to stay away from, disguising myself as a picky eater and a health nut. The compulsion to burn off that chocolate bar I shouldn’t have eaten is so strong that my trainers are on before I’ve even put the wrapper down. It’s an awful time of self-harm and self-loathing, but the worst is yet to come.
In late 2017, at 19 years old, I watched a TV programme that triggered a shameful memory. Instantly, I knew what was coming and I was terrified. I began ruminating every second of the day - as soon as I woke up, the thoughts were there, and they stayed there while I slept, in my nightmares. I obsessively picked over my past behaviours and events in my life, painting myself as an evil waste of space in every one of them.
The nature of my OCD changed as I got older
I had developed a form of the disorder, often referred to as ‘Pure O’ (purely-obsessional)- though my thoughts were anything but pure. My OCD had convinced me that I was my worst fear: an immoral danger to society that couldn’t be trusted. At Christmas, dad spent the early hours into Boxing Day trying to convince me that I was a good person. Defeated, he left me on the sofa, exhausted, retching and aching from crying so hard. Eventually, we learned that no amount of reassurance ever makes OCD go away.
On New Years Eve, when the world was making hopeful resolutions for their life, I was sobbing in the shower, wishing I didn’t have mine anymore.
Fortunately, since taking medication and starting university, my OCD is more stable. The disturbing themes of my OCD still creep up regularly, but my brain doesn’t latch onto them like it used to.
The point of this post is to raise awareness that OCD isn’t a quirky personality trait or an adjective. You can be a neat freak and have OCD but the two aren’t always linked. Changing the vocabulary we use is an easy way to start reducing the stigma around OCD and to start educating others on its seriousness. It could end up making all the difference to someone you love.
I’m Amy and I really am, so OCD.