OCD is not an adjective or a quirk, so let’s all stop using it as one.
There’s a common misconception that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves being excessively tidy or being keen on straight lines or patterns. Amanda, a 28 year old working in medical research, explores the myth around this debilitating condition and explains that it’s time to change this frustrating narrative.
It’s Friday night and you’re looking forward to chilling at a friend’s dinner party. From the corner of your eye, you spot the neatly colour coded books all lined up in a row. You mention it to the host, to which they reply: “OMG I know right, I’m so OCD”. If you don’t live with OCD, you probably don’t even notice it. But if you do, you likely shudder at these turns of phrase, and can even suffer the consequences in your recovery.
OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is a commonly misunderstood and stigmatised condition. There is no better opportunity than OCD Awareness Week to break down some of the misconceptions so we can begin to get it right, together.
“Every single time someone says, ‘I’m so OCD’, it makes me doubt my own diagnosis and stops me from engaging in treatment.”
O is for obsessions. Obsessions revolve around unwanted thoughts, images, urges or sensations that are at odds with the sufferer’s personality, making these obsessions incredibly distressing. There are many themes for these obsessions. They always attack what is most important to the sufferer. It is an anxiety disorder and therefore its goal is to throw your biggest fears in your face to try to stop them from happening. And that’s exactly what OCD will do. Every second of every day. For example, if it’s important to you to be kind to others, you are more likely to worry about being a narcissist than an axe murderer would. The fact is, you can obsess over absolutely anything; whether you are in the right relationship, whether you are gay, a paedophile, have HIV or whether you will turn into Shrek. There are no limits.
C is for compulsions. Compulsions are any behaviour, action or thought that someone does to try to stop or reduce the impact of their obsessions. Engaging with compulsions can feed the obsessions and can even reduce the effectiveness of the treatment plan. Compulsions can be visible, such as over-checking that the doors are locked, and invisible, such as neutralising a blasphemous thought by reciting a prayer in your head.
Get ready for the D… Disorder. This is the part where I explain why being “obsessed with aligning your margins on PowerPoint” is not “so OCD”. OCD is not an adjective or a quirk, so let’s all stop using it as one. I don’t blame you for thinking that liking your spreadsheet colour coded and your house clean means you “are OCD”. There are countless characters in the media that reinforce this. Mislabelling disorders is not exclusive to OCD. How many times have we heard the phrases “I’m going psycho”, “I’m so bipolar” or “That’s so Schizo”. Using these disorders to describe normal human emotions trivialises them. If OCD means liking your house tidy, I definitely don’t have OCD. As a rule of thumb, if you haven’t been diagnosed with a condition, don’t use it to refer to yourself.
“OCD is not an adjective or a quirk, so let’s all stop using it as one.”
Sufferers of OCD wish that OCD was quirky and cute, because the reality is a debilitating disorder. Experiencing obsessions can take over, destroy or even result in someone ending their life. If you have a preference for something (preference is the key word here) e.g. having your house clean, you do not have OCD. I do not like anything about my disorder.
Let’s go back to that dinner party. I often feel like I don’t want to be that person, who ruins the vibe by lecturing people about what they can and can’t say. However, every single time someone says, “I’m so OCD”, it makes me doubt my own diagnosis and stops me from engaging in treatment. So please, be that person and let’s change the narrative.
For more information on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, please see our OCD Factsheet