No, You’re Not “So OCD”
Look, this is an article that’s been coming for a long time – since I started writing the OCDiaries series, about living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I knew that I would eventually write something about the “I’m just SO OCD!” nonsense. There’s no way for me to put this out there without someone assuming that I’m trying to subtweet them in some passive-aggressive blogular fashion, but honestly, I’m not attempting to call out anyone in particular. If you think this is about you, it’s probably not – but you could probably do with it, anyway.
Because, to be quite honest, all my life, the term “OCD” has been used as an adjective. I barely need to explain the context that people throw it around in – I’m almost certain that you’ve heard it before, usually with regards to someone liking their things in a specific order or washing their hands an extra time or double-checking the door is locked before they leave the house. It’s an attempt at quirky shorthand to explain someone overdoing things a little when it comes to their organisation, much the same way that “bipolar” is used to describe someone who dares to have more than one emotion in quick succession (which, you know – not at all, but go off).
And I just want to get into why it bothers me, as a person who actually has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As I’ve written about before, OCD is something that I’ve lived with for most of my life, and there have been periods of time when living anything close to normally has been so far out of reach it feels painful. Times when I have been having such severe panic attacks that leaving the house is virtually impossible. Times when I have just lain in bed, so wracked with terror I can’t sleep for hours, days on end. Self-harm is something that I relied on for a long time just to feel like I had any level of control over my brain, which was – still is – so often trying to rebel against me and make my life genuinely fucking hard.
And what bugs me the most about hearing people toss around the “I’m so OCD!” thing is – well, actually, it’s the consistent and cultural and omnipresent demeaning of an actual real thing that many real people deal with. But, more personally, it’s considering what they must think of me and the issues that I have. When I tell someone that I am having a hard time with my OCD, do they assume that I’m struggling with one of my books being in the wrong place? It’s hard not to wonder if people who’ve only encountered OCD through throwaway comments like that look at me and people like me and think we just need to pull ourselves together. There’s an awkwardness about going into the true impact of these illnesses in casual conversation, but I have this constant sureness that people are associating it with the throwaway personality quirk instead of the actual disorder. Dammit, I’m anxious enough without worrying more that people see what I’m dealing with as little more than wanting my magazines at right-angles to the edge of the table!
I’m not saying that everyone needs to have an in-depth understanding of every mental illness and the way they function and the impact that they can have on the lives of the people who live with them, but if we could stop boiling them down to quirky personality traits as opposed to being the life-altering illnesses that they are, that would be just great. There are plenty of ways for you to say “I like things a particular way!” that don’t involve dragging an already-misunderstood illness into further misunderstanding. Wash your hands, arrange your books, check your door – but please leave me and my dumb weiner brain out of it.