The term OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) gets tossed around far too often and most people don’t realise the damage they are doing.
I hear it all the time; ‘I am so OCD when it comes to my notes’ or ‘I can be a little OCD about germs’. The thing is you can’t be just a little OCD. It is not an adjective and it certainly isn’t something you decide to be or something that annoys you from time to time, and for some reason, this is severely misunderstood by a lot of people.
Believe it or not, the ‘D’ actually stands for disorder. As far as the Oxford dictionary is concerned this means ‘an illness that disrupts daily physical and mental functions’.
Obsessive compulsive disorder has become a synonym for uptight. When in reality,
our brains just work differently in certain situations, almost as though they get stuck
on a certain mechanism and we aren’t able to just move on from it. The brain goes
into override and we become fixated on one thing.
We all have things that we obsess over, whether it be that job interview that we can’t
stop thinking about or having books in a certain order, maybe in alphabetical or colour coded. But this isn’t OCD.
Because OCD isn’t just obsessions – they are a small part of it, for some people yes.
But they are not the whole picture. It is a crushing debilitating wave of anxiety, one
that bombards you with obsessive thoughts and then pushes you into feeling like
your only release is to perform your compulsions because if you do not, then who
knows what bad things may happen.
You may think this sounds completely irrational, but it is not about logic, it is about
anxiety – irrational for one, but so very real for someone with OCD. I am aware that
having the thought process of ‘I must write my notes out perfectly otherwise it will
affect how I learn, and I will fail’ is extremely irrational, but it is also a very real and
strong feeling and, in my head, the only way to relieve this is to make sure my work
is to a high standard. Which often results in crumpling up paper and starting again,
The Word Health Organisation recognised it as
one of the top 10 most disabling disorders in terms
of how it affects quality of life. In the UK, every 12
in 1000 people suffer from OCD. So how did an
abbreviation of a mental illness and cruel anxiety
disorder, that affects so many lives, at such a great
cost, come to be used as a frivolous comment to
discuss harmless quirks?
Through the power of the media and TV/Film and
their inaccurate portrayal of what it really means to suffer from OCD.
‘OCD stories Podcast’ is a platform founded by Stuart Ralph – whilst informing the media of what
OCD really is, they aim to inspire those who have the illness to seek treatment
through interviews with specialists and OCD sufferers. In an interview on the 25
February 2017, Ralph interviewed writer and director Harris Goldberg.
During the interview Goldberg discusses how difficult it can be to depict an accurate
portrayal of OCD because directors and producers tend to change the original script
to something that will more fit stereotypes that the audiences already have, to meet
expectations but more often than not, just to make them laugh.
Goldberg said: “I wrote in a character to be literally me, based off my own OCD experience. I
originally wrote him to be a real three-dimensional character with OCD. But then
somebody buys the screenplay and they can we make him less OCD. Can we
make him a little weirder, like, can we make him terrified of cellophane or something?
The problem is, the studio gets frightened and prefers to create a fantasy version of
what an OCD person acts like in order to, so they think, appeal to a larger audience.”
Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would much rather see a real representation
of my illness in the media rather than feel I have been made a mockery of,
due to something I can’t control. All the worse, it gives people a huge
amount of misinformation, which also doesn’t help sufferers raise awareness of what
it is really like.
I think the line I hear people say most when I open up about my illness has got to be
‘Oh don’t worry, I do that too’. Although you may experience a symptom, that
doesn’t mean you feel it to the same extreme depth. By treating it as though it is
something that everyone does on a daily basis, it disregards the severity of the
disorder. It is an illness that manifests differently in each of its sufferers, from
excessive cleaning to repetitive behaviours such as tapping and counting. Not just
some quirky habits that warrant laughter instead of treatment.
Everyone who suffers from OCD experiences it in a different way, some of the
obsessions ( uncontrollable and persistent thoughts or/and images) include but are
not limited too – contamination of dirt, disease or germs, fear of harm and concern
When someone is affected by OCD, there natural response to these obsessions is to
fight them with behaviours and actions, these are called compulsions. OCD UK
explains this as ‘repetitious, purposeful physical or mental actions that the
individual feels compelled to engage in according to their own strict rules or in a
stereotyped manner.’ To name a few – repetitive checking e.g. taps, doors, counting,
cleaning/washing and rituals.
The devastating result of OCD stigma is that it diminishes the severity of the illness,
and then in turn the person struggling is less likely to seek help or feel like they even
need that help. OCD can be treated, but not alone, and definitely not in silence.
I have struggled with this illness for many years now, finding my own ways to cope
that are right for me and managing my obsessions and compulsions on a daily basis,
and although it has been a long uphill struggle, with the right coping strategies and
therapies I am on my way to living the life that I choose to live, one that isn’t
controlled by my illness.
But there is much that could be done to make the lives of those who suffer from this
illness a lot easier. It starts with ending the stigma.
Often the stigma between physical and mental health is the first place to start, because if we don’t recognise that these are both as valid as each other, then we won’t be able to support people to the extent that they
need it. Education, by educating ourselves, and then educating others on what OCD
is and what it is not, will help those suffering to feel better understood, which can go
a long way in their recovery.
Ignorance has a big part to play here, and often it can be difficult to admit when we
are being ignorant, but I have come to learn that when people come to know that
something they have said or done was wrong, most of them just stop, apologise and
recognise how their actions could affect someone suffering.
And this, is how change happens.
If you are struggling with OCD or know someone who may need help, there are
many charities and organisations that can offer some great support, they also have a
lot of information on what it is, if you are interested in helping to end the stigma:
OCD-UK | A national OCD charity, run by, and for people with lived experience of OCD
Helpline | OCD Action
Featured image credit: Timetochange.org.uk