You know what my least favorite phrase in the entire world is? “Oh, i’m just really OCD about that kind of stuff.” It’s the kind of phrase that raises my blood pressure. For some reason, it hits me on a deeply personal level, yet whenever someone uses the phrase I tend to just laugh it off and put on a fake smile as if I thought it was funny. I think I’m getting to the point in my life where I can no longer do that.
Trying to describe to someone what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is like is virtually impossible, partly because it’s indescribable. It’s also a condition many people hear and immediately jump to predispositions they already have about the validity of mental health disorders. Honestly though, I can’t entirely blame them.
Let us look at each of the words separately first. OBSESSION. A trigger word like no other. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word obsession? Crazy? Unhinged? Someone sitting in a dark room plotting against their worst enemies? You aren’t wrong to think that way. The stigmatism that surrounds the word is almost completely negative. However, what most people might not realize is that we all obsess over something. Sometimes, they are actual concrete entities like clothes, cars, celebrities, high school crushes, relationships, or money. Other times, we obsess over more abstract things like love, attention, affection, hate towards others, or even closure. Now, I guarantee you at one point, you have thought way too long and hard about something in an irrational manner, and I can also guarantee you that you have, in fact, had an obsession.
COMPUSLSION. Another negatively stigmatized word. When I hear it, the first thing I think about is a loss of control. Compulsion is a force so strong, that even a rational mind cannot stop from forcing itself to do something that, in most instances, would feel completely irrational. We’ve all probably had a compulsion to do something we didn’t really want to as well. Compulsions to drink at a high school party so that you might fit in better. Compulsions to text an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend of yours because you miss them and Drake songs are playing in the background. Although we heavily stigmatize these words, we can all relate to these mental processes in one way or another. However, the next word is where most of you and I will differ…
DISORDER. This is where my story starts because this is the part that most people don’t seem to be able to connect the dots on. I was diagnosed with a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder known as “Pure-O (or Pure Obsession)” right after my freshman year of college. The reason it’s called “Pure-O” is because it doesn’t have the stereotypical physical manifestations of compulsive behaviors. What that means is that the compulsive behaviors are projected mentally instead of physically. An example would be that you don’t see me re-arranging my kitchen to make everything clean, but you might find me distracted because I can’t stop thinking about how clean the kitchen is. I don’t think that’s a good enough example, though, so let me try to give you a glimpse of what everyone with OCD has to deal with on a regular basis. Let’s start with what most would consider a ridiculous analogy.
Imagine you’re sitting at your job and all of a sudden the thought pops in your head that their might be a bomb somewhere in the building. Now, a normally functioning brain would analyze the irrationality of that thought and discard it immediately. But imagine for a second if your brain didn’t and it processed the thought as if it were logic and reasoning of a bomb all of a sudden being placed in your building was a legitimate threat. Now imagine if you couldn’t continue your work until you figured out how to make sure there isn’t a bomb. You walk around the entire building, you check all the bathrooms, you ask your coworkers for reassurance, etc. However, no matter what you do the anxiety your feeling never seems to go away completely. That nagging thought is always in the back of your mind the rest of the day. Maybe it’s there the next day too. Or the next week. Or year.
Now think about that type of irrationality on every day anxieties and fears. Imagine a thought like that, a thought that could derail your entire day, could spike at any moment. Not only that, but think about how it would feel knowing that even if you try your hardest to get rid of that thought, that it could come back at any moment and hit again.
These are the kind of experiences I’ve dealt with. For a person with OCD to list all the things that they have fears and anxieties about would be a never-ending list. It is built from a foundation of irrationality that intertwines itself with your actual reality to the point that you can’t tell the difference. It’s living in a mental state where you can’t tell what is up or down. The harder to try to run away from it, the worse it gets. It’s like trying to recover from addiction when you are also the drug.
I have ruined relationships with people from OCD. I’ve called in sick from work because of the anxiety it has caused. I’ve felt shame, guilt, depression, and anger towards myself with , sometimes, little to no control. It is an every day battle that you have to train for in order to win, and it can be very exhausting.
This is why the word “disorder” is the most important part. This is where most of have blurred the lines between what normal, logical, anxiety is and what OCD actually is. This is also a conversation that can be stretched to many other forms of mental health issues. Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, anorexia, drug addiction, sex addiction, PTSD, depression, chronic anxiety, Asperger’s, and many others affect more people that you know than you probably even realized, all at varying degrees of severity. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have a good job, loving parents, plenty of friends, a girlfriend. Yet, not only does it still take its toll, but there are plenty of others out there who have it much worse than I do.
If you have family members or friends who are affected by mental health disorders, take into consideration just for a second how hard it must be for them even if you can’t completely understand it. Calling someone “crazy” or saying you are “OCD about stuff” aren’t as unweighted of phrases as you may think they are. These are actual issues happening around you that you may have actually had small doses of throughout your life. Imagine that sadness, anger, or guilt you may feel after a breakup. Imagine the fear you may have about things in your life that you can’t quite explain, and think about the absolute crippling anxiety you may have had at some point in your life where it feels like you are drowning in your own thoughts. Finally, imagine if you were uncontrollably creating those feelings and placing them onto yourself.
Mental health is not a joke, a fabrication, or a political talking point used only when mass shootings occur. It’s not a way for us to put each other down, it should be a way for us to understand each other better. Maybe it’s hard to picture something as confusing as what I’m describing; maybe I haven’t found all the words yet to explain it you. Either way, I’m just asking you to do what I do, and think about it first before you speak.