Why we Need to Eliminate “That’s So OCD” From Our Vocabulary

**Content Warning: This article contains detailed discussion of mental health issues, including OCD, anxiety, depression, and suicide. Please keep this in mind if you continue to read.**

While we’ve gotten to a place, overall, where people are beginning to take mental illness more seriously, there still remains ample work to be done. For instance, it’s not uncommon for me to hear people referring to the weather as “bipolar.” I also hear people disparagingly referring to their disorganized peers as “schizophrenic” on a semi-regular basis. These phrases diminish the seriousness of mental illness by using life-threatening conditions as material for colloquial bantering and jokes. Furthermore, they dehumanize the lived realities of those with mental illness by applying offensive mental health tropes to inanimate objects and occurrences.

I’m happy to report that, in my experience, most people tend to understand the offensiveness of this misuse of language once you explain it to them. In fact, many of my close friends have virtually eliminated mental illness jokes and tropes from their vocabulary after learning about the harm that this careless language causes.

However, I’ve also noticed a startling trend. While people tend to eliminate most offensive mental health-related language from their vocabulary after learning about its harm, I find that many of these same people continue to use the following phrases: “That’s so OCD” and “I’m so OCD.” This continued minimizing of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) has led me to realize that people often don’t view it as a serious condition.  I’m hoping that my story can contribute to a dialogue about why we need to take OCD seriously.First of all, OCD is so much more than just obsessive cleanliness and a fear of germs. That’s a misunderstanding perpetuated by media depictions of the disorder. In fact, lots of people with OCD don’t even experience the cleanliness component of the disorder—myself included! At its core, OCD is characterized by obsessive and intrusive thoughts that give the sufferer anxiety. In turn, the sufferer turns to compulsions in an attempt to minimize this anxiety.

These intrusive thoughts are often graphic and horrifying. For example, as someone who has had OCD since I was six years old, I have always had intrusive thoughts about committing suicide by hanging myself from a tree in the woods. Before I understood OCD, I didn’t understand why I kept having this barrage of disturbing thoughts, and I would compulsively tell myself, “I would never kill myself” in order to calm my nerves. So, picture this: six-year-old me, standing in the bathroom, telling myself over and over again, for hours at a time, “I would never kill myself.” These anxieties and rituals took up hours of my day, which led to a spiral of anxiety, fear, depression, and loneliness. There’s no need to go into all the specifics, but keep in mind that this particular obsession was only one of 10-15 that I would have in any given week. Knowing this sheer numerical magnitude, imagine the amount of time that people with OCD spend on these anxieties, and how much it interferes with their lives.

Throughout my own life, I’ve experienced more OCD-related anxieties than I can count. Although now I consider myself to have a wide variety of healthy coping mechanisms, these fears still pop up, especially during times of stress. They include, but are not limited to, a fear that I’ll murder someone one day, a fear that I’ll become a pedophile, and a fear that I’ll accidentally cause some form of mass destruction. These fears fall under the categories of “harm-OCD” and “pedophile-OCD.” In other words, they’re common enough fears for OCD sufferers that they have their own categorization. You just don’t hear about them in popular media, because people are often ashamed to admit that they have constant irrational fears about such sensitive subjects. There’s a lot more to learn about OCD, but I think I’ll cap it here for the sake of this article. After reading this, I hope you’ll keep in mind the absolute horror and pain that is “OCD,” and why making jokes about it is so hurtful to those of us who have suffered. Let’s work to eliminate stigma and create platforms for people to talk openly about this mental health condition.

 

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