Debunking OCD

For the past few months, I’ve been disheartened by people who are frequently shaming and putting down others for being too sensitive. Whether about mental health, religion, sexuality, gender, feminism, or bodytype, there seems to be a divide between those who may like to joke about the matter and those who think that there shouldn’t be any kind of joking on such matters at all. In regards to this, I once read an anonymous quote that said, “Apologize when you do something to hurt someone else but never apologize for being who you are.” I think this speaks to our society in that we all have different beliefs when it comes to just about anything. While our opinions aren’t something we should ever have to compromise, they’re also things we can’t expect everyone to understand or agree with. Topics as significant as the ones I just mentioned are ones that can hit close to home for many individuals, but when you haven’t experienced racial, gender or any other kind of discrimination, it’s easy to forget how hurtful an experience it can be. Not everyone will react to jokes or potentially controversial comments in the same way, but that doesn’t mean that people are or aren’t affected negatively by them.  

That rant being said, there are a lot of words I see being tossed around in tweets and conversations that are misused, often unintentionally. Misused words can cause a lot of conflict between “being too sensitive” and “not joking about certain matters.” In regards to mental health, I think a lot of terms are misused because of the lack of knowledge on whatever issue or mental illness. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the word I see most commonly misused, and it’s a term that I myself have used incorrectly in the past when I lacked the knowledge of what it meant to suffer from OCD. OCD is often portrayed in the media as simply needing things to be neat and orderly or needing to excessively wash hands, but OCD is much more than and sometimes not even characterized by those single traits.

As stated in the Diagnostic Manual by the American Psychological Association, OCD can be categorized as one of various obsessive-compulsive disorders and as a personality disorder. As its name suggests, OCD is characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are intrusive and unwanted. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors (i.e. hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (i.e. praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be rigidly performed. These obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming for an individual who suffers from OCD, and they cause social and occupational impairment. An individual with OCD may have poor or absent insight, in that they will fear that their house will burn down if they do not check the stove 30 times.

As a personality disorder, an individual experiences a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control. They may be excessively devoted to work and productivity, or be preoccupied with details, rules, lists, and schedules, which are 2 among many characteristics of this mental illness. These features impair functioning because obsessions with certain things may come at the cost of others such as leisure activities and friendships.

Here are some quotes taken from the Buzzfeed video “What OCD Feels Like” that describe what it’s like to live with and suffer from OCD:

  • “My OCD is so bad that minutes after getting a manicure I ruin it because it’s not 100% absolutely perfect.”
  • “I feel like my OCD controls me. Every time someone hugs me I want to shower. Every time someone touches me I have to hold myself from hurting them. I can’t focus.”
  • “My OCD is pretty bad, I scratched my head so hard I started bleeding because my head’s dry. I don’t even notice I’m doing it sometimes.”
  • “My hands are bleeding from compulsive hand washing.”
  • “It pisses me off when people say they have OCD or ADHD when they really don’t. It’s not a cute little quirk you can just think you have, it’s an actual disorder and it’s an insult to people who actually have it.”  

We don’t have control over what other people think or say, but we have the ability to think twice before saying things. When it comes to serious topics such as mental illnesses or mental health issues, it’s important to remember to not out speak about or demean those who suffer every day from a disorder. Our experiences are subjective and if you’ve never had or known anyone close to you with OCD, you’ll likely never know what it’s really like – and this goes for just about any mental illness. Stay informed on these matters so terms like OCD are not misused and mental disorders are not misunderstood or further stigmatized. Your choice of words has the power to hurt someone, or to even save a life, especially when it comes to matters that are sensitive and are likely to evoke a variety of reactions. Your voice is important, but from this year and onwards, let’s all aim to be more open to the opinions and feelings of those who have battled mental illness, who have experienced the struggle of coming out as specific sexualities or genders that are in the minority, who have spent years learning to love the skin and body they’re in before we speak without having faced some or any of those struggles. A little can go a long way if we all put in the effort!

Do you have any suggestions of how to spread the word about mental illness? Let us know in the comments below!


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