The following phrases have the potential to turn me into a ball of snarling indignation:
“Haha, I’m so OCD about that!”
“God, my pens have to be straight – it’s like I’m OCD, haha!”
And that is why we’re here today, ladies and gentlemen. I am so so sick of people treating Obsessive Compulsive Order as if it were some kind of casual joke, something to be thrown out there like the idea of it being an actual mental illness is hilarious.
So you like your pens to be straight, good for you. It bothers you when your nails are dirty, fair enough. It does not make you OCD and claiming that it does (jokingly or otherwise, I’ve seen both) demonstrates your sheer lack of understanding about what this disorder actually entails and actually makes you seem kind of (read: incredibly) dismissive.
Actually, the sterotypical OCD traits (cleanliness, germs, order, etc) can be the least invasive and aren’t as common as you’d think. They’ve only become so prevalent because they’re the ones people make jokes about. See above for my thoughts on how simply hilarious that is.
I don’t have that kind of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, although some people do and it’s still dehabilitating. I do like clean bed sheets and I don’t like my food to touch other food when it’s on my plate, but those are just my preferences. That’s the key word here – preference, not compulsion.
Anybody who has experienced an actual compulsion can’t fail to recognise it for what it is. They’re not always all physical – thinking in a certain way or about certain things can be a compulsion. For example, I have always had an obsession about death ever since an inappropriately young age. I obsess over the fact that my parents, friends and cat will die some day and therefore I compulsively store memories and photographs so I don’t regret missing time with them.
This sounds like it might actually be quite nice – savouring every moment, etc. Except it means that I can’t stroke my cat without remembering how he’s going to die one day, how he might die and what that might look like. Same with my Mum – every time I get out of her car, I have to tell her that I love her in case she dies before I see her again.
I have an odd set of compulsions regarding my Mum, actually. You know in Ella Enchanted, where Ella has to follow every instruction given to her or it makes her physically ill? That. If my Mum makes me a packed lunch, I have to eat every single part of it, no matter how ill I might feel, or I get such severe feelings of guilt as I obsessively picture an uneaten sandwich rotting in the bin that I end up with wracking stomach ache.
Today I rang her because I had a three hour gap in between meetings and I was bored. She suggested I go to Waterstones and we had a short conversation about how she (jokingingly) had no doubt I could spend three hours in a bookshop. I decided to go to the office where I volunteer instead – I could make myself a free cup of tea and have a chat with the friends I work with. Except I found myself getting more and more tense, more nauseous, more twitchy and I kept picturing Waterstones and replaying the conversation with my Mum. By the time I left the office I was practically jogging down the street to get to Waterstones so the pressure on my shoulders would dissipate.
I should add that my Mum knows about none of the above. She’d be absolutely horrified at the amount of power she has over me and I’m not particularly fond of it myself. I was never particularly a Mama’s Girl and I wasn’t coddled. That’s just the way my hilarious illness has chosen to show itself, based on nothing.
What shall we talk about now? Oh, I know. A few weeks ago my Mum tidied my bedroom, to be nice and helpful because it was a mess. Except I broke down and cried hysterically for about three days. And I do mean hysterically. Sobbing in a ball on the floor until I choked. It felt like everything in the room had eyes and it was malevolently watching me. Then I spent hours rearranging everything to exactly how it was before she came in – to be just as messy as before. I don’t need things to be tidy and clean, I just need them to be where I put them. Then I tidied my bedroom anyway because hey, I preferred it tidy. But I’d tidied it.
However, since then, I’ve had paralysing guilt about what an ungrateful wretch I was. Every time I think about it I get that sharp pain in my stomach and a pressure in between my shoulders. I replay it in my head constantly and I just feel so ashamed.
I’m nearly done. Just one more example of the true hilarity that is OCD. Sometimes, I have compulsions that I can’t act on and I only feel compelled to do them because I can’t act on them. For example, when I was about twelve I was taken along to sit quietly at the back of an AGM meeting for the club that my Dad was Chairman of. At some point he asked if everybody was happy with the current newsletter editor and I had a desperate and absolute compulsion to stand on my chair and announce that I was going to be the new editor.
I didn’t want to be editor. I couldn’t have been editor. But that was the entire point – announcing this would have been such an inappropriate and humilating thing to do, that every fibre of my being wanted to do it. This happens fairly often and it’s worse because you can’t give in to it. You have to sit on your hands, count to one hundred and focus on a stationery spot on the floor while your stomach is twisting and your brain is telling you to just give in, just do it, you know you need to!