Friday, 7 March 2014

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Gif-filled Explanation of Why It's Actually Not All That Funny

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!

Don't think I'm not aware how crazy I sound in this post. But that's kind of the point - this is what actually goes on in my head, not just a mild desire to straighten the table mat. This isn't a pity party and I am actually a contributing member of society - I have a good job, I have friends and I'm reasonably pleasant to talk to (I hope). 

OCD isn't just people who like clean things. And even if somebody does have compulsions about cleanliness, it's a serious issue that can be completely dehabilitating. You don't know what's going on behind the scenes and assuming that you do, and assuming that it's some kind of joke, is just offensive.


  1. I really appreciate this post. I also have OCD, both the germ-phobia (although I have gotten that more under control than it had been), as well was the obsession with death. What you said up there is exactly how I feel. Every time my mom gets too stressed or does not get enough sleep I worry I am going to lose her. I have a cat also, and I am in constant fear about her. I also deal with obsessive thoughts of not being good enough, and I constantly beat myself up. I also deal with feelings of doubt, and need a lot of reassurance. Like, I am always convinced I have left my curling iron on and sometimes check to make sure it's off five or six times before I will leave the house. And then I'll ask a family member to check for me. I'm in a pretty good place right now, and can manage... but it's hard. And I agree, it's really hard to hear people make light of it.

    1. I've never met anybody before with the death obsession. My CBT therapist was able to recognise that it was OCD-based but unable to help me with it because she'd never seen anything like it before either.

      I also have the thoughts of not being good enough and need almost constant reassurance. But because everybody has similar thoughts at some point, it's hard for people to accept that yours are an actual compulsion. They assume you're just being dramatic.

      How did you get to your good place, if you don't mind my asking? Did you get any help or persevere on your own?

      Thank you for your honesty - it always makes it easier to accept when you hear other people going through a similar thing.

  2. *stands up and applauds heartily* See also: "Haha, I'm so bipolar about it, I can't decide one way or the other!" Like really, when you conveniently forget about the depression and the reckless behaviour and the urge to kill yourself and the psychosis and the inability to do anything you enjoy even if you try because your mind feels like a cracked mirror and you can't put the pieces together quite right... well, really the core of bipolar is not being able to decide whether you like tea or coffee better.

    In one way, it's good that these mental health issues are getting enough exposure and being destigmatised to the point where people are so accepting of them that they're happy to use the terminology about themselves - but when the underlying understanding is so obviously, well, NOT THERE, even edging into offensive ignorance, then you can't help but wonder whether any of these mental health awareness campaigns are doing much at all beyond introducing new fun words for idiots to use on Twitter.

    1. *chokes* I've never heard THAT before. I think I'd die of shame if anybody ever said that in my hearing.

      I'd never thought about it that way; that it means mental health is becoming more exposed. Trust you to put a positive light on it :) But then again, is it not slightly counter-productive? I'd rather people had never heard of OCD than thought it was an amusing idiosyncrasy that makes you straighten pens.

  3. Such a great post Hanna. I never find joking with any kind of mental illness funny, be it OCD or schizophrenia or anything else.

    There have also been these kind of "funny" jokes about being autistic. Every time a person is slightly non-social it's immediately "oh he's totally like an autistic person he made such a weird face when I said hi". It's quite prevalent amongst teens, and I find that rather hurtful since my brother has autism. Not so funny if you're close to it

    1. I completely agree. I know these people don't usually intend to be offensive, especially when they don't know about your ties to it, but it's still hurtful.

      I've noticed teenagers are particularly flippant about Down's Syndrome as well. "Haha, she looks proper Downsy!" was one I heard on the train the other day. So not appropriate or funny.

    2. Definitely, we have a cuss word for Down's in Dutch, "mongool" (which is completely racist towards people from Mongolia as well). The word gets thrown around like it's nothing.

    3. Actually, that's not just Dutch. It used to be quite prevalent over here in the middle of last century, but thankfully that's seen as quite old-fasioned nowadays.

  4. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us--it takes a lot of courage! I agree with everything you said. There's a post on Buzz Feed called something like "Pictures That Will Fill Every OCD Person With Uncontrollable Rage," and I am so annoyed by it. Looking at the pictures, yes, some of them bother me (I've never been officially diagnosed with OCD, but I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and I definitely do have mild OCD). But it's a great example of how people don't understand what OCD actually is, and how it can severely affect people.

    1. I found that and noticed that they'd changed 'OCD Person' to 'Control Freak', presumably as a result of several articulate and angry comments underneath. It's basically just a load of stuff that ANYONE would instinctively straighten up or think "WTF was this person doing when they did this?" Someone had actually commented underneath that they 'wished they were more OCD' because they weren't that bothered - that one went down REALLY well. :(

    2. I've seen TONS of articles like that and they're all full of photos that would mildly annoy ANYBODY, OCD or not. Like, they annoy me but they don't OCD-annoy me (they might if it was in person, not a photo, but that's not the point).

      I don't think I'm making sense. Anyway, it's bad enough when people in the street do it, but when a big media website like BuzzFeed make fun of mental health, it only promotes to the public that it's OKAY to do that and it's very much not.

      Thanks for your comment, Kelly.

    3. Ellie, they've changed that one but there are loads more - just Google OCD Buzzfeed.

      'They wished they were more OCD?' I read this one my phone a few days ago and had to leave it a few days before I was actually able to reply. I'd LOVE them to spent a week with actual and genuine OCD - then see how fast they wanted rid of it.

  5. I saw on Twitter that you nearly didn't post this and that would have been sad - I think it's really important that people understand that there's more to mental illness than the jokes and awkward references. I do think it's better that the names of conditions are better known but I can't help but agree that if they're attached to jokes and misconceptions, it might be harder for people to overturn those views than if there weren't any preconceptions at all.

    My sister struggles with anxiety generally and I know how frustrated she gets with people telling her to just "stop worrying about things" and then she'll be fine. I think that the more people who write posts just like this (except obviously not as good!), the better. Go you indeed.

    1. It was a close thing. I know how odd the above post makes me seem and I was wary of future employers finding it... then I realised I really didn't care. If they're interested in me to do a Google search, then hopefully an under-control mental illness won't put them off. The pros outweighed the cons in the end.

      Ah, I've had that one. "Just don't get stressed about stuff!" Cheers.

      "Hey, blind person. Why don't you just try and see a bit better?"

  6. I agree with this. I have a form of OCD when I am having an anxiety episode. I fixate on a bad thought and it just stay in my mind. Then I continuously rub my wrists. I didn't know it was OCD for years. I just thought it was apart of my anxiety disorder.. but then I learned. It is hard to work with and you are right.. it is NOT funny.


Grab my Button

Booking in Heels

Booking In Heels Copyright 2008 Fashionholic Designed by Ipiet Templates Supported by Tadpole's Notez