By Beatrice Duncan
CW: Mental Health.
It’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder awareness week!
Happening from the 8th-14th of October, OCD awareness week is a way for people and charities to raise awareness, spread knowledge and reach out to people with OCD and those around them.
It also happens to be World Mental Health Day today. Huh, it’s almost as if I planned this…
I was diagnosed with OCD last summer, and have spent the past year coming to terms with the disorder and getting it under control. OCD is a form of anxiety disorder, and affects around 1.2% of the UK population. It is known as a ‘secret illness’ as it is possible that the disorder would be outwardly symptomless, and even those who have it can go years without being diagnosed because they don’t really know what it is.
There are four main categories of OCD that most people’s compulsions fall under; checking, washing, hoarding and ordering/counting. The current understanding of OCD is that it functions in a ‘vicious cycle’ of Obsession->Anxiety->Compulsion->Relief.
The obsession is the unwanted thoughts or mental images and ‘what if’s, also known as ‘intrusive thoughts’. An example would be ‘what if I left the door unlocked?’. These intrusive thoughts are very hard to stop. This leads to anxiety, distress or fear, for example the fear of someone coming in through the door if it was indeed left unlocked. In order to relieve the anxiety, the person will feel a compulsion, in this case the unstoppable need to check the door is locked. This will lead to a temporary relief, and then the cycle starts again.
Without going into too much detail, most of my OCD anxiety revolves around loved ones, and the thought that I may have upset, hurt or annoyed them. This leads to a compulsion to seek reassurance either from myself or others. I have a few other OCD obsessions that I’m not going to bother listing all of, one of which including air travel. I will often get intrusive thoughts of the plane I am in crashing to the ground or bursting into flames, and will often have to get airhostesses to reassure me that everything is normal.
While my OCD is nowhere near as severe as some, you can get a picture from these few examples that OCD can be a pretty serious and life-encompassing mental illness.
In honour of OCD awareness week I thought I’d compile a list of 8 things not to say to someone with OCD and why. Enjoy X
1) I THINK I HAVE OCD-I LOVE CLEANING
This goes for pretty much all mental illnesses-try not to self diagnose. While it can sometimes be helpful to do research if you suspect you are suffering, as this can make it easier when you go to the doctor, only a healthcare professional can properly diagnose you. Now, this is particularly important when it comes to OCD as it is probably one of the most misrepresented mental illnesses in the media. From Emma in Glee to Adrian Monk in Monk, OCD is so often used as a character quirk and badly portrayed. If you do truly think you suffering from OCD, please speak to somebody about it, as this is really the only way you can get it under control. However, if you think you have OCD because you like cleaning, it might be time for a rethink. Loads of people like to clean. Many people find it calming to clean their kitchen or get their bedroom in order. This does not mean you have OCD. Saying things like “I love to clean, I’m just a bit OCD like that” is actually pretty damaging. It encourages the idea that this is all OCD is; wanting to scrub the floors or dust. Unless you have intrusive thoughts telling you something bad will happen if you don’t, it is unlikely you have OCD
2) OH YEAH, I CAN BE A LITTLE OCD SOMETIMES AS WELL
Much like above, I don’t want to hear it unless you’ve been diagnosed or have done proper research into the symptoms of OCD. It’s not much of a help to me if you claim to know exactly how I feel because you lay your shoes out in a certain way. It’s also hard to be a ‘little’ OCD. It’s true that people have greater or lesser symptoms, but nobody really has a little bit here and a little bit there.
3) I WISH I HAD OCD, I HATE CLEANING
Again. See above. Not everyone who has OCD likes to clean. But even if they did, don’t say this. You do not wish you had OCD, just like you do not wish you were bi-polar or had depression. Compulsions are not useful, and they are not something to be admired.
4) YOU DON’T LOOK/ACT LIKE SOMEONE WITH OCD
Interestingly, I think you might find it pretty much impossible to match a group of people to the mental illnesses they have. It’s almost as if people with mental illnesses don’t always look a certain way? Shocking. On a more serious note, very often OCD is outwardly symptomless. The obsessions are happening inside our heads, and the compulsions can sometimes be private. Nobody would ever know I had an issue with flying, for example, until they had to take a trip with me. Additionally, some people have what is known as ‘Pure O’, which is OCD that manifests only with obsessions and no compulsions. Surprisingly, that makes it pretty tricky to spot for an observer, so maybe stop trying.
5) BUT I THOUGHT OCD ISN’T TREATABLE?
At the present moment, there is no known cure for OCD. That doesn’t mean however that there is no way to treat and control the symptoms. In fact, something as simple as a course of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy is known to be an incredibly effective way of getting OCD under control. So OCD is actually very treatable with the right help.
6) DOES THIS PHOTO OF A MISALIGNED BRICK ANNOY YOU?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen something like this: articles claiming you can’t make it through these photos if you have OCD, or ‘How OCD are you’ quizzes. Amazingly, seeing a picture of someone biting into a kit-kat the wrong way is not going to trigger intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and seeing someone ordering skittles by colour will not stop it. As I’ve previously talked about, not all people with OCD have the same symptoms. People who like things being in a certain order will make up a certain percentage of OCD sufferers, but a lot of people will find they are affected by different things. More to the point, I don’t understand why so many people feel the need to ‘test’ and potentially trigger somebodies serious mental illness. Get a life.
7) IT’S JUST IN YOUR HEAD
Very true. And your broken leg is just in your bones. Your point?
8) JUST STOP WORRYING SO MUCH
Hopefully this has clued a few people up, or provided amusement to those of you who already knew this stuff already. Have a happy and healthy World Mental Health Day, and an informative rest of OCD awareness week. Don’t forget that the people that love you are there to help, no matter what. And even if they aren’t, there are people you can turn to.
Nightline-Run by students for students every night during term time. Find your University’s nightline number using the link.
Samaritans-call 116 123 for round the clock support.
OCD UK-supporting children and adults affected by OCD.