I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) during my freshman year of college, and I was pretty surprised because, like most people, I basically only had one understanding of what OCD could be. I thought being obsessive compulsive meant being meticulous and organized, engaging in repetitive physical motions (like counting or turning a light switch on and off), being a hoarder, getting hung up on the symmetry of things, and being a little superstitious — none of which describes me. When I got my diagnosis, my immediate thought was that the therapist hadn't been listening to me all these weeks I had been seeing her, and I got pretty upset. "OCD?" I exclaimed "No! I'm probably just depressed. Or anxious. You're missing something here."
But, as often happens, the therapist knew what she was talking about and I realized that my definition of OCD was extremely narrow and limited, and perpetuating a definition that was problematic to begin with was irresponsible and reckless. There are several different types of OCD and several different ways of expressing and demonstrating obsessive compulsive symptoms. I was diagnosed with a kind of OCD that primarily has to do with catastrophic thinking, where I have a thought in my head, become fixated with it, and let the thought escalate into something scary, negative, or frightening (and highly unlikely). My brain makes this happen so often that it becomes a source of significant stress. Let me walk you through an example:
Lets say I'm casually crossing the street...
...and out of the corner of my eye, I see a car moving in my direction.
The reasonable part of my brain knows that the driver sees me, won't hit me because I have the right of way, and that the car is moving at a slow enough speed to stop.
But another part of my brain starts to freak out and perceives the car to be moving like this:
So I start to freak out and let my brain wander...
...and come up with the silliest scenarios. What if the car hits me? What if I immediately die? Who will find my body? More importantly, how will I still hide my tattoos from my mom when I'm dead? Will my roommates take care of my Harry Potter collection? Am I automatically going to hell because I didn't vote in the last election? Will anyone remember me?
Sometimes, the thought goes on for a few seconds. Other times, I'm stuck thinking about my theoretical demise for hours or days.
Other people can't see my OCD; in fact, no one ever has to know until or unless I describe these escalated scenarios to them in detail. But that also means that people don't believe I have OCD or don't believe that it's "that serious," real, or painful for me to deal with. So if you don't have OCD, do the ones of us a favor and avoid saying these problematic and irritating things to people who suffer from it.
1. You have OCD? I basically do too, I hate messiness!
Newsflash: OCD and "basically OCD" are not the same thing.
2. Suffering from a mental health illness makes you so artistic! I'm kind of jealous!
While a lot of writers and artists say that suffering from mental health illnesses like depression, anxiety, or OCD fueled their art, that's certainly not the case for everyone. Plus, it's a little messed up to tell someone you're jealous of something that causes them pain just because it may help them "create" better. Art and mental health can be two very separate things; my mental health doesn't always inform my art and vice-versa.
3. Everyone's a little OCD about something!
Sure, people have particular tastes that they care about and things they want done in a specific way. But no, not everyone is caused significant distress about those things if they aren't accomplished and no, not everyone has control over how obsessively they pay attention to those things. For people who deal with OCD, things can be completely out of our control, whereas people who don't can better control their feelings.
4. Are you a germ freak?
5. If you know you have it, why can't you just stop it?
Most people living with OCD aren't oblivious to it (which goes for many mental health illnesses) but that doesn't mean they have control over it. It's like knowing what the weather is going to be tomorrow but not having any power to change it.
So there you have it...avoid saying these things or making other ignorant comments about OCD and mental health in general, and you'll be golden.