We’ve all heard it before; the offhand comments people make about being “totally OCD.” Maybe you’ve even made them yourself while organizing your desk during a workday or doing some spring cleaning on a Saturday afternoon. It’s not uncommon to hear people using the word “OCD” as synonymous to “neat freak,” to hear people poke fun at it, to laugh like it’s no big deal.
But the truth is, saying that you have OCD when you clearly don’t isn’t in any way funny or lighthearted. If anything, it’s nothing less than insulting and dismissive to those who are actually plagued by the real-life symptoms of the disease.
I’m not afraid to say that I was diagnosed with OCD around four years ago and had been silently dealing with the symptoms for much longer. I can tell you from personal experience that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder isn’t funny. It’s isn’t a cute quirk, not something that you can turn on and off. It isn’t something you just stop thinking about once you’ve cleaned up a messy room or straightened that one out of line object.
A lot of times, having OCD can feel like hell, especially when you don’t know what’s actually happening to you or how to control it.
It manifests itself differently in everyone, but for me OCD was not being able to sleep at night, not being able to rest my head against the pillow because I had to constantly check that the front door was locked or that the lid to the toilet was shut. It was having my heart pound in the darkness as I fought against the urge to check on things in the middle of the night that I knew didn’t actually matter at all. It was seeing images that I didn’t want to see replaying in my head over and over again with no way to stop them. It was an endless routine of nonsensical patterns and counting and tapping and avoiding.
Those thoughts, those obsessions and compulsions, had me wondering what was wrong with me. My OCD told me I was crazy, made me feel guilty for acts I hadn’t even committed. It told me that I was in the possession of a brain that was broken and malfunctioning. It was being controlled by a mind in overdrive, one that you can’t ever shut off no matter how fed-up or exhausted you become by it.
OCD is being afraid of things that you know will never happen, but still wanting to feel in control of it all in some way. It’s fear and a racing heart, it’s guilt and questions that you can never truly get the answers to.
My OCD was never about being extremely neat and tidy the way most people think it would be. Sure, there are definitely those whose OCD does manifest itself in those ways, but it’s so much more complex than that.
When those who aren’t actually obsessive compulsive make jokes about it, when they over-exaggerate and exacerbate symptoms, it’s invalidating and humiliating to those who actually feel that pain and anguish.
And it’s hard not to take it personally when I see people I know posting ridiculous quiz results on social media entitled, “How OCD Are You Really?” Because the fact is, if you’re posting a fake score with the exclamation along the lines of, “I knew I was 94% OCD!” you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.
Because OCD isn’t an adjective used to describe someone. It’s a legitimate anxiety disorder, a mental illness. One that affects so many people in so many real ways.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve gotten the help I needed and with a combination of therapy and medication, I can live a life where my OCD no longer controls me or my everyday activities. Most days I feel fine and forget about it. But the reality is that it will always be there, lurking somewhere beneath the surface, waiting for a moment to rear its head and show me its teeth.
OCD is real and it’s painful and not in the least funny. So please, don’t say you have OCD when you know you don’t. Because in reality, you can’t even comprehend how it feels to struggle with it.