Sitting across the table for my first diagnosis, I had a lot of things running through my mind, as usual, at the ready to one up the professional with my answers, based on my ‘research’ on the internet. I knew what my issues were, or so I thought. But in no imagination did I expect the letters “O-C-D” to be part of the conversation.
See, I, like most of us, thought that OCD was about obsessively being hygienic and orderly which is the farthest thing from me. So let’s take a look at what it actually means.
Quoting the American Psychiatric Association :
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).
Now before you tick your imaginary checkboxes and start worrying if you have OCD, I must let you know that most people do have unwanted intrusive thoughts or repeated behaviours. As long as they don’t disrupt your daily life and functioning, you needn’t worry about it. But unfortunately, for people with OCD, these thoughts can’t easily be dispelled. They stay persistent and regardless of whether you believe if these thoughts or the core of what they’re trying to say is false or not, you can’t help yourself from focusing on these thoughts and rituals.
Now let’s get back to the psychiatrist’s desk, where I’m still confused how OCD explains my condition. It hadn’t occurred to me initially, but it’s true that I do have unwanted distressing repeated thoughts with themes ranging from accidentally or deliberately harming myself, strangers or my loved ones, to philosophical themes that question my existence. But I rarely have instances of ritualistic or repeated behaviour. So clearly it must be a mistake.
“You see OCD can be of different kinds, it may be predominantly obsessive or predominantly compulsive. And in your case, it seems to be of the first kind. Your rituals could be less noticeable.”
Although he asked me to not to read up about the condition, I couldn’t help myself from learning more about it. Which is when I noticed my first ritual – answer seeking. Be it philosophical or an emotional predicament, I could never really not read up about it as much as I could. And I could never stop myself from reassuring that the consensus I’ve reached or that work that I’ve done is fair – validation – the next ritual. All of these seem rational and reasonable things to do, and that’s the justification people with OCD usually tell themselves in continuing compulsions, failing to realise that they’re overstepping the extent to which these actions are ‘reasonable’. I could go on about more rituals like the conversations I construct in my mind, to me being unable to drive a car, but this isn’t about me, it’s about the cultural misconception of OCD. The quirky, cute adjective you use when your desk is neat and your pens, sorted – “I’m so OCD”
I’m not one to dictate language, everyone has the right to express their reasonable ideas and engage in conversations. I won’t be here, telling you to not use the phrase “I’m so OCD” because it offends people with OCD. I’m merely trying to describe, to the best of my capabilities what living with this debilitating condition is like, and how using the phrase reiterates this misconception that OCD is just about keeping things neat and orderly, while ignoring the crushing distress behind it, and instead painting it as a cheerful quirk.
So let’s start with the thoughts, unwanted, unwarranted thoughts that just show up and yell nasty things into your head. “
“Think of the germs”
“You’re gonna get someone killed”
“Are you sure you’re not a pedophile?”
“Don’t you want to steer the car into that truck?”
And as I’ve previously said, someone with OCD can have a hard time dismissing these thoughts as “junk thoughts” that are meaningless and not to be heeded. And when one engages in these thoughts, they find the urge to give a response to the thought.
“I have to wash my hands”
“I have to lock myself up in a room”
“I’m a horrible person, and should stay away from children”
“I shouldn’t drive”
And while the response or compulsion does provide temporary relief, it also gives the feeling validation to the obsession in your mind, possibly making you feel the necessity to repeat the compulsion and feeling guilty.
And there you are, stuck in the loop, caught between distress and low self esteem based on wild accusations you couldn’t dismiss. In that moment of self loathing and anxiousness, I hope you can imagine me smiling as I say :
“I’m so OCD”
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