I’m living with a disorder that is misunderstood by the general public. My disorder is unfairly used as a punchline, a trendy adjective, and as a way to explain common organizational quirks. Today I want to set the record straight: that’s not what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is.
I’ll be using this blog post to do the following; (1) explain why OCD isn’t trendy, (2) show examples of OCD being used as a trendy adjective, (3) explain why these comments are hurtful to people living with OCD, (4) give examples of the phraseology people living with OCD actually use, (5) explain the difference in OCD, having habits, and normal worrying, (6) give examples of things that you can say other than “I’m so OCD”, and (7) explain what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder actually is.
I also received input from other individuals who are living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You can find their thoughts throughout this blog post.
OCD Is Not a Trendy Adjective:
When did it become socially acceptable to use a disorder as a trendy adjective? Is my disorder really that misunderstood by the general public?
“OCD” is unfairly used as a trendy blanket term to describe people who like being organized and neat. In reality, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder isn’t that convenient, or simple. People say “I’m so OCD” to explain quirks, but OCD isn’t a quirk; it’s an actual mental disorder. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is something that severely hinders my life, and relationships. It’s not a trendy adjective, punchline to a joke, or hashtag to explain a clean kitchen…
Real-Life Examples of “Trendy OCD”:
Over the past year, I’ve kept a running list of the “trendy OCD comments” that I’ve heard, in person. There are 73 on the list, total. Here’s 10 that I selected at random (names/details redacted, and order scrambled to protect anonymity);
- I hate it when people wear brown shoes with a black belt. I’m sooo OCD. The OCD won’t allow that. It just looks awful.
- I can’t stand it when people leave their Christmas decorations up past February, it really bugs the OCD in me.
- Oh my God. I’m so OCD. My makeup has to be perfect before I can go out. People always have to wait on me.
- You have to take the eggs out of the container in the correct order. If you don’t it messes with me. I’m sooo OCD.
- I’m sooo OCD: I always double-check for my phone before leaving the house.
- If my desk is messy, I can’t send emails, I’m soo OCD like that.
- I always sit in the same chair when I watch TV, I’m soooo OCD, ha ha, kinda like Sheldon.
- I can’t stand mismatched socks, because I’m sooo OCD, you know? Things need to match. ha ha.
- I’m sooo OCD, it kills me when kids color outside the lines.
- That’s just the OCD fairing up again, it happens every Halloween.
Are These Comments Harmful to People Living with OCD?
Now, the important question: is this trendy phraseology hurtful to people living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
For me, the answer is yes; this causal phraseology is very hurtful. I want my diagnosis to be taken seriously, and that becomes increasingly difficult when people think of OCD so casually. This also creates a misconception about what OCD actually is. This societal misconception causes people to inaccurately or jokingly diagnose themselves with OCD for silly reasons. I’m not diagnosed with OCD for a silly reason; I’m diagnosed because I have a debilitating disorder that hinders my life, and the way I live it.
I asked other individuals the following question: “How do you feel when you hear someone jokingly say; ‘I’m so OCD’?” Here are 10 of the answers that I received;
“When I hear people say that [‘I’m so OCD’]; it’s usually followed by a laugh, or they say it to brush something off. I immediately think ‘you have no idea’. People that have never experienced OCD have no idea of how much control OCD has over your life. Whatever the obsessive thoughts are, they are on your mind constantly.” – Kate (Facebook)
“I feel so angry when people say ‘I’m so OCD’. OCD is a complex mental illness, it can be really debilitating. People that say they are ‘being OCD’ just because they’re being particular, are invalidating those who actually have OCD. OCD is not an adjective. It is a mental illness.” – Cynthia (Twitter: @Cyn_Barnes)
“Many people claim to have OCD without really understanding what it is. They don’t have OCD, they are just using ‘OCD’ as a broad term to explain basic human anal retentiveness. I resent it. Comments like ‘I’m sooo OCD’ are exactly why it took me years to come to terms with my own OCD diagnosis. I don’t tell people anymore, because I dread hearing ‘oh gosh, I’m soooo OCD too’.” – Anonymous
“It makes me feel uncomfortable. I never know how to respond, especially if I don’t know them well enough to expose my OCD to them. Thankfully, at this point, my close friends know better, understand the reality, and realize that OCD is nothing to joke about.” – The Reality Project (Twitter: @therealityproj)
“It makes me feel like my actual medical diagnosis is a joke to them.” – Anonymous
“It took me a long time to tell my friends about my obsessive compulsions. It took courage, and practicing [saying it] in the mirror. Finally, I told them… and now it’s a running joke with them. They’ll joke and say ‘that’s just the OCD’. It makes me feel empty. I wish I had never told them.” – Anonymous
“I hate it when people use my illness as shorthand for what’s arguably normal behavior.” – Anna (Blogger: Yes, Little Hummingbird?)
“I feel very offended. People are joking about the the way I have to live my life. OCD is like torture, and when people comment on it so lightly, and throw it around like nothing, it invalidates my existence.” -Morse (Instagram)
“Not A Fan Of The OCD Jokes At All. Because Due To My Mild Form Of Autism Called Asperger’s Syndrome I Have OCD About A Lot Of Things.” – Ryan (Instagram: @panthermgr)
“I often have a tendency to blurt out ‘it’s REALLY not a joke’!” – Robbie (Facebook)
How People with OCD Talk About Having OCD:
I’ve explained how societal misconceptions cause people to use the phrase “OCD” incorrectly. Now, I’m ready to move on and discuss how people with OCD actually talk about it.
I’ll start with myself, when speaking to someone I say; “I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”. I use this phraseology for two main reasons. First, I say “I have”. The words “I have” make my diagnosis real, and not something ornamental or negotiable. Second, I say the words; “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”, and not the acronym “OCD”. The word “disorder” packs a heavy punch. The phrase “OCD” is socially acceptable, but the word “disorder” still isn’t. Therefore, by using the word “disorder” I’m expressing the seriousness of the situation. However, being able to say the word “disorder” took some practice, and serious self-acceptance. It wasn’t easy to come to terms with.
I asked other individuals the following question: “What phraseology do you use when telling someone that you have OCD?” Here are 10 of the answers that I received;
“I say ‘I have OCD’. Though, to be honest, I rarely actually say it. The times when I feel tempted to interject is usually when someone makes an OCD joke, and I try very hard to pronounce to people on their ignorance.” – Mark Joyella (Forbes Contributor / IBM Writer / Twitter: @standupkid)
“I have a related condition known as Trichotillomania. More easily put: hair pulling. I pull on my hair. During times of high stress I pull out my eyelashes, and eyebrows. So, I say ‘I have a form of OCD that causes me to obsessively pull on my hair’. I’m normally forced to say this, because I catch people oddly staring at me while I’m doing it.” – James (Facebook)
“I say ‘I have OCD’.” – Kirk (Author of “Chaos to be Cured” / Twitter: @Chaos2Cured)
“I usually say ‘I have Organizational OCD’. OCD is such a broad categorization of illnesses, I find it helps to distinguish the type I have so they’re not expecting me to exhibit symptoms of other types that I don’t have.” – Anna (Blogger: Yes, Little Hummingbird?)
“I say ‘I have OCD’. Mine, however, is related to food/health anxiety. So unless I really trust someone, I might not give them any details.” – Ida (Blogger: A Girl of Some Importance)
“I say ‘you know how people joke about OCD? Well, I have the real thing, I actually end up in psychiatry every week because of it’. OCD is not what a lot of people think it is.” – Colette (Instagram: @colettelynnex)
“My doctor referred me to a therapist because I was ‘in denial about it’. Truth is, I was never in denial. I just didn’t want to put up with the judgement and jokes that come along with telling people that you have it. I’m not ready to tell my friends, because I know that I will hear jokes. But, when I’m ready, I’ll say ‘I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ absolutely not ‘I’m so OCD’… I really dislike that phrase.” – Anonymous
“I say ‘I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’. Then I specify by saying something like ‘not the teehee I like my room organized way, but the clinical debilitating anxiety way’. Oftentimes, I also have to explain that OCD is not synonymous with perfectionism.” – Morse (Instagram)
“I only reveal my OCD when it becomes awkward in public. Like, people start wondering why I’m behaving strangely. I’ll say ‘I’m sorry, I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’. I know, it’s sad that I apologize for something I can’t control. But I feel like such an inconvenience to the people around me.” – Jamie (Instagram)
“I always say ‘I have OCD’, never ‘I am OCD’.” – Raven (Twitter)
The Difference in OCD, Having Habits, and Normal Worrying:
Everyone has things that they do; tidying a desk, checking to see if the door is locked, making sure the DVR is recording their favorite show. These behaviors don’t mean that a person has OCD, by default. That’s not how OCD works. Having a habit or worrying about something doesn’t necessarily mean a person has OCD.
Additionally, a person living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can also have habits and worry about things that aren’t a result of their obsessive compulsions. For instance, I like my kitchen to be organized, and I like my towels to be folded a certain way; but neither of those are due to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. There are both simply things that I favor, and not obsessive compulsions; basically I don’t get up in the middle of the night, riddled with dread, that the towels are folded wrong. I just prefer for them to be folded a certain way. See what I’m saying?
Not every preference is an obsessive compulsion. Having a preference, or being particular, doesn’t necessarily mean you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Additionally, a person can have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and also have preferences and habits that aren’t due to their OCD.
Things You Can Say Instead of “OCD”:
For people who don’t have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, here are some alternative options of things that you can say in place of “I’m so OCD”;
- I’m very meticulous.
- I like for things to be organized.
- Organization is important to me.
- I have trouble focusing when things are messy.
- I like having a routine.
- I have really good attention to detail.
- I like it when things match.
- I always double-check things.
- Double checking things gives me peace of mind.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Exactly?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by two main things; Obsessions and Compulsions. I, for example, have two main obsessive compulsions; obsessive skin-picking and repetitive lip balm application.
Obsessions are repetitive and intrusive thoughts that are often unwanted. Most of the time, people know their obsessions are irrational but are unable to divert their attention from the obsession. For instance, I have racing thoughts that I “must apply lip balm”, hundreds of times a day. I’m well aware that I my lips aren’t chapped, and that the obsession is illogical, but that doesn’t matter. I can’t ignore the obsession, and it is extremely stressful.
Compulsions are irrational and excessive urges to complete certain actions. These repetitive actions can temporarily relieve the stress brought on by an obsession. Most of the time, people know that these rituals are irrational, but are unable to prevent the need to perform them. Like obsessions, people may try not to perform compulsive acts but feel forced to do so to relieve anxiety. For instance, I get extremely, and painfully, anxious if I can’t apply my lip balm regularly (every 10 minutes). Failure to apply lip balm can result in an anxiety or panic attack.
To be diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a person must have: Obsessions, compulsions, or both that are upsetting and cause difficulty with work, relationships, other parts of life, and typically last for at least an hour each day.
Disclaimer: I’m Not Perfect (In the Slightest)
I’m guilty of doing this too. Not with OCD, but with other topics. For example; I’ve been guilty of saying “I’m blind as a bat without my glasses”, or “I can’t hear you, I’m basically deaf”, which are both really insensitive things to say. I’ve also said things like “that almost gave me a heart attack”.
My point is this: we need to stop making physical and mental issues a trendy punchline. I’m going to make a conscious effort to do better, and I hope you will too.
Curtain Call: In Conclusion
Some people might say; “don’t be so sensitive” or “it’s just a figure of speech”. But I don’t see it that way. My diagnosis is not a figure of speech, and it shouldn’t be. I want my diagnosis to be validated, and that’s nearly impossible when OCD is a common punchline and something that is joked about.
Additionally, if you’re guilty of using OCD jokingly there is absolutely no need to apologize. You didn’t understand then, but now you do. Also, if you feel offended because I “called you out”, I’m sorry… But, I’m advocating for myself. My intention was never to offend or hurt anyone, ever. I just want kindness, awareness, and acceptance.
Do you want to weigh in on this conversation? Comment on this post: How do you feel when you hear someone jokingly say; ‘I’m so OCD’? What phraseology do you use when telling someone that you have OCD?
You can connect with me, the Uncustomary Housewife, on social networks: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also subscribe to the Uncustomary Housewife Blog.
Sincerely, Uncustomary Housewife
I say … I persevere 🤗
My go to phrase is “I love to decorate or keep things nice.” In reality I need to rearrange or organize a space that seem off balance to me. http://www.rethinkautismmom.blog
Excellent information. Thank you.
Thank you for reading, and commenting. I really appreciate it.
I agree so much on the trendy terminology. It is incredibly frustrating to me. Whenever I only say I have OCD people say oh ya I’m totally OCD too and then I have to go into the entire thing that no you’re actually not it’s a serious medical condition. It makes me bonkers.
Yes, so much yes! That is one of the key reasons I wrote this blog post. I know it isn’t easy, but I try to remind myself that people don’t understand. Therefore, I write posts like this to educate them… They don’t know any better, so I try not to take their “trendy OCD” comments personally… Although, it still hurts. Thank you for reading, and thank you for commenting.
People are insensitive it’s just how it is unfortunately. I was trying to get a part-time job at a local store and the manager was telling me about a girl that had come in the store the day before. She said, “that girl had to be Bipolar I told her she needed to get the hell up out of here.” I wanted to say well you know what I’m Bipolar and I don’t appreciate you talking about it like that because you obviously don’t have a freakin clue. The only reason I didn’t is because I wanted the job but I didn’t get it anyway. I did tell her maybe the girl was just having a bad day 😳I have learned that people will say anything these days and you can confront them if you choose to, but I say just know that YOU are validated as a person not a label. One other time I was on a church trip and we were all eating. Someone made a comment about Bipolar and I spoke up then and said you know what I’m Bipolar and I’m okay. Some people are still out there that struggle with it so we need to be careful what we say. The preacher’s wife was apologetic and I actually could tell felt pretty bad about it. Anyway, just my perspective and experience with “Bipolar” and I have to say I have made remarks about being OCD, too. Of course it wasn’t intentional towards anyone, but I can relate. 🤷🏻♀️
I know someone with a form of OCD and find I describe the problem to others when I need to explain it, rather then call it OCD. Just labeling the illness doesn’t get across what is wrong. But this is true of so many illnesses, mental and physical. There is an general ignorance of specific problems until they affect us personally, either by having them or knowing someone with them. To understand all illnesses you really need a medical degree. and a long time in practice. Please try not to let the people who don’t get it actually hurt you. They are silly and not worth the effort. This is hard I know. I have M.E. and when I tell people I am exhausted today they always say ‘Oh I know, me too!’ when they have no idea and no interest in finding out what I mean. It can take your breath away at times.
I suffer from obsessions and compulsions of OCD secondary to my anxiety diagnosis. My doctor believes I developed the OCD to cope with my raging anxiety. People don’t understand that it’s not just checking to make sure the stove is off before bed. Its having to check 4 times, from right to left, with the light on, silently mouthing the words “off”. If I feel slightly disrupted, it has to be done again, the exact same way. If I need to move the nob even slightly, I have to start over. If I renter the kitchen, has to be done again. People do not understand how utterly debilitating OCD can be!
Sounds like it! Thanks for sharing.
me too! I completely understand. it’s so frustrating to hear people brush it off and make flippant remarks about it when they really have no clue what they’re talking about.
I’ve also developed OCD traits to cope with anxious behavior. My OCD is preexisting, and not directly caused by my anxiety. But I have, in the past, developed obsessions and compulsions to help elevate my anxieties. For example, I recently noticed that I started writing everything down, on an obsessive level. I had gotten anxious that I would forget something, so I started writing things down so I wouldn’t forget. At first it was a relief: it was written down, so I wouldn’t forget — therefore the anxiety would disappear. But then it turned into something else entirely. I found that I had to write down everything, all the time. What had helped my anxiety, now became a new form of anxiety creation… I HAD to write everything down. I couldn’t do something unless it was written first. Luckily, I became conscious of it early, and was able to find more healthy ways to alleviate my anxiety. It took me weeks to calm the new found compulsion down, though. I mean, I already have enough compulsions, I don’t think I can handle another.
Hi very good post I have been pulling my hair since I was very young am now 58 and still do it and that part of my hair stays short here’s my question I don’t like clutter, and my books are in order by size no matter were I have them is that part of obsessive compulsive disorder? You really explain this really well 😊 thanks
I’m not qualified to say what is or isn’t obsessive compulsive disorder, a doctor would have to help you with that. But, I can tell you this: if it is something that takes up your time, and worries you, then it is a valid thought.
Hi 👋🏽 thank you For your feed back 😊 God Bless 😊
I feel the same way about my struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. My insides freak out when people make a joke about killing them selves. It’s a battle I fight daily and the jokes make it seem so trivial.
I’m so sorry that you have the endure comments like that. I know, all too well, it isn’t easy, but I try to remember that people don’t understand. They don’t know any better, so I try not to take their comments personally. Although, it still hurts, it really hurts. I write posts like this, and I hope it helps educate people. Thank you for reading. I appreciate it.
This is a very good read thanks
Thank you for reading, I appreciate it.
As someone who’s lived with OCD for four decades, I understand where you’re coming from and have been there myself. I’d suggest striving to get to a point where you’re able to choose your battles and to let such comments go, because people are always going to be ignorant, and you are always going to have OCD; It’ll change and evolve and manifest itself in different ways, but it isn’t going anywhere. Don’t give people the power to ruin your day with their uninformed commentary on the issue. They’ll never understand OCD and all that it entails, but they don’t have to. They aren’t scientists who are going to discover a “cure” for it or bipolar disorder or anything else they might tritely refer to themselves as, so I generally don’t waste my breath attempting to explain it to strangers unless they catch me on a particularly bad day. Believe me, though, I understand.
I’m 63, I’ve had contamination OCD (not germs, just dirt in general) & I don’t try explaining it to anyone anymore, even a GP! The last time I told a GP that it takes me 3 hours to bathe, because I don’t feel that I’m doing it “right”, that I don’t feel clean, and have to do it again ,and again, until it feels “right”, she said, “have you tried using wet wipes?”… I felt so…Defeated, is the best way to describe it, that I just said, “no”, then changed the subject.
Norma, I can relate, though I’m fortunate enough to have an open-minded doctor who grasps these kinds of concepts. With me, it’s trying to impart the idea of ocd to a non-ocd person who is inquiring about it. They mean well, but they won’t “get” it and will offer practical solutions. That’s just it, though; there are no practical, everyday solutions for a disorder that’s based upon irrational nonsense impulses. I can’t really fault a layman for not knowing what I’m talking about, but a doc should know better.
I’m so sorry. I understand the feeling of being defeated, and I am sincerely sorry that you have to endure that. I don’t want to give the wrong advice, because I don’t know your history, or how many doctors you have seen, but I can tell you this: not all doctors will dismiss you. I’ve had some amazing doctors. Of course, it took me a while to find them, and it took me a while to open up. Please, don’t quit trying. You deserve support and proper medical care. I sincerely hope you find the GP you deserve. Thank you so much for reading my blog, I really appreciate it.
Thank you. I know to pick my battles. That is why I’m putting it all into blog posts. I’m hoping to reach more people this way, so I am able to brush off the one-on-one conversations and comments. I write posts like this one, and I hope they educate people.
Well said. I know I sometimes slip and say something that may be offensive to someone else, however, I try hard to not say such things. But like you said, it happens. After reading this, I will be thinking more about what I want to say before I say it.
Thank you for reading and commenting, I really appreciate it.
Evidently, having OCD is tought to deal with. Many times we play with words like suicide, depression, orphan without caring about the seriousness about them. Only a person who has been throught it can truly realize how traumatizing it could be.
It’s difficult to understand something that isn’t relevant to you. That’s part of the reason why I blog. I want to help and educate others about topics that they don’t understand. Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate it.
No problem. Do give visit to my blog when you’ll have a bad day 😉
My symptoms come and go with stress. I can tell when I am under stress when my symptoms start. The fact that people don’t understand that I can’t control the symptoms is highly frustrating.
I’m so sorry you experience that, I know how frustrating it can be. Stress can, indeed, heighten the symptoms of OCD: I know that from personal experience. My obsessions and compulsions heighten when I’m under stress, too. You aren’t alone. I write things like this blog, and I hope that it will help people understand. Thank you for commenting.
This is such an interesting and important post, very well said!
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