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 piece 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?
Read Some of My Previous Blog Posts About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:
- My Mental Health Survival Kit
- 10 “Harmless Things” You Say That Hurt Me
- 10 Reassuring Things I Want to Hear You Say
- A Project to Understand My Obsessive Compulsion
Sincerely, Uncustomary Housewife