Friday, July 3, 2020

COLUMN: Generalizing OCD is unacceptable

February 4, 2020

I figured out I had obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, when I started high school, mainly because I couldn’t stop picking off all my fingernails or checking to make sure my front door was locked 15 times. 

It was something I always had, but never fully noticed until I was much older. 

When I started college these small things started to become more of a problem. It went from minor inconveniences to serious disadvantages. It’s normal to make sure your oven is off more than once so you don’t burn the house down, it’s not normal to do it 30 times and feeling like you can’t breathe if you don’t check again. 

It wasn’t that I was a perfectionist, or just wanted things to be “neat.” It was that I feel if I don’t do these things, something bad will happen to me. 

It’s one thing to like having a clean space until you are constantly cleaning and organizing because you can’t get anything else done otherwise. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is typically defined as having unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas and obsessions — with behaviors to do things over and over. 

ocd-prevalence

There are four types of OCD, I mainly suffer from three. One of which is sometimes called “just right OCD” which means that when I see something that doesn’t look right, I feel compelled to fix it. 

This type of OCD is often misconstrued. Just because you like to color coordinate your chemistry notes does not mean you have OCD. 

I’ve unfortunately heard a lot of people making generalized statements that can be hurtful to someone who has a diagnosed problem. Liking things organized doesn’t make you OCD. It’s not a funny joke to say you have OCD because you consider yourself a perfectionist. 

When you are someone who suffers from a mental illness, it can be really toxic to hear others talk about it as if it's not a big problem. For me, hearing people talk about OCD like it's an everyday common problem, made it really hard to accept that I suffer from it.

I remember the moment I realized I should probably get help, it was when I realized the second type of OCD I suffer from — intrusive thoughts. 

I had had a busy week at work and was stressed about some exams I had coming up. I stayed up three nights in a row because I was so anxious I couldn’t sleep, just thinking over and over about how much of a disappointment I would be if I didn’t get everything done. How my parents would hate me for not doing well in school, and my editor wouldn’t like me if I didn’t finish my stories. 

I did everything I could to try and distract myself from my brain screaming at me that I would fail. I got out of bed at 2 a.m. and did all my laundry, I’m still surprised my roommate doesn’t think I’m crazy. I made lists of everything I needed to do, I watched movies to try and shut my brain off, but nothing worked. 

This happened for a few nights in a row, it got to the point where I hadn’t slept more than 6 hours in three days. 

Many people don’t realize this aspect of OCD, it’s often just characterized as liking things a certain way. But a big part of it is intrusive thoughts and that is usually the most harmful part. 

It’s really hard to function when your brain is always telling you that you're going to fail, or something terrible is going to happen to you. 

One of the worst parts of this too was that I didn’t feel like I could talk about it, that it was something I had to figure out on my own. 

It took me a long time to reach out and get help and it took reaching my breaking point until I realized that I needed help.

This is why generalizing mental illness can be so toxic, and why it is so important to talk about mental illness so that people can feel comfortable confronting their illness, instead of hiding it.

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