Misconceptions About OCD – It’s Not All About The Volume Of The TV
If that Buzzfeed article of ’19 things That Will Drive Your OCD Self Insane’ annoys you, you may have a quirk. If it makes you perform a ritual to Stop Bad Stuff Happening, you might just have the real thing.
I try to keep the things I write neutral, I like people to make their own mind up about things. Possibly part of this is that I just don’t like to rock the boat. I prefer to drift along gently, pretty much unnoticed and just getting on with my life. Then something comes along that makes me so angry that I don’t even know how to deal with it. This happened about two weeks ago (yes, I’m still annoyed), and this time I am going to do something about it.
I am fairly open about the fact that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m not going to go into all the lurid details about how it manifests itself with me. You can read about the various types of OCD here on Mookychick, written by someone who also lives with it, along with ways to support loved ones who have it.
OCD is a condition that can become all-consuming, making life an absolute hell. It’s considered to be anxiety-related, and consists of a series of obsessions or intrusive thoughts followed by repetitive behaviours, compulsions or urges.
To give an example from my own personal stash of unwelcome thoughts: The thought arrives, spontaneously in my head, that my fiancé is going to die in a car crash tonight. Logically I know that having that thought doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but what if it does? So I am going to have to touch wood. If I don’t touch wood and he does die, then it will have been my fault, so I will touch wood as insurance, to prevent it happening. Even though logically I know there’s no correlation.
Just for the record. Yes, I did pause to touch my wooden bedside cabinet whilst writing that.
Just for the record. Yes, I am still in bed.
That might sound easy to cope with, or you might be wondering why I don’t just stop doing it – but OCD just doesn’t work like that. After having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) I am much, much better than I was. I can, at least, acknowledge that my thoughts are just thoughts; there was a point when I didn’t, though. I couldn’t differentiate between thoughts and actions. For me, having the thought of someone dying was as bad as having killed them. I couldn’t leave the house for fear of running into triggers for my illness, and somehow causing something bad to happen to someone, either directly or indirectly.
Most people have little quirks, little behavioural routines that they perform ‘for luck’ or whatever. Hell, a lot of people even touch wood. However, they are quirks:
“The key difference that segregates little quirks, often referred to by people as being ‘a bit OCD’, from the actual disorder is when the distressing and unwanted experience of obsessions and compulsions impacts to a significant level upon a person’s everyday functioning – this represents a principal component in the clinical diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”
The thoughts and compulsions have to take up excessive amounts of time, cause significant distress and anguish and interfere with daily functioning. A lot of what feeds OCD is doubt, the eternal ‘what if’. The ‘what if’ is horrific. Even though I now know I have OCD I still doubt myself sometimes, with thoughts like “What if I don’t have OCD? What if actually I am a horrible person who wishes to cause harm?” and so on. It’s at times like these I am most likely found in bed. It can be very hard to get out of bed and face the world of triggers when your brain doesn’t want to.
It’s a lot better for me now. Before I was diagnosed I was battling the same thoughts. The only answer I could give myself was, “I’m not a bad person”. Unfortunately my brain liked to answer, “but how do you know?” I didn’t know, and so battle commenced – and continued – for a long time.
OCD is chronic, but it is also treatable. The treatment can make such a difference, a massive difference. Sufferers can learn to stop performing their rituals, and learn to challenge their intrusive thoughts. This means that most people can learn to function in everyday life again – which is amazing.
OCD affects 1.2% of the population, and is considered so debilitating that the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked it in the top ten most disabling illnesses of any kind. Despite this it still takes an average of 10-15 years between symptoms developing and someone with OCD seeking treatment. This is partially because of the shame that most people with OCD feel about their thoughts, and partially because there is a lot of misinformation and a lack of understanding about the illness. Both from the public and the medical profession.
Which leads me to what made me so unspeakably angry the other week.
I was minding everybody else’s business catching up on my Facebook feed, when a suggested article popped up. I can only assume that Facebook’s algorithms flung it at me because I follow pages like “OCD-UK” and “Mind”. I’m guessing that really I wasn’t the target audience.
The ‘article’ (if you can call it that) was called “Things That Will Make Someone With OCD Go Crazy”, and was actually just a rehash of an article featured on BuzzFeed (“19 things That Will Drive Your OCD Self Insane”). It is one of those picture articles; you see them all the time, usually containing some stellar content such as “Rihanna’s Best Revealing Moments” and “This Is How Celebrities Would Look If They Were Regular People”.
However, this one was particularly bad. Upside-down labels, biscuits that weren’t facing the same way in a pack, crisp packets opened upside-down, one yellow ‘peep’ in a row of purple ones, you get the idea. Now, I’m not saying this wouldn’t bother someone with OCD, because it might, but just because it bothers you does not mean you have OCD. There is an important distinction.
If you sat there for hours upset after seeing the picture, it bothered you a lot, and you felt the need to perform a ritual because otherwise you believed something would happen to you because you saw that picture, then yeah, that’s possibly a sign of OCD. If it just annoyed you, well, that’s probably just a quirk.
Now I am not a doctor, and obviously cannot diagnose people via a computer screen, but what I do know is that it’s not helpful to have articles like this perpetuating the myth that OCD is just about having the TV on a certain number. It is so much more than that, and it’s incredibly sad that there are people suffering out there and can’t even consider getting help, because they are so ashamed by what their brain is telling them. Then somebody thinks it’s funny to make an article about a crisp packet being upside-down and labels the discomfort on seeing this as OCD? So wrong.
Oh, and I got to the bottom of the article and was greeted with:
“If you have OCD or know someone with OCD please SHARE this with them!”
Really? An article with the title “Things That Will Make Someone With OCD Go Crazy!”? If I actually thought it would really upset someone with OCD, to the point of making them go ‘crazy’, would I really want to share that article with them?
Jokes about OCD perpetuate the myths that surround it. They make it harder for people who have it to seek help or open up about their condition. They make it harder for people who don’t have it to relate to those who do and support them in meaningful ways.
Just for the record, I emailed BuzzFeed and didn’t receive a reply.
Helpful OCD Links
- OCD-UK have been brilliant for me, I found loads of their stuff really interesting and it has helped me understand myself a little better.
- MIND have a good section on OCD which includes a useful contacts section.
- OCD Action are useful.
- The NHS has an OCD Section (although I have to admit I don’t find the bit where they have written “initially, they will probably ask a number of questions such as how often you clean and whether you are concerned about putting things in a particular order” particularly helpful. It’s not something they ever asked me, considering that my OCD doesn’t tend to revolve around either of those things.)