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No one can be "so OCD"

Sarah Marine

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August 10, 2022

About one in every one hundred Americans suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. I would guess that around seventy of every one hundred people have said something like “I’m so OCD” or “that’s so OCD”. I would also take a wild guess and say that out of those seventy people, only thirty know more about OCD than just the “cleaning neat freak” stereotype. OCD is a serious illness. It may not physically take lives, but it can definitely deprive people of living. However, it is often overlooked, stigmatized, or glamorized by our society, as if this mental illness wasn’t labeled an illness for a reason.

For most people, when they hear the term OCD, their minds immediately jump to perfectly made beds, symmetrical displays, and spotless kitchens, which isn’t their fault. Today’s society has prioritized ignorance in order to feel knowledgeable. People want to feel like they know everything that could go wrong with their brain, but they don’t want to research it. People see someone always doing the dishes, and it’s easier to say “oh they’re so OCD” than to offer a hand with them. But this tidiness and perfectionistic stereotype around OCD is very misunderstood. And that phrase is even more unaware; to clarify, no one can be a disorder.

As someone who has been professionally diagnosed with OCD, and has struggled with it for over a decade, I can tell you that having OCD does not make you a neat freak. My room is proof. This is one of the reasons why people saying something like “I’m so OCD” can be perceived as triggering and insensitive. OCD, like almost all other mental disorders, is different for everyone. It is often categorized into obsessions and compulsions, and these can be constantly changing for each individual. While there are many people with OCD that have a hygiene or neatness obsession, with compulsions such as constantly washing their hands or straightening out materials, there are countless other topics. And just because you got uncomfortable when a hanging picture was slightly tilted and you felt like moving it, does not mean you have OCD and especially not that you are ‘OCD’.

Another assumption that is made, often by those who are not diagnosed with OCD, is that it is in a way a helpful disorder. I have had many friends come up to me and say, “You’re lucky, I wish I had OCD, I would finally get my room to stay neat!” Obsessive compulsive disorder like all disorders is not an advantage or gift. It is an illness. People who struggle with OCD often spend countless hours rearranging, ruminating, and stressing over miniscule details of their day. That picture that you wanted to adjust, they had to adjust it. That pen you wanted to put the cap on, if they didn’t they believed their loved ones would die. OCD is not an asset. It is a debilitating condition. In many ways OCD actually takes away from one’s goals around their obsession. For example, someone who is paranoid about getting sick may wash their hands so many times that they lose sleep, and that’s what gets them sick. Someone scared of being late may stare at the clock so much they forget what time they’re supposed to leave. Yes, OCD may sometimes motivate you to clean your room more or wash your hands, but what you have to give that illness in return is no equivalent.  

Another thing that tends to happen when I tell people I have OCD is that they reply, “Oh yeah, me too!” Often this means that they don’t like having things a mess; like 80% of the population. Humans love to belong and connect with each other, but that need can be unhelpful at times. To me, when I hear this I feel completely gaslighted. Having a mental disorder is not fun, and it can be really lonely at times. When you try to connect with someone over an illness you don’t have, it feels like you’re undermining their suffering. The crazy thing is that you would never tell a cancer patient you probably have cancer because your hair fell out once or say you’re anemic because you fainted one time. Mental disorders seem to have more flexibility with this idea though. My theory is that this is because there is more of a gray area in terms of diagnosis. For example, when you have AIDS you get a test and you’re either positive or you're not, but there’s no real test for depression or OCD for example. So people give themselves a test based on the little stereotyped knowledge they have about an illness. People will think, “Oh I didn’t like seeing my clothes all messy, I guess I have OCD now.”

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a real illness not a trend or an adjective. OCD is a debilitating disorder and it is not one to desire. For the sake of those suffering with OCD and for their own awareness, people need to educate themselves more on this topic. It has become over normalized and it has made those suffering feel like they are meant to enjoy it. OCD is not who someone is, even with a diagnosis. So the next time you color code your dresser say, “Well, that was an aesthetically pleasing waste of time” and not “I’m so OCD.”

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With immense gratitude, the Promly Team.

Sarah Marine

Sarah Marine is a 14 year-old who enjoys writing, dancing, and spending time with family. After living in Seattle and then London, Sarah moved to New Jersey in 2020 during the global pandemic and is tired of trying to be her "best."