Mental health and mental disorders are a sensitive subject that must be approached with respect, dignity, non-judgment and awareness. Discourses about mental health that do not involve them only promote stigma and misinformation. While the psychology community can sometimes put the DSM on too high a pedestal, we can still derive from it a basic understanding of typical behavior that is classified as a certain disorder.
We often find that social perceptions of a particular disorder do not match when aligned with the description of that disorder. When this happens, it adds barriers that people with mental disorders must cross in order to exist without judgement.
It is crucial that we correct these mismatches and do our best to use accurate and appropriate language regarding mental health. If you’ve ever described the weather as bipolar, friends as anorexic, or an ordained person as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you’ve contributed to the barriers that already exist for people living with these disorders.
Language like this not only normalizes the perception that the experiences of people with mental disorders are easily trivialized and oversimplified, but also that it is appropriate to use experiences we cannot identify with as fuel. for humor. Both are harmful, and I have experienced many around my OCD.
Although I was only diagnosed with OCD in December 2020, it made my life more difficult before I started wondering why. Diagnosis is important because it puts into language an experience that may be nameless or undefined, but that does not mean that the struggle begins there.
I started becoming aware of my OCD tendencies at an early age, even though I didn’t realize what it meant. I would need to count steps when climbing stairs, organize my Skittles before eating them, or use my sense of touch in a particular way. My movement around the world and my view of it has been shaped by OCD long before I knew it.
In high school, I started learning more about psychology and having a career psychologist as a parent helped me. Conversations about mental health and emergency labor were normal in my life, and the stigma wasn’t as present in my childhood. Once the conversations started involving my own sanity, that changed. I knew I was different, but I didn’t know why.
I started seeing a therapist in the winter of 2020 due to an unhealthy relationship. Finally, I brought up symptoms that I knew related to OCD. My therapist quickly diagnosed me on the spot, seeing the important role my symptoms played in everyday life. Even though I knew it was coming, it was still eye-opening and relieving. This meant that I could more accurately reflect on myself and learn more about myself. Even to this day, I am learning new ways OCD plays a positive and negative role in my life.
Since being diagnosed, something that I have noticed much more often is the extent to which our society fully understands OCD. When I hear stereotypes and misunderstandings about OCD, it trivializes my experience. It makes my story less meaningful and forces me to correct people when they’re inaccurate. When people learn about my OCD, they often ask insensitive questions.
Here are some things you should never ask a person with OCD:
1. Have you ever tried not to think about it?
2. What happens if you just don’t do a compulsion or ritual?
3. Is that why you’re so neat?
4. It just means you’re a perfectionist, right?
5. Are you just saying this to get attention?
Questions like these seem inappropriate when we apply them to other scenarios. We all know that telling someone with depression to try to smile is callous and callous. With OCD, however, it seems that questions like this are more normal. OCD can look very different to different people, and while it can often involve neatness or neatness, that’s not where it starts or stops.
OCD is characterized by obsessions or anxious thought processes that result in a need to perform a ritual or compulsion to alleviate the anxiety. This works temporarily, but often the longer a compulsion is performed, the longer it becomes and the more often it needs to be performed. OCD also tends to get worse if left untreated. Sometimes medications can lessen the symptoms, but the prognosis tends to get involved and increase in severity. I’ve noticed this in my life, and stressful events can add seriousness.
I want to candidly list some of my symptoms so people know what it’s like to live with OCD.
1. If I leave home without my ring that I’ve been wearing for years, I’m physically uncomfortable and restless until I get it back. I only did it twice, and I remember how awful those days were.
2. I have to do things in the same order every time. It can mean the way I dress or the way I pack my bag, but if I do it wrong, I have to start over from the beginning (but usually only once).
3. I have intrusive thoughts about irrational things that don’t make sense. I stopped in the middle of the shower to go blow out a candle that I had left lit because I was afraid I would burn the house down (although I let it burn when I’m in the room).
4. Sometimes while driving I have intrusive thoughts about an intentional accident or running over something. I obviously won’t, but it’s incredibly hard to let those thoughts go (and any intrusive thoughts that occur with OCD).
5. Some sounds are either really satisfying or really make me feel uncomfortable. For example, I can’t listen to ASMR, even briefly, because of the physiological response that occurs when I do.
6. I need my living space to be this or I become unable to function or concentrate until I fix it.
There are many other symptoms that I haven’t listed, but I want to paint a clear picture of how OCD is negatively affecting my life before moving on to the positive effects I’m feeling (because there are several too !). It’s more than being neat or clean. Having to correct assumptions forces me to justify my own experience as authentic when it shouldn’t be questioned to begin with. I also live with diagnosed ADHD, and I often find it competing with my OCD.
Despite all of this, OCD positively affects me in many ways. Once I get interested in something, my memory is fantastic. I am very detail oriented and do a great job in the few areas I am passionate about. I am quite particular about words and language, which makes me able to communicate well. I am able to compose and enjoy music that I find satisfying to engage with, so my symptoms are reduced. I also happen to be very neat and organized, too! (I often joke that my room is so clean it looks like I haven’t lived in it yet.)
If I could share one final thought that would best counter all stereotypes and educate others about what OCD really is, it would be this: People who live with OCD live with an underlying state of anxiety, fear and worry – not arrogance or judgment. We do our best to control things around us because we can very quickly become completely disabled and dysfunctional when very slight changes occur.
All I ask is for patience from the people around me, because the last thing I need is to be mislabeled again. Often people with OCD are high achievers and diligent people, so we are hard to recognize. We never seem to look like what people expect. This is why everyone should need to treat us with more compassion, because you never know how heavy our emotional load is today.
Joel Brennan is a senior at UP. He can be reached at [email protected]
Do you have anything to say about this? We’re committed to publishing a wide variety of viewpoints, and we’d love to hear from you. Have your say in The Beacon.