OCD Is Not a Quirk: Stopping the Glorification of OCD

“Ugh I’m so OCD,” or “I have to because of my OCD,” are phrases that many people throw around without thinking. This makes it seem as if OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is simply a fun quirk, or just being clean or organized. In reality, however, diagnosed OCD can be terrifying. OCD can be extremely debilitating, and making comments that make it seem fun can be offensive to those who have spent years suffering from this condition. 

While symptoms vary from case to case, there are a few key similarities with most people diagnosed with OCD. OCD is a disorder that causes excessive intrusive thoughts. These thoughts are  often irrational and lead to a fear that something terrible will happen if  not combated with a compulsion. Compulsions (the actions taken to relieve the stress of obsessions) vary and often make no sense, but the general idea of them is to get rid of the nagging caused by the obsessions. 

Saying you are “so OCD” when you are instead referring to a general anal retentiveness or interest in order and organization can have a harmful impact. Making OCD seem like a fun little quirk to keep things clean and organized can actually invalidate the experiences of people suffering from the disorder. 

“OCD is like every weird thought you’ve ever had. Your OCD tells you it’s terrible and you’re a horrible person and you’re gonna do something bad, and then compulsions are just something you do to make you feel better but they can be kind of weird,” said Cassie, the co-founder of A Penny for Your Intrusive Thoughts, an online advocacy organization that posts anonymous intrusive thoughts so that people can see they are not alone. Cassie and co-founder Darcy use only their first names to keep a level of security while having an online presence. 

“We really focus on using anonymity to help spread awareness for people who maybe aren’t that ready to share their story publicly,” Cassie said. “I think there’s so much power that anonymity has to do good, and that’s what we try and use for [A Penny for your Intrusive Thoughts].” To preserve this anonymity, Cassie requested to be referred to only by her first name for this article. 

Self-diagnosing OCD (if you clearly have no verified symptoms) not only invalidates the experiences of people with intrusive thoughts, but it can also make it harder for OCD sufferers to get diagnosed. If someone who believes that OCD is a cute cleaning or organization quirk begins to suffer from bizarre thoughts that make them feel like a bad person, then it will likely take them much longer to get a legitimate medical diagnosis. This can also cause a delay in treatment, which is almost always necessary for OCD. With medication and Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP) —a form of therapy that addresses  the fears of an OCD patient and helps them  deal with obsessions and delay compulsions,— OCD can be managed and sufferers can learn to live with obsessions without feeling like something will happen if a compulsion is not completed. Without a diagnosis, however, it may not be possible to get the help needed to live a successful life while battling OCD. Megan Moyer, a school psychologist at Franklin, stressed how important it is for students to reach out if they think they may be suffering from a disorder. “If you are concerned, you should ask for help from an adult and they can get you the help that you might need,” she said. 

Many people who say they have OCD because they stay organized most likely do not know the real definition of OCD, or how hard people work to battle it. Mental illness can be a challenge because most symptoms are not visible, and people have become extremely good at hiding those that are. Like Peeta from the Hunger Games, people living with OCD camouflage  but instead of mud, they’re  covered in stress, lies, and blending in with the crowd. “I think that movies and TV have portrayed [OCD] in a certain way and I think that that kind of colors it for people in terms of what they think about it…it’s not always really extreme. People can be seemingly totally typical but really be struggling with neuro challenges,” said Moyer. By learning about OCD and other mental illnesses, you can learn how to recognize symptoms in friends or peers and be there for support. Even if you do not suffer from OCD, you can stand up for those who do by educating people who may be misusing the term . “The best way to get through to people is to say ‘I totally see where you are coming from, I know you don’t mean harm.’ Usually it is just people who are not educated, so just say ‘this is what OCD is’ and give them some resources… I think the majority of people just don’t know,” said Cassie.

So, stand up, and educate yourself and others about OCD. It can be more beneficial than you know,  and may even save a life, whether directly or through encouraging  someone to get the help they need. “Awareness is key.I think that there are some great things that are happening at Franklin, there is a mental health coalition through ASB that is happening and they are trying to get word out. I think all the different supports in our school can help to make it more normalized so that when you do have a hard time with something, there is somebody that can be there to problem-solve with you,” said Moyer. A great start is to research OCD through books or online articles. Another great resource is personal blogs or Instagram pages to hear about personal stories and can make people feel less alone. Advocacy is a great way to show support, but if you are not comfortable with that, educating yourself will go a long way. Who knows—maybe you will help someone get the therapy they need to increase their quality of life. It can never hurt to be prepared. So, next time you color code your notes or organize your bookshelf, don’t just throw around the term OCD, maybe consider saying you just like being organized. Be considerate of the people around you, and the effect your casual words may have on them. 

Resources:

Franklin Resource Center – https://www.pps.net/Page/15100

International OCD Foundation – 

A Penny for your Intrusive Thoughts – https://www.apennyforyourintrusivethoughts.org/

OCD Game Changers – https://ocdgamechangers.com/

A depiction of what OCD can feel like to those who go through it. Though it may be glossed over like a cute quirk, OCD is actually a debilitating mental disorder. Illustration by Ella Kauffman Smith.

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