Hey I’m Jenny, and I’m a student studying English Literature in London. I also have OCD and general anxiety problems. I was first diagnosed with OCD in 2010 when I was studying for my A levels, but looking back, I think it is something that has been there on and off my whole life. OCD is a condition that is often misunderstood, particularly due to often inaccurate presentations of the condition in the media. I’d like to use this blog to bust some of the myths that surround OCD in the hope that it will help people who think they or someone they know may have OCD, and to provide some info for people who just want to find out a bit more about the condition! I hope it’s useful!
People with OCD like cleaning
This is pretty much the number one myth that needs to be busted. There are many forms of OCD all with anxiety at their core, and for some people this anxiety can cause excessive cleaning. For example, someone may feel like if things are not clean, they or someone they love may contract a serious illness and die. The thought of being responsible for this therefore makes them feel as though they constantly need to make sure everything is clean, in order to protect themselves and those around them. But the main thing about this is that no one with OCD likes cleaning or likes any other compulsions they may have- in fact, they find them very distressing and feel as though they have to do them to stop something bad happening, hence the word ‘compulsion’. Equally, some people with OCD are not affected by a need to clean at all, so the condition is definitely not just about cleaning.
OCD means the same as being neat and tidy
It really doesn’t, I’m literally the most untidy person ever! The media does often seem to portray it in this way though, which can lead people to believe that OCD is just about being excessively tidy. I think there is often a lot of confusion about this because people with OCD often like things to be ‘just so’, for example, they may arrange things in a certain way until it feels right to them. But there is always an underlying anxiety behind this. I can remember going through a phase where I thought if I let electrical items touch each other, or anything else, it would start a fire, so when I put my phone and iPod on my desk before I went to bed, I would clear everything away from the area, and make sure there was a big enough gap between my phone/ iPod/any other electrical item and anything else on the desk to avoid this happening. This arranging of things was totally irrational, and had nothing whatsoever to do with being tidy. Tidiness tends to be viewed as a positive thing- the compulsions associated with OCD are anything but positive, often very time-consuming and relate to irrational fears. Thinking about certain behaviours in this way is a good way of working out the difference between a general trait and a compulsion. If you do something because it will have positive consequences, even if you don’t necessarily want to do it, it’s probably not OCD. So you don’t want to tidy your room, but you do it because you will then have more space and can find all your stuff. Using a similar example, however, someone with OCD may tidy their room, making sure there is nothing on the floor because they are anxious that leaving something on the floor could mean someone trips over and breaks their neck, fractures their skull, etc. As you can see, there is a VERY big difference between being generally tidy, and having OCD.
You can tell when someone has OCD
In some people, OCD may be very obvious to others, for example, people who check doors, windows, electrical appliances repeatedly, or people who spend a lot of time cleaning or washing their hands. For some people, however, OCD can take place completely in their mind, without being obvious to anyone else at all. This form of OCD is often called ‘Pure O’ and can often involve mental rituals and avoidance of things that cause anxiety, and therefore may not be visible to others. Even in people with more traditional forms of OCD where compulsions are visible, the condition may not always be obvious. As with many mental health problems, people with OCD are often very good at covering up their symptoms. I can remember during my first week of university asking my flatmates to repeatedly check that the cooker was off for me, saying, ‘It’s different from my cooker at home, I’m not sure if I switched it off properly.’ It was obviously nothing to do with the type of cooker at all, but I just so desperately didn’t want anyone to guess that I had OCD so did whatever I could to cover it up. To this date, I’ve only disclosed to one very understanding friend that I have OCD, my other friends, even those I have known for years, have no idea. Some people can go years before being diagnosed with it, and it’s often described as ‘the secret illness’. So no, it may not always be obvious that someone has OCD.
Everyone is ‘a bit OCD’ about something
The amount of times I’ve heard friends say things like, ‘I’m so OCD about my books, they’re all in alphabetical order on my bookshelf’ or ‘I’m so OCD about clutter, I just hate it’ or even ‘I’m so OCD about highlighting my notes, the different colours correspond to different things.’ There is a MASSIVE difference between being organised/ neat/ tidy and having OCD. These things that people mistake for OCD like highlighting notes in a specific way, or putting books in alphabetical order are actually very sensible, and not a sign of an illness! The compulsions associated with OCD rarely have any kind of benefit for the sufferer, apart from reducing anxiety briefly until the next worry comes along, and they are always distressing- the same can’t be said about highlighting notes! As I’ve mentioned before, if these traits relating to organisation and tidiness were what OCD was about, I never would have been diagnosed- I’m messy, unorganised, and my notes are more often than not scrawled in some battered notebook with the cover missing that I found in the bottom of my bag- definitely not highlighted colours that correspond to relevant things! It’s a shame that OCD seems to have come to mean something that it’s not, but I hope through educating people and raising awareness of the condition, people will start to understand it more and use the term in the right context.
I hope that this blog has dispelled some of the myths about OCD. Here are a few websites about the condition that I have found helpful if you would like to learn more: