If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not OCD.

Let’s be real here.  Almost everyone has a quirk or two.

quirks

Some people have to organize their shirts by color.  Some need to dot their i’s a certain way.  Some have to clean their kitchen in just a certain way.  Some always double-check the front door before they go to sleep.

Quirks.  Quirks, I tell you!

Unless …

You feel that a disorganized closet is going to ruin your day, your week, or even your life (and you will panic and feel sick over it until you fix it).  You think that if you don’t dot your i’s just so it might mean that something bad will happen to your family.  You think that if you don’t follow a particular routine in cleaning, you (or people you love) are going to get really sick and probably die.  You think that if you don’t check the front door, a murderer will certainly get inside, kill your entire family, and it will actually be all your fault.

Those are just some examples off the top of my head, but my point is this: if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not OCD.  

In fact, it’s built into the very definition: OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry; by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety; or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions.

I was recently on a web forum that was asking “What minor OCD quirks do you have?” and the answers amounted primarily to superstitions and quirks:

* I feel naked without a pocketknife handy.
* I just have to snip or pull loose threads on clothes or buttons.
* I tap my pockets to make sure my keys are there.
* I fold my dollar bills face-in.
* I hate it when someone else uses my pillow.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  These may all very well be true for these people– but I didn’t get the impression from these forum users that if they didn’t do these things, they would spiral into tumultuous anxiety that makes you believe things will never be okay again.  That is OCD.

It’s fine to have quirks; they can even be funny!  But please call them quirks.

OCD is an anxiety disorder.  It ruins people’s lives.  It steals joy from them.  It gives them a sickening feeling of terror.

Please don’t feed into the misrepresentation.  You are not “so OCD” just because you organize your sock drawer.  If, on the other hand, you believe that something terrible will happen if you don’t organize it just right, and if the organization and reorganization of your drawer seems to be adding to your distress, well, that’s another story.

Be informed.  And compassionate.

Don’t label something cutesy and funny as “OCD” — OCD is anything but.

OCD stereotypes and Pure-O

Just like any other group, obsessive-compulsives have their own stereotype, which is quite often perpetuated by media.  When most people hear “OCD,” they think of a neat-freak.  The truth of the matter is that, for some, washing and ordering are just symptoms of the problem.  Oh, and about 2/3rds of OCs are hoarders, so … yeah, that neat-freak stereotype falls a little flat.

monk

Personally, I identify as a pure obsessional (in our community we call it “pure-o”), which is actually a misnomer, because we pure-o’s still have compulsions.  My most common obsessions were about sin and hell, and then my primary compulsions were seeking reassurance* and internal repetitive prayer.**

* This usually centered around whether or not I was hellbound or whether or not something was “okay” and not sinful.  With some people, it would be an overt, “Do you think this was wrong?” or “Do you think I’m going to hell?” but with others, I would be more passive about it.  For example, at work, I would say something like, “I am terrible at this,” and then wait for someone to say, “No, Jackie, you’re not!  You’re great at your job!”  Both are forms of seeking reassurance, and it is a real compulsion.  I know because if I would try to keep myself from doing it, my heart would flood with terror.

** This was prompted by certain words and sounds– for me, usually curse words, words that sounded like curse words, and the sound of the letter f– and would include repeating the phrase “Father God, I love You; Father God, I love You” over and over in my head.  This was my way to combat the direction I knew my mind would go when I heard those sounds, which would be to curse at the Holy Spirit, what I believed to be unforgivable.

If you weren’t a close friend of mine, chances are you probably wouldn’t even notice my compulsions (although a roommate did notice what appeared to be a facial tic– when the repetitive prayer was cycling through my mind and someone was having a conversation with me, it would be so hard to keep both going that I would shake my head– just a little bit, like an Etch-a-Sketch– to “clear away” that repetitive prayer, et al, and focus back on what my friend was saying).  So there’s that.

And I am not a neat-freak.  Not by a long-shot.  Ask anyone who has ever lived with me, and they will tell you that I am a slob.  My friend Tracy would say I’m a “piggy”!

I know obsessive-compulsives who are washers, checkers, orderers, hoarders, but actually, most of those I talk to are pure-o.  You live with us, work with us, are friends with us– and you don’t even know it because we don’t fit the stereotype.  There is this joke that goes “I have CDO.  It’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the letters are in alphabetical order AS THEY SHOULD BE,” and I just find it so annoying because it seems to belittle OCD so much.  Even for those who are orderers and who would be upset by something like that.  People just don’t understand that there is a drive– a terror– so much fear and this feeling of disgust and wrongness if we don’t perform our compulsions.

It’s so much more than being organized or neat, even for those who are organized and neat.

What are some stereotypes you or others have of OCD?  I’d love to share the truth!

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the non-obsessive-compulsive people (those who are just straight-up clean or quirky) who then label themselves as “OCD” … grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  Yeah, maybe if it stood for “obnoxious chump disorder.”  😉