I’ve been living with obsessive compulsive disorder since long before I even knew how to pronounce the damn words. It was my ‘friend’ when I was 7-years-old and bullies cut off my lovely long locks of blonde curly hair with school ‘safety’ scissors for fun. It was my protector when I was 12-years-old, as I endured a lengthy sexual abuse by a family member. It was my saviour when I was 20-years-old and I was too afraid of causing harm to another human being that I physically barricaded myself in my dorm room each night, by moving heavy furniture across the floor; desk in place? Check. Chair in place? Check. Clothes arranged over everything in a particular order and photos taken as evidence for tomorrow morning? Check.
Check. Check. Checking. I have spent my entire life simply checking. I check everything. Did I leave the washing machine open? What if the cat jumped in? What if I put her in there on purpose? Did I call someone and scream abuse down the phone? What if I can’t remember it? Better check my phone’s call history. That was until Apple allowed you to erase each individual call. Gee, thanks Apple! I was so OCD about that.
Hell, my checking got so bad that every time there was a murder investigation on the news, I’d check my closet for items stained with blood, or even the murder weapon; believing that I might somehow be connected to the crime.
Am I sounding ‘a little bit OCD’ yet? No? What about if I told you that I haven’t left the house alone in over three years? Or that since childhood, after every time I left the house I would come home and have to retrace my steps; mentally and on paper? This ritual alone took anywhere between 3-4 hours.
What if I told you that I have never, in my entire adolescent and adult life, allowed myself to be anywhere near a child because I am so, so afraid of the voice inside my head that whispers: “You were abused, Sam. What if youcould harm a child?” Even though the idea not only repulses me, but that I would voluntarily give my life to protect any child or adult alike from harm.
What if I told you that last week I had to ask my best friend for reassurance that I didn’t walk out of the house and stab someone without remembering it? If every time a police car drives past our house, I break down and have a panic attack because I am so afraid that this is confirmation that I have done something awful? What if when I do have to leave the house for appointments with my support worker, I told you that she has to cling onto me every inch of the way because I am too afraid of causing harm to someone; so much that it makes me scream out in tears?
Do I sound ‘so OCD’ now?
Or should I ask… would you like to be considered so OCD instead? No? Not even just a little bit OCD? Are you sure?
I am a prisoner of my thoughts. And I wouldn’t wish this disease or these intrusive thoughts on anyone. I wouldn’t wish you to live through the days I spend begging and pleading to a god I’m not sure I believe in; asking them to somehow let me know if they consider me to be an ‘evil person’. I wouldn’t wish you the time I’ve spent sitting on the bathroom floor, with tears in my eyes, as I talk my mind out of suicide because these intrusive thoughts and images are far too horrible to handle. I wouldn’t wish for you to suffer minimal human contact because you are so afraid of yourself, and the harm you may cause to others.
And this is why I’m asking you to please stop referring to yourself as ‘so OCD’. This is why I am pleading to major media outlets (I’m looking at you, Bored Panda/BuzzFeed) to step away from their misuse of obsessive compulsive disorder.
OCD is not a punchline. Nor is it a quirky trait, and by treating it in this way, we will not only further stigmatise a disorder that leaves so many people silently suffering alone, but we will also strip the disorder of its brutal reality, therefore causing old sufferers to double think their illness and new sufferers embarrassment at speaking out.
I cannot imagine being a teenager nowadays with OCD. I cannot imagine the fear, humiliation and confusion that they must feel from their classmates who make jokes about OCD, or the anxiety produced by the thought of going to see their GP about an illness which is mocked by so many; celebrities, media outlets, parents and more.
OCD aside for a moment, I am also concerned by the general misuse of other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Society and the media combined have taught us to fear people with schizophrenia, as opposed to supporting them. ‘Mental patients’ in general are mocked or trivialised time and time again (does anyone remember Asda’s Mental Patient halloween costume?) Referring to people as ‘so bipolar’, or stating that someone ‘looks so anorexic’ is not only shockingly distasteful, it is also deeply offensive and insensitive.
Since learning about my illness, I have come to see how poorly informed we are on obsessive compulsive disorder as a society. I have, therefore, made it a personal challenge to go out of my way to inform others about OCD, to educate individuals and companies when they misuse the term ‘so OCD’ on social media. More often than not, people have apologised and have seemed to genuinely care about the importance of fighting this stigma. Other times, however, I’ve been bombarded with abuse and aggression, with those in question telling me to ‘calm down’ or ‘get over it’, informing me that it is ‘just a phrase’.
To those people I say: OCD is not a phrase, funky slogan or cool adjective. It is a heart-wrenching, disabling and incredibly painful illness.
An illness. Where is the humour in that?