I recently (and as it turns out accidentally) came out to my parents, not as being gay, but as suffering from a mental condition called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was diagnosed 10 years ago and, typically for a sufferer of this horribly debilitating, anxiety driven condition, I kept it to myself. For years.
I didn't tell my parents, closest friends or any employer until almost 3 years ago when I met The Boy.
He's the first person to have understood me in this respect, and better yet to have accepted me and supported me completely. He is an amazing man that I am proud to be marrying next year and his acceptance opened my eyes. Since then I have written about it many times in my Other Blog and am more up front and open about it to the people in my life.
As a result of this I have learned that there is so little understanding of what OCD actually is.
Every time I hear someone describe themselves as "a bit OCD" or describe perfectly normal behaviour as OCD I cringe.
Oh I know that most people won't mean to be insulting but much like the recent controversy over Ricky Gervais using the word "mong" which caused the Guardian to explain "if a word referencing disability is applied to mean; ugly, foolish, unpleasant or weird then it's an abusive epithet promoting a stereotype. Second, reclaiming a word to lessen its power is a right only available to those to whom the abuse is directed." it makes me want to ask the people concerned if they understand what it is actually like to suffer from OCD, and if not why not because there are so many stereotypes fostered through ignorance and stereotyping usually leads to prejudice and discrimination.
I thought I would do some research today and discovered a website called http://www.ocduk.org/ which is, and please don't laugh, beautifully categorised and organised.
A page which pertains to the object of this blog - my attempt to raise awareness and clarification - is "what is NOT OCD" which made me smile. Please do take a moment to read it. The thing which I found particularly relevent is the explanation of OCPD. For someone to pretend they have OCD, or to say that they are a bit OCD is so contrary to the nature of someone who actually suffers from it, that I would automatically assume that they do have OCPD and just like things to be neat and clean and are perfectly unashamed to be that way, and to project their expectations onto other people.
People with OCD are ashamed of their compulsions, ashamed of their obsessive thoughts, ashamed of the anxiety that comes with it. And for good reason.
To give a personal explanation, there are many categories of OCD and I am thankful not to suffer from the most well known - "Contamination" which is almost impossible to live with, especially without medication and my therapist tells me has the highest suicide rate.
I have "Symmetry and Orderliness" issues and "Magical Thinking Intrusive Thoughts". I have never taken anti-anxiety medication, have always had ERP therapy instead and learned to manage my condition myself. I will never be cured, but I have accepted the way I am and I have even turned some aspects into a positive thing - at work I am hyper organised, cannot leave a task unfinished (often working late into the night and at weekends) and rarely make mistakes. Not much fun for me - rarely taking time off sick when I can work from home, often running myself into the ground thanks to an inability to say no when I recognise that a job needs doing but I'm fairly certain my employers appreciate the result
I am getting more comfortable talking about my thought processes. Asking The Boy not to do something because it's a trigger, or explaining my reaction to doing something or hesitance to doing something. He doesn't enable me, and when he tells me he's proud of me it really does mean the world.
Experiencing OCD is like having two minds, or a voice in your head which I call my OCD mind. My normal mind (what I call my rational mind) never switches off and is often there contradicting what my OCD mind is trying to convince me to think or do. Mostly my rational mind wins, and I am now pretty experienced at telling which compulsions I can act upon, and will bring me peace and serenity, and which compulsions I should not give into because they will only trigger what I call an OCD spiral - a domino effect of more and more tasks I must complete to achieve peace and serenity, a peace and serenity which will never come. Avoidance or denial is something which is no stranger to someone with OCD. Sometimes I can avoid things I know to be triggers to the point where avoidance itself is the compulsion and things can get very confusing.
Avoidance for me usually means being quite stubbornly in control over what I perceive to be "my" environments - home and work. I would never come to your house and start rearranging it (actually if I did, you should probably be flattered that I'm so comfortable with you and in your home that I would react that way!!) and the things which I cannot live with - complex patterns, certain colours etc I can in fact admire in other people's homes as beautiful in their own right, but not for me.
Sometimes people will buy me gifts which I will find completely beautiful, but not be able to actually live with - for example buying me a dish or a cup is never a good idea unless you know to make it white, unpatterned and untextured so that it doesn't upset me. Equally with clothes - I wear spots and stripes as they make sense to me - floral patterns would freak me out. Sometimes I can't eat orange or green things (if they are artifically coloured, vegetables and fruits for some reason never bother me) so tic-tacs would be my worse nightmare. Sometimes it's the shape of things - I struggle with drinking out of mugs, preferring the shape of a cup and saucer and symmetry is obviously very appealing to me. It's heartbreaking because I hate to burden others with my issues and have to keep telling myself that everyone has preferences, that I should be more upfront about it and not just inwardly panic when I worry about how to explain the difference between theoretically liking something but being devastated that I can't be pleased to have received it, that in fact it causes me pain. One of my friends has a word "re-gift" which I am pleased to have learned.
I keep my house clean and tidy - I know where everything is, everything has a place and I like to keep things minimalist with a few cherished objects being accepted. Ornaments and knick knacks and fussy details aren't for me and if something doesn't "go" then it can't stay, as I've explained above.Sometimes I'll be able to break a cycle that I've been stuck in - cleaning, tidying, rearranging, checking and double checking things but then I suffer completely humiliating twitches - my right wrist shakes, my right thumb and index finger repeatedly form a circle, rub together, or my right hand repeatedly traces patterns on my laptop or desk for example. Back when I used a mouse I used to repeatedly "click" without actually depressing the mouse button. My neck also twitches, causing my head to shake and when I become aware of this, I try to mask it by rubbing my shoulder against my jaw or rolling my neck as if to loosen it.
Living with OCD is not something I would wish on anyone, but when I hear people describing their completely normal reactions or behaviour as OCD it does make me tempted to wish they could, just for one day experience it in order to appreciate how lucky they really are to just have a little personality quirk, or a preference for something to be a certain way.
Because what these people have, is choice. When it comes to OCD we rarely have a choice as to how we think and act, certainly not an easy one.
If you feel you would like to raise funds, please do so. If not - at least raise awareness and try to remove the stigma.
Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.
Title: I'm Deranged by David Bowie