We have all been witness to somebody saying “I’m so OCD!” as a means to get a point across that he or she is very particular, detail-oriented and organized. Brands like Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics have been using this term as a way to market their products as something we ‘need.’
The media has also been throwing around this term, rather carelessly, as being a trait one would aspire to have instead of it being a serious disorder. For example, Khloe Kardashian has a regular segment on her website titled KHLO-C-D. During each segment she demonstrates to her followers how she organizes her cookie jar, packs for an upcoming trip or rearranges her closet. Is such branding an innocent advertising tool, or is it instead stigmatizing to those whom live with this disorder?
The truth is, using this term inaccurately can be quite offensive and hurtful to somebody living with actual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). What does it mean to have OCD? Tackling the myths of this serious disorder is the first step to decrease the inaccurate use of the term and bring awareness to those who are suffering.
MYTH: I color coordinate everything and the idea of a messy home makes me anxious. I’m so OCD.
MEANING: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious psychiatric diagnosis that often presents in childhood/adolescence (but can also present later in life). It’s a disorder that is comprised of obsessions with or without compulsions.
What people typically mean when they say “I’m so OCD” is that they are neat, tidy, like everything color-coordinated, organized and ‘just so’. To be more descriptive, wanting things to be ‘just so’ (a common characteristic of many efficient, successful and type A individuals) is a characteristic of your personality. It does not mean you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
… wanting things to be ‘just so’… is a characteristic of your personality. It does not mean you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Obsessions refer to recurrent, intrusive and persistent thoughts, urges or images that are often unwanted and cause marked anxiety and distress. Common themes in obsessional thoughts include: Violent thoughts (ex: thoughts of killing a loved one), sexual thoughts (ex: unwanted sexual thoughts of children and family members), and thoughts of contamination (ex: thoughts that one will be infested with germs). How distressing would it be to live with such disturbing thoughts?
MYTH: I have disturbing thoughts that I can’t get out of my head no matter how hard I try. Something is terribly wrong with me. Am I a bad person?
MEANING: Although nobody wants to admit it, occasionally we all have random thoughts that are intrusive, come out-of-nowhere and are filled with content that is just plain weird, gross or frightening. That is normal! What happens in OCD is that those thoughts become recurrent, frequent and intrusive. The difference is those living with OCD are not able to pass off these thoughts quickly as ‘odd thoughts’ but often get ‘stuck’ on them, even with every attempt to ignore or suppress them.
MYTH: I don’t count, check or wash my hands repeatedly. I must not ‘be’ OCD.
MEANING: Often (but not necessary for a formal diagnosis) individuals with OCD engage in compulsions as an attempt to suppress the unwanted thought(s) (obsessions) or alleviate anxiety that accompanies the obsessions. A compulsion is a repetitive behavior (ex: hand washing, ordering, repeatedly checking) or mental acts (ex: praying, counting, repeating words silently) that an individual feels driven to perform in response to the thought, urge or image (as discussed above). These repetitive behaviors or mental acts are often unrelated to the actual obsessional and intrusive thoughts and can take up a significant amount of time. It is already so difficult to get up in the morning, imagine if you felt the need to engage in repetitive behaviors in order to be able to start the day off distress-free?
Together we can start using the appropriate terminology and dropping seemingly harmless sayings from our vocabulary. Next time you hear the phrase “I’m so OCD” being used by a friend, try informing them of what having OCD actually means … even if Khloe Kardashian considers OCD a ‘blessing’. As a result, you’ll increase awareness in those surrounding you. Together, we can make a difference.
Image via Michelle Madsen