Mental Illnesses Aren't Adjectives: OCD

Hi! If you’re new here, thank you for taking an interest in mental health. Taking time out of your day to learn more about mental health and help beat the stigma surrounding it is amazing. This post is part of a series called “Mental Illnesses Aren’t Adjectives,” so if you haven’t read my introductory post, click here to do so. If you have read that post, let’s jump right into it!

“I’m so OCD.”

This Expression vs. What OCD Really Is

I started with this phrase because I hear it so often. People commonly say that they have OCD when they enjoy cleaning, like the whiteboard to not have any Expo marker residue on it, or like to have neat handwriting. This is not OCD. OCD is a complicated disorder with many different symptoms. Some people do have obsessions with cleanliness, but there are also many different things someone with OCD can be concerned about, such as having to repeatedly tap their foot in counts of three.

The broadest thing I can say as a differentiating factor between normal actions and OCD is that if you enjoy doing something, it isn’t OCD. I believe the easiest way to understand this is to view it as a real-life scenario. Let’s take two people who want neat handwriting and are taking notes in class. In this scenario, person A doesn’t have OCD while person B does.

Person A might take care to make their letters straight and uniform. They might momentarily fall behind if they need to erase and rewrite something, or they might leave a mistake and go back to fix it later. They might rewrite their notes in uniform handwriting at home as a study tool. But when they look at their writing, it makes them happy. If something came up and they couldn’t rewrite their notes, they might be disappointed, but they could move on with their day.

Person B would likely fall very behind in their notes because they were constantly having to rewrite words. They might not be able to leave an imperfect letter, because the entire time they’re writing, all they can focus on is that one imperfection. They might tear through their papers a lot from all the erasing, which then causes them to need to start all over. They might go home to rewrite their notes, but they would keep writing the same notes over and over until they got it “just right,” and they would feel the need to do this even if they didn’t need to study the material anymore.

What To Say Instead

So, what are some phrases you can use instead? “I’m really type A” is probably the most direct replacement! This is what people mean to say when they say they are “so OCD,” so it’s a great place to start. Of course, you can also just explain yourself in specific terms if you feel the situation needs a comment. “It really bugs me when the teacher doesn’t erase the whole board” or “It makes me happy to see all my pens look like a rainbow” are perfectly reasonable explanations. All I, and millions of others affected by OCD, ask is that you please don’t use OCD as an explanation for your preferences.

Want to Learn More?

If you’d like to learn more about OCD, I recommend clicking here to go to IOCDF’s page on OCD! You can learn more about what exactly obsessions and compulsions are, common obsessions, treatment options, different causes for the condition, and more!