Monday, 5 August 2013

No, You DON'T Have OCD

There's a lot of jokes and trivialisation going around about OCD lately, and I'm not just talking about the jokes Ciarnan Helferty made. I often go on meme websites, and posts like this are too common:


Or ones like this, with captions like 'This Snake Pleases My OCD' or simply 'OCD Snake':

Now, don't get me wrong. It would be good if the stigma around OCD was gone, but trivialising a serious condition isn't the right way about it. OCD isn't simply washing your hands a bit excessively, liking things to be neat and tidy, or alphabetising your CDs. There are many with OCD who don't have any compulsions to clean or tidy things, but have purely obsessional thoughts, and sometimes don't have any 'visible' symptoms. Also, people who do wash their hands a lot or like things to be neat and tidy don't necessarily have OCD. I don't have OCD, but I have some compulsions that I have to do on a daily basis. These are my compulsions, and bear in mind that I DON'T have OCD.

I have to check bathrooms before I go into them to make sure there are no spiders in there. At home, that means checking around the doorframe, behind the door, behind the bathroom cabinet, both sides of the toilet, the toilet roll (to check that there's no spider on the toilet roll, but it comes in handy as I don't get 'caught short'!) and the cistern of the toilet. It takes me around 20 seconds to do, but it has to be done. In public bathrooms, I check the walls of a cubicle, the door, the sides of a toilet, the toilet roll holder and the cistern. This takes around 10 seconds, unless it's a large cubicle!

After going to the toilet, I have to wash my hands straight away. Then, if I touch anything else in the bathroom before walking out, other than the tap, towel, soap dispenser or light switch, I have to wash my hands again. So if I've washed my hands and touch the bathroom cabinet before walking out, I have to wash my hands again. However, if I walk out of the bathroom, and then go straight back in and touch the bathroom cabinet, I don't have to wash my hands again. Also, if I have to walk out of a bathroom to wash my hands, I do everything possible to try and not touch anything until I get to a tap. I can 'feel' that my hands are dirty, and I need to wash them. And they feel that way until I've washed them.

I have a wardrobe with two sliding doors. The doors either have to be completely shut, or open more than a quarter of the way. If the door is closed over most of the way, but not completely shut, it winds me up. I have to make sure it's closed all the way. I would rather leave one door completely open than have one door not quite shut. I prefer having both doors completely shut, but don't mind if one is open.

I can't pick anything off the floor, unless I watched it fall and can pick it straight up. This is in case there's a spider underneath it. I also can't use vacuum cleaners, open/close curtains and windows, or sit in the front of a car and have the window beside me all the way down. I can have the window in the back all the way down if I'm sat in the back, or have the window on the other side of me all the way open if I'm sat in the front, but I can't have the window completely open beside me when I'm sat in the front. There are also two rooms in the house that I can't go into - the cupboard under the stairs, and the utility room. This is all spider-avoiding behaviour.

At night time, I have to check the stairs for spiders before climbing them, and keep checking as I walk up them. This only takes an extra few seconds to do, but I have to do it. I also have to check my bedroom briefly if I go into it, but not to go to bed. I have to look around the doorframe, look down the side of my bookcase and at the walls, floor and ceiling. If I walk beside my bed, I have to check underneath the bed. This also only takes a few extra seconds.

Whenever I go to bed though, I have to do a 'full' check of my bedroom. This means switching the light on, checking the walls, floor and ceiling, around the doorframe and down the side of my bookcase. This has to be done before I walk beyond the 'threshold' of the room, i.e. the carpet strip. Once this is done, I can walk into my bedroom, and check beside my bed, as this view is blocked by my bookcase when I stand in the doorway. Then, I have to check down the side of my wardrobe, underneath the bed and underneath the bookcase as far as I can. Then, I check by the side of my desk and behind my calendar. The calendar is the part I get most anxious about, as I can't see behind it and have to lift it up. I'm always scared in case there's a spider behind it. Once that is done, I can check my bed. I have to check under all three pillows individually, then both side of my duvet. Then, I can check down the side of my bed and around the TV stand that's over the foot of my bed. Lastly, I check down the back of the radiator, the windowsill and all around the window. All in all, this takes around two minutes, as I'm so used to doing it. If I walk out of my room before going to bed though, I have to do the 'full' check again. Then, before going to bed, I have to put my pillows centrally on the bed, and in the right order.

I repeat: I do NOT have OCD!

The checks I do for spiders is part of my arachnophobia. Yes, my phobia is quite severe, but it is NOT OCD. The worst part of it is not being able to do certain things around the house, such as the vacuuming or the washing. If the washing machine was in a different part of the house, I would be able to use it, but it's the utility room that I can't go into. Vacuuming anywhere is off the agenda for the time being.

The way I wash my hands and liking my wardrobe doors to be a certain way is just me being anal. I'm also a perfectionist, and have been for as long as I can remember. The biggest nightmare in school (after the bullies of course) was drawing a straight line on a piece of blank paper. Lined paper wasn't as bad, but a straight line on blank paper was a nightmare. In my last job, my main role was to check the price tickets to see if they were accurate. However, I couldn't 'just' do this, as the areas I was checking were always really untidy. I couldn't stop myself; I had to tidy them. It added to my already heavy workload, but I had to do it. Thankfully though, my boss actually liked that I tidied up as I worked, and although it would take me considerably longer, to do this I was 'cleared' to continue doing it. Whenever I do some work, it has to be 'perfect' in my own head. At home, I can't dust the TV stand because it's made of glass, and dust never clears off glass properly. Last time I tried it, I ended up crying my eyes out because it was still dusty, despite spending half an hour on it.

However, all my behaviours combined only take up about ten minutes a day at most. Even mild OCD with compulsions takes up around 2 - 3 hours a day. The severest forms of OCD with compulsions takes the whole day away. From the moment the sufferer wake until the moment they collapse into bed, they are trying to satisfy their compulsions. For the sufferers of OCD without compulsions, they live with obsessive thoughts, often about the death of themselves or their loved ones, or the worrying belief that they will harm someone, even though they would never ever wish to cause harm to anyone.

When I was first sectioned, the psychiatrist initially thought I had OCD. I was sectioned because I was hearing a voice telling me that if I ate, my family would die. I was diagnosed with psychosis (and eventually schizophrenia), because of hearing that voice and suffering with delusions. However, had my problem 'just' been believing that eating would cause my family to die, that WOULD have been OCD.

Often, OCD beliefs sound bizarre to a non-sufferer. On episode one of Don't Call Me Crazy (I won't go into my opinions of that show here), they showed the staff checking the room of a girl with OCD. They didn't put her belongings back exactly where they had been, causing the girl real distress. She believed that because her CDs weren't straight, her mum was going to die. She wasn't staring at a picture of a snake coiling around square and octagonal paving slabs and feeling 'pleased', she was in serious distress because her CDs weren't straight and she believed that because of it, she wasn't going to have a mum.

So next time you feel like saying "I'm really tidy, I'm so OCD!" or similar, please remember that OCD is far more complicated than that. There is a real difference between reducing stigma and trivialising a serious illness. Reducing stigma is helping sufferers to live with their illness. Trivialising an illness is like laughing at a sufferer, which isn't helpful. Sufferers of OCD really do have a lot on their minds. Don't give them something else to stress about by making jokes.


  1. Wow! This is pretty much a perfect reflection of myself. I do all of these things, especially the constant checking of rooms due to arachnophobia. Except it takes me a much longer time to do these things.

    I often have to stare at my alarm clock for a very long time, making sure the alarm is truly set to 'loud' and 'on'. I also have to stare at my closet doors for an equal amount to make sure they are truly closed. Then I have to go the bathroom and check it for spiders before I do my thing. And when I finally slip into my bed, I have to stare at either side of the bed multiple times to make sure the sheets aren't drooping to the floor. And I have to check the light on my clock that means the alarm is turned, and I do that for a long time as well.

    All of the above is my routine before going to bed. Rinse and repeat every night. It's horrible. But I can't stop. That's just a part of what I go through everyday, and I seriously wish I could stop.

    It feels good knowing I'm not alone in this, but it also feels bad because I wouldn't wish this upon anyone. It's a truly horrible thing.

  2. It would never be acceptable to say I'm so schizophrenic or I'm so autistic, yet it seems completely acceptable to say I'm so OCD. My 10 year old son was recently diagnosed with OCD and TICS and struggles with his obsessions and compulsions everyday. He went from a happy child that excelled at school to a child that suffers with fears and depression, can't focus or attend school for more than an hour. I wish people really new what OCD means the people affected by it.