How many times have you heard someone say: ‘oh, I’m so OCD’?
During everyday conversation, the acronym is thrown around when people describe themselves as being ‘a little OCD’, as if the condition is something which just comes and goes without having any real impact on their lives.
But OCD or, to give it its full name, obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a paralysing and debilitating condition which affects millions around the world.
Hello. I have OCD, and OCD is more than simply organising things & keeping things tidy. It’s about anxiety, compulsions, avoiding situations you think are going to be bad. Suffering from guilt. Constant unwanted & repetitive images, thoughts and urges. #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
— ~ɢʟɪᴛᴛᴇʀqᴜᴀᴋᴇ~ (@GlitterQuake) May 8, 2018
One to two per cent of the population have the condition, and the negative stereotypes surrounding it, don’t make their struggles any easier.
As charity OCD Action describes: people with OCD experience intensely negative, repetitive and intrusive thoughts, combined with a chronic feeling of doubt or danger (obsessions)’, which they quell with ‘an action, again and again (compulsions)’.
So just because you like to keep your cupboards tidy, it doesn’t mean you have OCD, and by saying it does only exacerbates the misconceptions.
#OCD is such a misunderstood disorder but it's NOT
– keeping things in order
– liking things clean
– being a germaphobe
– something to describe your ways.
– an awful DISORDER
– something people DON'T want
– scary, nasty intrusive thoughts
– a life wrecker#mentalhealth
— Stacey Barber (@staceylou_blog) May 10, 2018
27-year-old Becky Joy, from Essex, has battled with OCD since she was six-years-old, but understands when people say ‘I’m a little OCD’, they have no ill intentions.
However, she admitted to UNILAD it downplays the severity of her condition:
When I tell people I have it they go, ‘Yeah, I have that too’ as they’re ‘neat freaks’.
It’s one thing being a ‘neat freak’ and having to have everything tidy but when it’s completely ruling every part of your life to the point you can’t get out of bed that day, it’s different.
There’s a lot more to it. It’s downplayed as everyone thinks they have it.
Becky confessed she didn’t fully understand what OCD was before her diagnosis. When she first started showing symptoms she was unable to realise it was ‘something abnormal and serious’.
The first sign of Becky’s OCD was her continual hand-washing as a child, to the point where they were ‘sore, cracking and red’.
Her condition developed. If Becky got out of bed the wrong way she would have to get back in. She would continually take off and put on her socks and do everything four times, meaning she often ‘didn’t want to get up in the morning as it was just so tiring’.
Yet when Becky started seeing a counsellor after her parents’ divorce, she was diagnosed with OCD, telling UNILAD:
When I was younger I had a lot of phobias and anxiety and I thought it was just a way to control it. The more anxious I was the more I would do these things.
I think my mum thought I was being a spoilt brat as I would throw a strop if she didn’t switch the lights on and off when I wanted them done.
But when it came up, the doctor said there’s something else going on: ‘She isn’t being naughty, she has OCD’.
In fact, it’s incredibly common for those with OCD to be diagnosed years after they started showing symptoms, with the average delay being 12 years according to OCD Action.
For James Poultney, from Derby, it was 15 years before he was diagnosed. Doctors either said there was nothing wrong with him or mistakenly diagnosed him.
James told UNILAD this was because he has ‘Pure OCD’, which involves no outward compulsions – just intrusive thoughts which, for him, manifested in ideas about hurting himself or others.
He explained the difficulty with diagnosing Pure OCD:
I basically ruminate on obsessions. When I was 25 years old I had a period of depression which triggered an episode of OCD and I started having these disturbing thoughts.
Deep down I knew I was never going to do it but my OCD perpetrated these thoughts as it feeds off your worst fears. My OCD was like a broken record and I couldn’t get past it.
Every day I would wake up and was convinced I would kill myself. I used to hide knife blocks and avoid going on overpasses as I thought I might have an urge and lose all control.
It was very scary having these thoughts and difficult to tell someone about them as I thought I would be arrested or sectioned. I thought I was insane.
The stress of keeping all this to himself caused James to break down in front of his family, so he went to a GP and ‘demanded’ they come to a conclusion about his condition.
These stressors take on new poignancy in light of Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, during which the Mental health Foundation wants us all to take stock of our own stress footprints.
Here’s how you can combat stress:
It was only after opening up to a doctor, James was then diagnosed with OCD and could start the journey to recovery.
But for 26-year-old Craig Evans, from Swansea, the embarrassment he felt about his condition meant he didn’t open up to his family, friends or a doctor.
During his teenage years, Craig admitted if he was out with friends he’d walk off for half an hour to carry out his compulsions in private, explaining his disappearance by saying he had to take a phone call.
Afraid something bad was going to happen if he didn’t carry out his compulsions, Craig would spend time repeatedly tying his shoelaces, flicking through his phone an even number of times and changing the channel on the television.
Craig told UNILAD, the stress his OCD was causing him was building, but he was still too ‘ashamed’ to see a doctor.
Like James, it was only when Craig broke down did he visit a GP which changed his life:
I was referred to my local service and from that point received help and support. I realised I wasn’t the only one going through this and understood the condition. Now I manage it day-to-day.
I didn’t realise the help was out there until I saw the GP. So no matter how alone you feel, no matter how bad it gets please just get help.
When a normal person has an intrusive thought they push it to one side and that’s that. For myself and others, they stick with you.
I thought I was the only one with this and to know others have it gave me encouragement.
Craig believes a solution needs to be found to encourage people with OCD not to delay seeing a doctor, as this only escalates the problem.
For him, this lies within education and mental health services:
The government go on about increases in funding for mental health services but they need to be specific about what services are being funded and how this money is going to affect people.
It needs to go into education too. Educating those of a younger age gives them an understanding and means if they have signs, they know to seek help. More needs to be done to shine a light on the condition.
I know for a lot of people when they hear ‘I’m so OCD’ they don’t understand how serious the condition is, and until that’s resolved, we’ll always get that.
If people are educated about the realities of OCD, hopefully the much used saying will be a thing of the past.
Talking is often the first step to moving forward. While talking about mental health is vital, UNILAD are calling for action this Mental Health Awareness Week.
We are petitioning the government to improve mental health services offered on the NHS for young people, who sometimes have to wait ten years from the moment they experience their first symptoms to get adequate treatment.
We have written to Jeremy Hunt MP to tell him about our petition and demand the government take action. You can help by signing our petition, in partnership with WHOLE. To find out more about our campaign you can read our manifesto.
You can speak to someone confidentially about your mental health and wellbeing by calling one of the following numbers: Samaritans – 116 123 , Childline – 0800 1111 (UK) / 1800 66 66 66 (ROI), Teenline – 1800 833 634 (ROI).
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.