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Me and OCD Part 1: Stigma and Silence

Until recently, I didn’t really talk about my OCD (and I’ll offer a couple reasons for that later). But, after opening up on social media about my recent relapse, I realized that maybe I should be using my voice to create more conversation on the topic. Some of the reasons that have prevented me from talking about it are, in turn, the same reasons why I feel it’s important that I talk about it now, so let’s get into that... 

Obsessive compulsive disorder is, in my opinion, one of the most trivialized mental illnesses because of how often the acronym “OCD” is used — rather, misused. It’s a common occurrence to hear people casually say things like “My house needs to be spotless, I’m so OCD”, “I get so OCD about things being in order”, or “I’m really OCD when it comes to making lists”, and on, and on, and on. It might seem harmless, but what it really does is leave people who actually have the disorder feeling like their problems are a joke, not a real issue, or that people won’t take them seriously. In reality, OCD is exactly as its name says: a disorder. This means it causes significant distress, impairment, and well, disorder, to a person’s life.

Liking things clean, being a perfectionist, or having a preference for orderliness are not the same as having a disorder that causes you to spend significant amounts of time and energy fixating on something that brings you distress, and then worrying that if you don’t do x compulsion that something truly bad is going to happen. It’s hard to share about your illness when you’re used to the vast majority of people only thinking of it as a joke or quirky personality trait. It’s difficult to speak up about the distress you’re in when someone may just laugh, brush it off, or say “oh gosh, yeah I’m really OCD with my outfits” and completely invalidate what you’re struggling with. Or, there’s also the possibility of someone taking your OCD seriously, but from a lens of stigma e.g. now they think I’m a “freak’, “crazy” or I’m just someone terrified of germs (which totally misses the mark). 

So, I had these external factors convincing me to stay silent, but I was also held back by some internal roadblocks too. I’m no stranger to mental illness — I’ve been in the throes with more than a handful of them over the course of my life — but OCD is one that I still struggle to understand (despite it being one I’ve dealt with, to some degree, since childhood). Through years of therapy and various treatments, I’ve come to have a pretty good understanding of my other illnesses; my resulting behaviours typically make sense to me in terms of why my brain resorts to them (even if not enough to always prevent them). OCD on the other hand, I just can’t wrap my mind around it. A majority of my OCD fears are entirely irrational and, yet, that doesn’t make them feel any less real or distressing. When I struggle to understand something or explain it even to myself, it feels incredibly aggravating and also quite terrifying. It feels like some foreign entity that invades my body and I have no control over it. If I can’t explain it, then I thought it was easier to just keep it to myself. 

That only lasted so long until it was beginning to take up hours and hours of my day, consuming my thoughts and energy even when I wasn’t actively engaging in compulsions. It was causing panic attack after panic attack, emotional meltdown after emotional meltdown, it was disrupting my work, my sleep, and my ability to engage in my life the way that I wanted. Out of desperation, I opened up about it to my team. After receiving the compassion and validation that I did, it allowed me to sit and reflect on it more. Those reflections brought me to realize that if I felt so alone in my struggle, then I knew many others were silently feeling the same way. It was time for me to shed light on what OCD is really like, and so I did that in the best way I knew how (especially during a pandemic): I took it to social media and now I’m here. More on that in Part 2 of this series, so stay tuned!

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