Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How do I appear to others?

In my mission to more fully address how OCD, depression and anxiety affect my life, I’ve been considering how others might perceive me.
In other words, do I seem like a person with OCD or depression?
I’m not trying to focus on what others’ opinions of me are. Rather, if my ailments have affected my life in ways even I haven’t yet recognized (I think they have), do others recognize in me signs of mental health disorders?
I did not knowingly meet another person with OCD until I was in my early 30s. This was years before the “I am so OCD” trend started.
At the time, I was part of a women writers group. I don’t remember the details about how the subject came up, but a few of us started talking about odd habits that we had.
What I said and what this woman (I’ll call her G) said sounded eerily similar.
We looked at each other.
I said, “I have OCD.”
She said, “I do, too.”
It turned out I was the first person that she had knowingly met with OCD.
I was completely surprised that G had OCD and had suffered from it since she was a child, as I had.
G didn’t look like someone who had such problem. She was very hip and cool and seemed totally together. I admired her. In fact, I was a little surprised that she seemed to like me and had invited me to join the group. I was decidedly not hip and cool.
But in so many ways, she was just like me.
I learned from that experience. Outside appearances don’t always give a clue to what is going on in a person’s life. Just because someone isn’t acting out compulsions in front of us doesn’t mean they aren’t being done. Just because a person doesn’t talk about obsessions doesn’t mean they aren’t running through his or her mind.
Apparently I do give out some aura of OCD, especially in work environments. I think it’s because I tend to focus on details and am extremely conscientious.
And there has been a lot of information in the media over the last 10 years or so about OCD, so the general public is more aware of it and the stereotypical symptoms.
For example, I worked as a health educator at one point, and I was very careful with the wording of information when I wrote health-related handouts to give to patients.
A nurse asked me one day, “Are you anal retentive?”
I simply replied no. I didn’t tell her that in fact I had OCD. I could be wrong, but I didn’t sense that she cared that I might be having a problem, but was judging me.
She knew something was going on.
What experiences have you had with recognizing or being recognized as having OCD or depression? What have you learned from it? If you think an acquaintance or co-worker may be suffering from one or both, how do you respond?


  1. No one's ever commented about it to me, although I'm sure some people have noticed at times in my life when my hand washing is at its worst.

    Although ironically, workmates frequently comment on how unflappable I am at work (apparently on the outside anyway).

    I have noticed recently that I seem to be drawn into friendships with people who also have mental health issues, or who have them in their families.

    I think there's just a level of knowledge and acceptance to some of these people that makes me comfortable.

  2. Ann, I didn't include this in the post, but I've had people notice my red and raw hands from washing. It's not an easy thing to explain.

    I am drawn to such people too. I agree that they seem to have an accepting and understanding nature.

  3. This reminds me of when I attended the International OC Foundation's Annual Conference in D.C. in 2010. I was paranoid that I had the flu so I was washing my hands like crazy and not touching door knobs properly. I remember washing my hands in the bathroom and realizing that I was pretty much the only one over-washing and performing compulsions. When I walked around that conference I saw almost no OCD behavior at all. If I didn't know what kind of conference I was at I never would have guessed. It made me really self-conscious because I felt like my behavior was so obvious to everyone else. I haven't recognized OCD in too many other people in my day-to-day life and I would probably only say something if I knew them well.

  4. Sunny, That's amazing to be at a conference about OCD and not see the behavior! I think us OCDers tend to adapt and learn ways to hide our compulsions most of the time.

  5. Tina, this is an excellent post.

    I told a long time work friend recently and she had no idea about me. I felt almost like she almost didn't believe me because she has never seen me being weird. And she was asking if I do compulsions and I said yes, all the time. The way I explained it to her is that I have been hiding it from people since I was a small child so I'm pretty overly aware of how I appear and so I try to appear normal and that is hard work in and of itself.


  6. Thank you, Elizabeth. I agree--it is hard work to do the compulsions to try to satisfy the obsessions but not let anyone see them. I wonder if that's why I'm tired a lot of the time . . .


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