When an acquaintance said he was a little OCD and used as an example the fact that he kept all of his Virginia Tech clothing in a drawer separate from his other clothes, I wanted to ask, “Are you kidding me?”
If he had told me that he constantly thought about that drawer, that he got up during the night to make sure all his Virginia Tech clothes were in that drawer, that he left work to go home and make sure no other clothing was in that drawer, that he stared for hours at the clothing in the drawer to make sure it was all Virginia Tech—then I would have felt differently.
How should I react when I experience an encounter like this when people say they are OCD and give as an example something that shows they are merely particular in how they store their clothes?
How do I find a middle ground, something in between saying nothing and beating my chest and saying, “People with OCD suffer.”
But maybe I’m not being understanding enough. Who am I to tell someone else that he or she doesn’t “really” have OCD?
I turned to the International OCD Foundation website for a formal definition of OCD: “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is [a] disorder of the brain and behavior. OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values.”
It goes further to say that people “tortured with OCD are desperately trying to get away from paralyzing, unending anxiety….”
So the anxiety a person experiences and the degree to which the obsessions and compulsions interfere with life seem to be key components of OCD.
Should I have told my acquaintance this when he declared that he was OCD? Should I have told him that people suffer from OCD to differing degrees, but simply organizing his clothes a certain way probably was not OCD?
When we’re faced with an encounter like this, what should we do?
When do we need to explain OCD? How do we educate the public about OCD? How do we take the opportunities to do something? What is an opportunity?
I don’t have any definitive answers. But here are some guidelines for myself that I came up with:
*If someone asks me directly about OCD, I will explain what OCD is and how it affects me.
*If someone I barely know says something about being OCD, but doesn’t ask for help or ask me about OCD, I won’t explain anything.
*If someone says something about OCD that is blatantly incorrect, I will say something politely but firmly to give the correct information.
*If someone makes fun of those with OCD, I will politely but firmly say something that makes it clear that OCD is not a laughing matter.
*I will use my blogging platform to continue to get the word out about OCD.
*I will continue to educate myself by reading other blogs and news and research articles.
What do you think is the best way to respond to people who seem not to understand the seriousness of OCD, or any mental illness? When do you think it’s best to say something and best not to?