Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It’s probably more than just separating your clothes: explaining OCD

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?

23 comments:

  1. I say if the person is in the dark, bring em to the light! I always correct people when I hear them use the term OCD in a way that is incorrect. Education is key. I feel like too many people use the term jokingly because they have some type of weird or funny habit and they don't take into consideration that OCD is truly an illness. I mean I don't hear them joking about cancer or HIV. That is a huge pet peeve of mine.

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    1. It's a pet peeve of mine, too. I don't think people realize what they're doing when they use the term "a little OCD" or "I'm OCD." They don't understand how serious OCD is and how much pain it causes in the lives of people who suffer from it. Kudos to you for speaking up!

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  2. My new thing now is when someone says they are "a bit OCD" I usually stop, look at them very seriously, and ask, "Oh, do you have OCD for real?" I can't tell you how many times the person will stop and then say, "Oh, no, not really." Then it gives me an opportunity to say something about how serious OCD is, etc. . . I try not to say this in a sarcastic or mean manner, more just in a manner of concern. I can't stand it when people make light of OCD, because of how tormenting this illness is. At the same time, I don't want to jump all over someone who really doesn't understand. This gives me an opportunity to gently correct someone. It seems to work pretty well.

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    1. That sounds like a great technique, Sunny. Thank you for sharing that! I might try that.

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  3. I think the way you react is perfect Tina!
    I do about the same, but more with depression. OCD, or OCS as it is officially called in Dutch, is not used so very often I find. The more popular phrase is still the original name "dwangneurose", straight translated "compulsion-neurosis". And that probably sounds like too much of a mental illness, so people don't use it when they do not truly suffer from it. Like I've never really heard anyone say "I'm a little schizophrenic".
    I find that people use "depression" for about every little upset they have though, really something that can make me so mad. My own sister told me a while ago that she suffered from a major depression and absolutely hit rock bottom when her new kitchen table arrived a day late?? Clearly still hasn't learned a thing from what I've told her of my experiences!

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    1. Klaaske, I had not thought about it, but you are right. People say, "I'm so depressed" a lot over things that are really just life's little disappointments. There's a lot of misinformation out there about depression, too. There's an attitude of "just get over it" or "snap out of it" instead of understanding it as a serious illness.

      That's interesting how the OCD translates into Dutch.

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  4. Kind of reminds me of all the comments I get from people saying that their kids are 18 months apart and it's just like twins. Which it's not.

    Anyhow, I think all of your responses are very good.

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. I know you know what having twins is like. Two at the same age is a lot of work, I'm sure! But you seem to handle it well! :-)

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  5. Love your commitments! people do use this term lightly and that can be very insulting. They think they are making fun of themselves but they are offending people who suffer severely. It is like calling someone 'retard' or saying you 'throw like a girl.' Quite daft! Hey i have an unpublished article on a man I worked with with OCD if you ever want to look at it let me know! email jodiaman at yahoo dot com

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    1. Thanks, Jodi, I would like to read that.

      You make a good point--people think they're making fun of themselves, and they probably don't realize they are offending anyone. That goes back to how well OCD and other mental illnesses can be "hidden."

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  6. Tina, this was a great post for me to read. I don't suffer from OCD, but I often experience the same thing with my compulsive eating disorder. I talk to folks who either don't believe I have a problem, or who minimize it by agreeing quickly: "Oh, yes, I have that problem, too. I just can't resist [name food here]!" But then I wonder, who am I to tell someone he or she doesn't have COE?

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    1. Jean, your comment about how other people claim to have COE reminded me of when my husband had his near fatal attack of Crohn's Disease. I can't tell you how many people claimed to have the same thing as him. I'm not saying that they didn't suffer from some sort of digestive disorder like Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) or something similar, but really, they didn't almost die from their troubles. And then, of course, they would go on to tell us how they got cured or better or whatever and that he should do the same thing as them. Sigh.

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    2. Jean and Sunny, I wonder if sometimes we just want to say "me, too" to feel connected in some way. I think a lot of it also comes from not being aware of the seriousness of OCD, COE, Crohn's Disease, etc. Thanks for your input! :-)

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  7. Tina, I like that you have a plan as to how to react in different situations. The few times these interactions have happened to me, I've been caught off-guard and haven't always known how to react. I also like Sunny's reaction of concern; that way nobody gets defensive. Great post!

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    1. Janet, I'm often caught off-guard, too, and I haven't had an "opportunity" since I came up with those guidelines. So I hope I can remember what I want to do in the moment! :-)

      I like Sunny's reaction, too.

      Thank you!

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  8. I react differently depending on the situation, who else is around, etc. I always want to be kind about it even though deep down it would irritate me if I thought somebody was using OCD as just "a saying." It just brings so many so much pain, making light of it seems unjust but you never know if someone has it or not. I like the idea of having some idea's in your head so your not caught off guard and know what you want your approach to be if someone says that.

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    1. Krystal, I want to be kind, too, but I get irritated, too.

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  9. Sigh. This is a tough one. I told my supervisor about my OCD a few months ago and I wish I hadn't. She asked me if I do things like Monk (an OCD detective on TV does) because she had never seen me do anything weird. I tried to explain that I spend half my time trying to hide it and I do weird things but I don't like to advertise it. I don't know, the whole conversation made me feel anxious.

    I don't know what the answers are.

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    1. Elizabeth, I don't think anyone has the right answers, unfortunately. I guess we take it situation by situation.

      I wonder how much "Monk" affected people's ideas of OCD.

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  10. I do not have OCD, but have friends and family who do have it to one degree or another - real OCD, not just "saying". My heart and love go out to them, for I have seen firsthand how difficult it can be. As for myself, I have dealt with severe clinical depression and anxiety since I was a teenager (about 30+ years now). I became an expert mask creator to hide my depression... first for a long time I didn't really recognize myself what it was (thought it was "normal" to have such thoughts and feelings, even suicidal ideation)... and second there was some fear of what other's reactions would be to that truth, and how they would treat me. Now I am more open about it - even blog about it.

    It really ticks me off when people say things like... all you have to do is decide to not be depressed anymore... or, thought you had gotten over that whole depression thing. It's just not that easy!! For me it has taken counseling and medication - and I'm not "cured" - it is something I still deal with on a daily basis (only now I have more tools to use in my defense against the darkness). Telling someone with depression, or OCD - to just get over it, or snap out of it - is tantamount to telling a blind person to just look harder and they will see it.

    Thank you for your blog (which I just discovered a few days ago). You have given me things to think about - which is always a good thing!

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    1. Thank you, Rebecca, for your kind words. I know what it's like to be depressed, too, and to not always be around understanding people. I'm glad you've gotten help for it. It's probably harder for me to tell people I'm depressed than to say I have OCD, but both are hard.

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  11. I struggle with this one myself. I usually say, "Well, you might have some minor ocd-like behaviors, but I can almost promise you that you don't actually have ocd." I think your explanation about the VT clothing was absolutely perfect!

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    1. That sounds like a good solution for handling it!

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