OCD Awareness Week: Things NOT to say to someone with OCD

*This post first appeared on MentalMutha.com

My name is Kate. I’m 31. I come from Brighton. I’m a Lesbian. My pronouns are she/her. I’m married. I’m a mother. A sister. A daughter. I’m allergic to Dioralyte (that my mum found out the hard way) and I despise Frogs and Moths.

I also have OCD.

Diagnosed in my teens, I was given a name for the crippling anxiety that often left me feeling nauseous, scared, or wanting to go home to check the oven or taps for the third time. Delving deeper into my OCD, I have 3 of the 5 main OCD compulsions; Checking, Symmetry & Order, and Contamination. I have been known to experience intrusive thoughts, but these are often on the back of something that’s just happened or is going to happen – like public speaking, for example.

Over time I’ve managed to overcome some my OCD and control my anxiety and deep-routed thoughts but it never really goes away – you’re just controlling your OCD as opposed to it controlling you. You learn to distract yourself.

Oh the Checking

In 2015 I became a parent and this was probably the biggest challenge for my OCD. Parenting comes with a vast amount of hurdles; the poo, the mess, the routine and the checking. Oh the checking. If I wasn’t checking to make sure I’d packed everything in T’s bag it was whether I had left anything on the hob or in the fridge (this wasn’t helped by the fact that I actually put a hot kettle in the fridge whilst I was making coffee once – I actually meant to take milk out of the fridge, not put hot water into the fridge, anyway, I digress). When T picked up a stomach bug my hands were raw from washing my hands, and when I was tired from a late night/early morning feeding session everything my OCD did to me was ten times worse. It was exhausting.

So with all this in mind, how do you think it feels when the term ‘OCD’ gets thrown around like the common cold. Ever heard the phrase “I’m a little OCD”? I have, more times than I care to count. I daren’t count just incase it’s an odd number (a little OCD joke for you there).

Whilst most people say it with genuine ignorance and without knowledge of the true seriousness of it, there are some that do know and just don’t care, or worse, they’ve self-diagnosed and feel like they can relate! Here are a few other corkers I’ve heard over the years:

“Is this why you’re so tidy?” which is sometimes followed by; “You should come and clean my house too!”

A tidy room/house is not the result of someone having OCD, this is often a common misconception. Sometimes, people with OCD can have one tidy room and a complete bomb site in the other.

OCD can manifest in many different ways. From needing to touch something before they leave a room, to the volume needing to be be set to an even number.

“I’m like that sometimes”

There is no ‘sometimes’ about it. You either have it or you don’t. OCD doesn’t come in waves like hay fever, its always there niggling away at you. It’s telling you that unless you do X, Y will happen. Being a “bit tidy” isn’t OCD. It’s just being a bit tidy.

Unless you’ve driven home, whilst already on the way to work, to check the light switches or oven; despite already checking them twice before you left, you haven’t got OCD. Unless you’ve had obsessive and compulsive thoughts about something, even if it’s mild, you don’t have OCD. Unless you’ve washed your hands 8 times before eating your sandwich because you can’t remember whether you washed your hands after dealing with your child’s nappy – in genuine fear of catching a stomach bug – even though your hands are already showing the signs of over-washing and alcohol gel, then you haven’t, I repeat, you haven’t got OCD.

“I do that, but I don’t have OCD?!”

OCD is compulsive and uncontrollable. Even if you like your shirts in colour order to the rainbow, or your cook books in alphabetical order to the chef’s surname, I imagine you could change the way you do it and be ok with it over time once you got used to the change.

OCD isn’t like that. There is no “getting over something”. Referring back to my previous, OCD tells you that unless you do X, Y or something very bad will inevitably happen.

“I’m so OCD over ‘it’…” (probably the most used phrase – it drives me nuts)

This is incredibly insulting to those who genuinely suffer. If one minute you were happy because of something you saw on the TV to feeling sad because you just stubbed your toe on the sofa you wouldn’t tell yourself you’re suddenly suffering with depression would you? Then why do it with OCD. See also; “I’m like that sometimes”

“Why don’t you just stop doing it?”

If I compare the urge to check taps/ovens/plugs, or the need to wash your hands one more time, to the feeling of needing to go to the toilet but not having a toilet for several miles then this would be very close to how it feels when you try and ignore these thoughts.

Believe me, if I could I genuinely would. I’ve tried. But instead of the feeling disappearing like a rogue sneeze it makes me more anxious and it heightened my worry. To a degree that I was so worried that I had left the hob after cooking breakfast that morning that I kept checking my phone to see if my neighbour had text to tell me the house was on fire. I was a wreck.

“I’ve never seen you do any of that?”

Because I’ve got better at hiding it. Sometimes.

What you see when I arrive late isn’t me being poor at time keeping, it’s because I had to go back to the house to check something or unpack and re-pack my bag.

What you see when I’m quiet in a meeting isn’t me taking it all in, it’s me battling my mind that’s telling me the dripping tap is leaking through to the kitchen.

When you notice that I’ve just spent the last ten minutes in the toilet isn’t me spending ten minutes on the toilet, it’s me spending nine minutes washing my hands.

“Relax”

I wish it was that easy.

2 thoughts on “OCD Awareness Week: Things NOT to say to someone with OCD

  1. Anonymous says:

    I hate how this story implies there aren’t mild forms of OCD. Someone I love was diagnosed this year with complex PTSD and mild OCD. Implying that you can’t be a “a little OCD” is not only inaccurate but harmful. Saying that if your OCD isn’t severe enough to turn home to check on things then it doesn’t exist is dismissive of those with milder forms of the disorder. It is like saying to someone who only lost one arm that they aren’t a true amputee unless they lost both. It is divisive and belittling. I get what you are trying to do here and I repect it, but educate yourself before minimizing other’s experiences.

    • Kate Everall says:

      I’m not really sure how you got that from this post, and it’s a shame that you posted anonymously (do we know each other? If so, I’d love to have a conversation).

      My post is targeting those who misuse the word ‘OCD’ and call themselves OCD when they’re just tidy. We all know who these people are and we’ve all heard the phrases I’ve mentioned in the post.

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