Post No.: 0095
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common type of anxiety disorder. It involves obsessions, which are recurring unwelcome thoughts, concerns, doubts or urges; and compulsions, which are repetitive behaviours that one does to reduce the anxiety or mental discomfort caused by those obsessions (e.g. repeatedly checking that a door is locked, tapping certain objects, repeating a certain phrase in one’s head).
Some people do misuse the term ‘OCD’, such as by saying, “I’m a little bit OCD”, particularly when stated with frivolity. Now different sufferers can have different levels of intensities with their compulsions and obsessions compared to other sufferers, hence some sufferers can have what could be called ‘a little bit’ relatively to other sufferers who have ‘intense and crippling’ OCD – but you don’t have OCD if you can say that you have OCD with nonchalance or glee. What you have are just normal levels of diligence and tidiness, or superstitions that aren’t significantly intrusive. It’d be like saying, “I’m a little bit on fire” with a smile on one’s face! No, you’re just a bit warm, but not burning. OCD is about having no control over one’s negative thoughts and being afraid that something catastrophic will happen to other people or oneself if things aren’t done, and done in a specific way.
The key component is the suffering, and no one speaks of his/her own suffering with frivolity. Each genuine sufferer will have his/her own particular compulsive behaviours but if they have these particular following ones, it’s e.g. not merely being fastidious in cleaning things but cleaning things again (and again and again) even when one has just cleaned it, it’s counting the number of times one touches a door handle and not leaving until the count is properly executed, uninterrupted and complete, it’s not just double-checking things but quadruple or endlessly checking things, it’s the constant obsessive thoughts about contamination or bad things happening if one doesn’t carry out certain ritual-like behaviours. Carrying out these compulsions gives a sufferer some relief – but it’s only temporary. It’s an intrusive condition that constantly occupies one’s waking thoughts and time. So to misuse the term would be almost like someone saying, “I’m a little bit Prader-Willi Syndrome” because they like to eat food(!)
It significantly impacts your daily life because it can take up a lot of time and energy, and may make you avoid situations that might trigger the obsessions and compulsions, which in turn could impact your relationships and opportunities. There’s also the stress of trying to hide your symptoms because you may feel ashamed of them, which can make you feel lonely and isolated, which all negatively impacts on your mental and physical health overall. So there are often knock-on effects and vicious circles in the bigger picture of one’s life.
OCD sufferers, like sufferers of other mental health conditions, tend to hide their symptoms from others due to the perceived or real stigma or embarrassment for their unusual behaviours (‘social masking’). So you could have met many people whom you thought you knew well yet didn’t know they suffered from OCD (or another mental health problem). As with depression, major life events can trigger a serious period of OCD (e.g. having a child). Times of high stress will greatly exacerbate OCD thoughts and behaviours and so stress can create a vicious circle itself. Most people are only stressed if something isn’t quite going to comfortable plan, but an OCD sufferer may at least subconsciously feel that things are not quite going right because they’ve not been keeping on top of their compulsions, hence their OCD compulsions tend to increase when they’re stressed. It’s like, to them, the world will collapse if they don’t do these (superstitious or superstitious-like) compulsions, or the world is currently collapsing because they aren’t currently doing these compulsive activities enough.
The intrusive thoughts can also include fearing that one might directly do something terrible oneself (e.g. pushing someone onto the road), as well as imagining something terrible will happen in the world elsewhere if one doesn’t carry out one’s compulsions where one is. But it’s not that people with OCD actually carry out these terrible acts because OCD preys on caring people. Sufferers have these thoughts precisely because they care about others so much that they’re incredibly hyper-vigilant about doing something terrible. It’s the blasé or nonchalant people who don’t imagine enough that e.g. leaving any sharp objects out around young children or failing to check that the gas is definitely off before leaving the house could end up hurting someone, who are really the ones to be cautious around – not people with OCD!
Although mental health disorders like OCD, depression and anorexia arguably concern, in part, trying to assert control onto an aspect of one’s life that one can seem to control in lieu of other parts of one’s life that one cannot seem to control but would rather prefer to (e.g. controlling one’s diet when one cannot control one’s parental divorce situation (a stressor)) – everybody has a certain degree of body dysmorphia, sad thoughts, superstitious thoughts or elements of wanting to take control of one’s life. But again, whether this becomes a problem or health condition depends on how much and how long the symptoms negatively impact on one’s daily life. So it’s not about the intensity or frequency of a thought or behaviour per se but how it personally and negatively affects one’s life that it adversely gets in the way of one’s ability to thrive. It’s not dependent on the symptoms in an absolute sense as such, but the negative personal impacts of them e.g. someone could have certain obsessions and compulsions but live in an environment/culture that allows them to live feeling safe and valued, thus minimising the negative impacts of their thoughts and behaviours – therefore the environment/culture (which includes the attitudes and behaviours of those people around sufferers) matters too. Woof.
It’s again about the complex, interacting combination of genes and environment – everyone likely has some of these genotypic factors and environmental factors to varying degrees, but it’ll only be deemed a mental health problem if the problems affect a person’s life sufficiently and negatively that it gets in the way of them living to their full potential. Thus if someone is feeling and is saying that the way they feel and/or a behaviour of theirs is affecting their life sufficiently negatively, and it’s been this way for at least a few weeks, then it is, and no one else can really dispute that. No one should naïvely argue ‘no you’re not’ or think that they can just ‘snap out of it’(!) (Indeed, if somebody doesn’t quite have the symptoms he/she claims then he/she may be suffering from hypochondria, which is also a terrible mental health condition to have itself!) So you cannot dispute how other people feel when it concerns how they feel and they do feel it.
A person may try to consciously and intentionally deceive others (e.g. by feigning symptoms to get out of doing work) – but one will be able to suss this out if one gets to see how they typically behave over time in private when they think they’re not being watched. If they look like they’re overall and from one day to the next having a jolly and full life (in a non-manic way) then they’re likely trying to deceive others – but if they’re not living it up and their life seems stalled then chances are they are genuinely suffering. But do note that some days are worse than others for OCD sufferers, and being depressed is not about being miserable and gloomy all the time (especially if one is doing (too) well at hiding one’s symptoms from others in public) so one snapshot in time is not enough to judge someone. Genuine sufferers can have good days now and again (just like a mourner during a day of burial can still muster a laugh or two that day at an appropriate time and place) but a large number of their days won’t be pleasant. And just like people pretending to be ill can put on a public mask of pain but feel okay in private – people pretending to be fine can put on a public mask of feeling okay but feel pain in private.
So you can tell who the fakers or scroungers are by them claiming welfare yet living ‘the life of Riley’ (e.g. frequent holidays, frequent parties (depending on their welfare claim)) i.e. an otherwise fully functioning life except for doing any regular and hard work. Real mental health sufferers likely suffer in all aspects of their life, or at least where related to their specific condition(s), and so likely exhibit limitations or a lack of activity in other areas of their life too (e.g. their social life, leisure life, relationships, career) due to the knock-on and vicious circle effects of many mental health conditions. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people with mental health problems who have successful careers (and therefore don’t need to claim any welfare), relationships and happy lives overall – but for this to happen requires the right people and support around them.
So please don’t misuse mental health disorder diagnoses when a person doesn’t have one, and please don’t deny mental health disorder diagnoses when a person does have one.