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A bit like that? Combatting the myth about OCD

Dr Stephanie Fitzgerald

This article was written by Dr Stephanie Fitzgerald and was first published during OCD Awareness Week, October 2011.

A bit like that? Combatting the myth about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

As a Clinical Psychologist working with people affected by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), there are six words that for me epitomise the level of ignorance that exists around OCD: ‘Oh, I’m a bit like that’.  We’ve all heard someone say them. Whether it’s someone referring to the fact they like a tidy desk at work, or someone talking about how grim some festival toilets were, we’ve all heard someone discuss how they can be ‘a bit OCD about things like that’.

OCD, in this misunderstood form, seems to have become a very popular disorder. People view OCD as a quirky character trait meaning you like things done in a certain way, or in a certain order, or have your own routine which you are fond of and like to stick to. Alternatively, due to the media’s insistence as portraying OCD as an addiction to hand-washing and an intolerance of germs, OCD is viewed as an almost positive character trait. People believe by declaring themselves as ‘a bit OCD’ they are proudly declaring that they keep their home neat and tidy. Indeed nowadays it seems that people seem to aspire to have OCD and are very keen to tell others ‘Oh, I’m a bit like that’.

I wonder whether these people would still be keen to say they are a bit like that if they truly understood OCD? If by saying ‘Oh, I’m a bit like that’ they knew they were admitting to thoughts of harming a loved one, anxiety about driving because they believed they had run someone over, or harbouring such fears about contamination that they would be unable to hug their own child? OCD seems to have become an illness that those without it feel comfortable laughing about, as demonstrated by the recent release of an ‘OCD Chef’ chopping board which features precise measurement lines for “finicky foodies” and a claim that ‘it is anti-bacterial so doesn’t need scrubbing 11 times to make sure it’s clean’. Hilarious. I wonder when did we decide it was ok to laugh at people who are having their lives ruined by an anxiety disorder? People who struggle alone for years and, when they finally get the courage to tell friends and colleagues, have their anxieties dismissed as ‘oh, I’m a bit like that too’?

As part of raising awareness for OCD it is important to dispel this myth about OCD somehow being a positive life-style choice. Those with OCD will be able to tell people just how tough it is- and they should. It is only by those with OCD finding the courage to share their experiences and raise awareness  about what OCD actually looks and feels like that people will learn it is no laughing matter. I work hard to dispel the myths around OCD, but I find that my role tends to be supporting and guiding those who are aware of their own OCD towards effective treatment. However there is a much wider issue of public perception that needs addressing. Until people stop viewing OCD as a positive character quirk, we will be unable to move towards greater recognition and support for those individuals and their families who are affected.

I have had so many interesting conversations with people when I’ve overheard them say something inaccurate or jokey about OCD and the biggest response I get from people is total surprise. People just simply do not know or appreciate just how complex and severe a condition OCD is and it’s about time they knew. I plan to use this awareness week to talk to as many people as possible about the realities of OCD and what they can do to help raise awareness. I see this week as a fantastic opportunity and I know we can get a really positive message across about how important it is to help those affected by OCD. But maybe that’s just me. Because, you know, I’m just a bit like that.

This article was written by Dr Stephanie Fitzgerald and was first published during OCD Awareness Week, October 2011

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