“I’m obsessed”, “we’re obsessed” – don’t you get tired of the way this expression of a genuine condition has been relegated to faddish interests for the perennially attention-challenged?
People tend to trivialise obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) on the grounds that they “neurotically” check their inboxes or their Facebook “liked” status, or perhaps see a black cat and wait for someone else to pass, so that the other person takes the “bad luck” instead.
Let’s all be more aware and knowledgeable
For true OCD sufferers, the condition does not discriminate between billionaires and the unemployed. It is the relentless inner voice that gives you no peace. It is the recurring, unbidden thought that sickens you and will not go away. It sternly insists you do not measure up. It tells you there is no such thing as average in your life or that you are undeserving. It hisses that you must repeatedly perform a particular ritual or else you “pay” for your inattention in countless dreadful ways. You are afraid you may harm someone. It could be a child, or yourself. OCD is real, in the sense that it dominates and poisons your waking existence.
Obsessions and compulsive behaviour
It might be perfectionism, an unacknowledged desire to control one’s environment, difficulty making a decision, or fear of consequences resulting in endless chewing over possibilities, revisiting options, inability to settle on a course of action. Whatever the cause, OCD makes people experience intense fear, guilt, depression, or outright physical illness.
The OCD person goes about various rituals (compulsive behaviours) to reduce the anxieties, such as avoiding hand contact, a quest for everything in its exact place, and order, all pens straight and exactly where you left them. Books and folders must be in a certain order – otherwise nothing goes ‘right’. Or it can take the form of hoarding, repeatedly checking that electrical items are turned off, doors are locked, the need to constantly wash hands, wipe surfaces or disinfect everything.
Mild forms of OCD permit many of us to work and to function in everyday ways, but severe OCD is debilitating for the sufferer and his/her employment, requiring extensive therapy and possibly medication.
Retired sportsman Scott Draper spoke movingly about how his perfectionism tipped into a vicious self-punishment regime. He has since learned to manage the compulsive behaviours that made life a waking hell.
So if you’re guilty of carelessly describing yourself as “obsessive”, when all you’re really doing is going on about a tidy desk or a few split hairs, spare a thought for those with genuine OCD.
Try “neatness freak” or “pedant plus” instead, and be glad you experience, and are in a position to choose, the difference.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.