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••• The International Writers Magazine -

No ... You aren't a Little OCD ...
• Micah Harrington
Combating stereotypes and the need for perfection


"No, You Aren’t “A Little OCD - Everyone’s a little OCD.”  
That’s what my mother told me when I told her that I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. What she meant was that everyone has their quirks, something they’re a little uptight about, like the way she wipes down every surface for dust when we have people coming over, or the way she has a particular way of hand-washing dishes like she works in a Michelin star restaurant.  

She didn’t mean that everyone has the lingering thought that they might be a murderer without realizing it, or that everyone has a photo album on their phone with hundreds of pictures of the stove because they have to snap a picture every time they turn it off to make sure it’s truly off. She didn’t mean that everyone annoys their friends with daily texts of “Do you think I’m a bad person?” or “I think I have cancer/rabies/HIV/scurvy,” or “I’m 100% sure I just hit someone with my car, what do I do?” followed by, “Never mind, I checked, it was a pothole.” 

“I’m a little OCD,” people say when they organize their pens by color, when they take a little longer cleaning the smudges from their glasses, when they have to have their hoodie strings even, when they make sure the whiteboard is completely wiped clear. 

I know they don’t mean any harm when they say it. OCD is another adjective to them, like “quirky” or “particular.” But reducing it to simply being organized, neat, or needing things to be even is a deleterious stereotype that keeps people from understanding what OCD is—a serious and chronic disease categorized by lasting, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors.  

“I’m a little OCD,” I don’t say when I’m late to an important event because I had to retie my shoelaces fifteen times to get the pressure even on my feet, or because I had to turn my car around to make sure I locked the front door, or because I was checking every inch of my body in the mirror for new bumps, moles or irregularities. Because people don’t view those things as quirky, they view them as annoying. I know it’s annoying to my friends to reassure me constantly that I am a good person, I know it’s annoying to my mom to have to convince me that the leftovers from yesterday I ate for lunch did not give me food poisoning. I know it’s annoying to everyone when I show up late because I had to pull my car over to examine it for potential evidence that I had run someone over because I had zoned out while driving for half a second and can’t be sure that I didn’t.  

I know it’s annoying because it’s annoying to me, too. I hear the way I sound and I see the way I act. In retrospect, I know that my brain wasn’t being rational—I know that I would be unlikely to get food poisoning from leftovers when I’m so cautious about what I eat, and if I hit someone with my car, I would know it. Yet each time I get the “what-if” thought, what if I have food poisoning, what if I ran someone over, what if I forgot to lock the door or shut off the oven, what if— I can’t turn it off. The thought gets louder and louder, until I am positive that the slightly runny scrambled eggs I ate gave me salmonella, or that the bump in the road was a person, or that I left the stove on or the hair dryer plugged in and it’s going to burn my house down.  

So, no, you are not “a little OCD.” OCD is painful, OCD is self-sabotaging, OCD is distressing and wearying. OCD is disruptive when I can’t pay attention in class because my brain is preoccupied with thoughts about all the ways my house could catch fire while I’m at school, when I delete and rewrite papers a thousand times to make them perfect, when I can’t take notes in class because I forgot the blue Bic pen I always write with, when my notebooks have to be aligned on my desk in the order of the rainbow because the red touching the green makes me uncomfortable. 

For many, OCD is life-threatening. The rate of suicide attempts in people with OCD is estimated to be around 10%, and as many as half of all people with OCD have contemplated suicide during their lives. OCD is a serious illness; its patients deserve to be treated with respect and empathy. Let’s give them that, give us that, by not reducing our illness to a stereotype. 

* Need help with OCD? Advice here

© Micah Harrington 5.7.24 - Micah is a junior at the College of Charleston, majoring in Secondary Education with a concentration in English (writing, rhetoric, and composition). 

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