“I’m a little bit OCD” – Why OCD is not about liking things to be a certain way.

Standing on lego is annoying. Missing a bus by 30 seconds and seeing it drive around a corner without you on it is annoying. Oranges are annoying (don’t even get me started on oranges…little segmented bastards), but if there is one thing that annoys me more than any of those things, it is hearing the phrase “I’m a little bit OCD”. Seriously I would rather fight an army of oranges than hear that phrase in daily conversation and I REALLY hate oranges.

More times than I can count I have heard people use that immortal phrase that strikes rage into my very core to describe a quirk or preference someone has, from
“I like organising paper work, I am so OCD” to “The colour of my shirt always matches my socks, God I am so OCD!”. I realise that just because I am someone with OCD, I do not have the right to control and police the use of the word describing my condition, but still, hearing it used in such ways is not simply one of the many things that annoys me, but is actually a dangerous offhand turn of phrase that often contributes to the misinformed ideas and belief’s people have about OCD, a condition that is hard enough for people to understand in the first place.

Due to my OCD, a lot of things, if not everything in my life, is a certain way. The structure of every day is exactly the same and my routines and rituals could not be more rigid if they tried. Everything I do each day is exactly the same as I did it the day before but that is not in any sense because that is the way in which I like them. I do not wash for hours on end because I like to be clean, I do not take ages changing how I sit in a chair because I like to be comfy and I do not count things all day every day because I love numbers or have a passion for mathematics. The reason I do all of these things as well as the infinite other number of things I do in terms of OCD, is because I HAVE to do them in the way that I do. Ok I may be physically capable of being strapped to a chair away from soap or water so the feeling of “having to” do so many things is arguably “what my illness tells me” rather than fixed reality, but in terms of how I feel, everything I do is compulsory and I do not choose any of it or get any pleasure from the way things are whatsoever. THAT is the key difference between having OCD make you have things a certain way, or someone preferring to have things in a way that is most pleasing to them, despite the fact that to some it may seem odd or illogical. My Dad likes to fold towels over the bathroom rail in a way my mum and I think is ridiculous (seriously they don’t dry the way he hangs them, it is like he is on a mission to keep us in a prison of soggy towels. I guess in terms of what real prisons are like, soggy towel prison isn’t all that bad, still it isn’t ideal), but that isn’t because he has OCD and cannot handle the towels in any other way. It doesn’t bother him when my mum and I change the way the towels are folded back to the sensible way they dry more easily, he just sees that as our weird preference, just as weird as we see his.

Allow me to give a better example using fictional characters Sam (who is allergic to peanuts) and Pam (who is not allergic to peanuts. Pam is however a passionate ice skater and she has a degree in marine biology, but these details are not relevant to this particular story.)

Imagine Sam and Pam go into a bakery to peruse the selection of cakes on offer that day. They then ask the baker (a jolly fellow with a moustache – again, irrelevant detail but it sets the scene quite nicely) for recommendations and both say “nothing with peanuts”. Both Sam and Pam are physically capable of eating peanuts but Sam chooses not to because his illness would cause him extreme distress to do so (his heart races all over the place and his head puffs up like a balloon), and Pam chooses not to because she prefers things without peanuts and has a particular fondness for gingerbread men. This example obviously isn’t fool proof as I realise I am not physically allergic to breaking the rules set by my OCD, but the distress it would cause because of anxiety and panic (like Sam with the puffy head because of his illness), is a similar comparison when then viewed alongside Pam who also avoids certain situations/has rigid/peculiar fixed ideas for different reasons (not that gingerbread men are peculiar. I am actually like Pam in that respect and have a fondness for those smiley spiced little chaps).

Maybe I have gone too off topic here as to be honest now all I can think about is gingerbread men and peanuts, but I guess the point I am trying to make is that saying you have OCD or “are so OCD” because you like things to be in particular quirky ways is not actually anything to do with OCD at all and it misrepresents/creates confusion around an already misunderstood condition. Having OCD force you to have things a certain way, is not about choice or preference or about liking things to be “just so”, OCD is being compelled to live a certain way and perform tasks whether you like them or not, and often they create a lot more distress than they alleviate.

That said I am off to chat to Pam about Marine biology. And maybe get a gingerbread man.


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