If you were to take a look at the desk where I am writing this, you would see sheets of paper spread out with no organization, random textbooks from past semesters lying around, pens dried of their ink rolling all over the faux wood, and a paperweight shaped like a typewriter that has been turned on its side and is full of dust. Don’t even get me started about the innards of my backpack or the front seat of my Honda Civic.
Does this sound to you like someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? Probably not. When my therapist told me that she wanted me to take a diagnostic test for OCD, I was taken aback. I was messy, cluttery, and notoriously disorganized. I didn’t hate cleaning, but I certainly wasn’t a fan of it.
When we think of obsessive-compulsive disorder, our initial impression comes from pop culture references that have made the disorder seem like it is simply a penchant for being clean and neat. We might also hear the frequent jokes people make about being “so OCD” when they say they want their shirt buttons to line up just right. If that’s all OCD is, who wouldn’t want to be “a little OCD,” like some people claim we all are.
As a result, and like so many other mental health conditions, OCD is misunderstood. The National Institute of Mental Health’s website defines obsessive-compulsive disorder as a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that a sufferer feels the urge to repeat continuously. From this definition alone, it should be apparent that this is something distinct from a mere fondness for cleaning.
My therapist took the time to explain to me a version of this definition, but I still felt hesitant to take the diagnostic test, called the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Survey (Y-BOCS). I had been dealing with intrusive thoughts for months, and they were getting to be severe in terms of frequency and the distress they were causing me. However, I didn’t see myself as being a “typical” person with OCD given my messiness.
Fortunately, my therapist was able to go over with me how my perception of OCD could be skewed by popular ideas of the disorder, and I soon realized that taking the Y-BOCS would be the best direction going forward for my mental health.
About one in a hundred adults in the U.S. have obsessive-compulsive disorder, which means there are hundreds of thousands of people facing the same stigma and misunderstandings that I have had to endure.
The biggest harm, in my view, that the popular view of OCD creates is that it potentially prevents a sufferer from seeking treatment.
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