Today, I read this post by Alison Dotson on the IOCDF’s website that really spoke to me. She talks about an encounter with a personal trainer who tells her, rather insensitively, that if she wants to lose weight, she has to come off Paxil, the drug that helps keep her OCD manageable.
A lot of times, when people say insensitive things, it’s out of ignorance, not malice. But either way, the feeling we have is the same – embarrassment, shame, anger, sadness. In the last few months since I “came out,” so to speak, about my OCD on Facebook, I’ve had a few encounters with, well let’s call them “abrasive” people. People who aren’t very adept at saying the right things at the right time. Some of them, their comments are of pure ignorance – they have never before encountered a person with OCD. “Oh, so you’re super organized?” “Hey, does this cookie sitting on top of a different cookie bother you?” And my favorite, “Oh yeah, I’m so OCD about….fill-in-the-blank.” No – I’m not OCD because I’m super organized; it’s because my brain compartmentalizes everything and being organized is one way to cope with the anxiety. No – the cookie on top of a different cookie doesn’t bother me. Replace that top cookie with coleslaw and now we have a problem and I’m not eating it. And finally, NO you are not OCD because you have compulsive tendencies. Every person has obsessive or compulsive tendencies, but not everyone has OCD. OCD is a disorder – that’s what the “D” stands for. And in case you were wondering, OCD doesn’t stand for Obsessive Corgi Disorder, or Obsessive Crafting Disorder or some other word that begins with “C.” And no, it shouldn’t be “CDO, because then the letters are in alpha order, the way they should be.” STOP. It’s childish, insulting and makes light of a disorder that plagues 1 in 100 adults in the US.
I’m not this way because of “learned behavior” or because my parents didn’t love me enough or because I’m a Type A person and clearly too high strung. No, I’m this way because I was born this way – because my brain is wired incorrectly. And if you tell me to “relax,” “chill out,” or “take a breather,” I might just lose what little grip I have left on reality. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not funny, it’s not a joke and it’s certainly not an open door for your criticisms, comments or pointed questions. This is why there is a stigma around mental illness in America and why I refer to my therapy sessions as “Doctor Appointments” in my work calendar. It’s why I haven’t shared this blog with more people and why I refer to my medication as an “SSRI” instead of the more common term “antidepressant.” It’s because ever since I was diagnosed, I’ve gotten questions like, “It’s not really that bad, is it?” “Oh, you’re just making a big deal out of nothing, don’t you think?” Why can’t we treat people with mental illness like regular human beings? I’m not crazy – I’m not going to hurt you or attack you. I’m not going to cry uncontrollably at random times, at least not on purpose. And I’m certainly not exaggerating or faking it for attention. I’m still a person, with feelings and thoughts and ideas and I matter. I don’t need to be handled with “kid gloves” and I certainly don’t need to be kept under constant supervision. I’m an adult, and on the scale of functionality of those with OCD, I would consider myself a high functioning individual. I hold down a 40 hour per week job in my given field; a field in which I earned a degree from the #7 public university in the country. I maintain a home, a marriage, friendships, family time, and still manage to take my medication each day without reminders. I’m handling this – fairly well, I might add. And you know why? Because I’ve lived with it my whole life. And I’ll continue living with it for the rest of my life. It’s part of having OCD – it never goes away.
So the next time you encounter someone, regardless of whether they have a mental illness or not, be kind. Don’t assume you know what they’re going through or how they feel. Treat them with dignity and respect, the same way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. And if you don’t have anything kind to say, well then follow your mother’s advice: Don’t say anything at all.