A version of this post originally appeared on my blog in October 2012.
I’ve written before about the severity of my son Dan’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. How it was so bad he couldn’t eat. How he’d get stuck sitting in one particular chair, hunched over with his head in his hands for hours at a time. How he was tied to the clock for all activities of daily living. I’ve always found it amazing that even though things were this difficult for him the last few weeks of his freshman year in college, he still attended classes and managed to successfully complete the semester.
After connecting with many people who have OCD over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that Dan’s ability to continue on with his life is not that unusual. Of course, everyone’s circumstances are unique, but it seems to me that many people who suffer from severe OCD still get up in the morning and either go to school, work, or run a household. They are incredibly brave, doing this while often dealing with non-stop obsessions and hours and hours of compulsions. And while they may seem okay to the outside world, inside they are truly tormented.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why most people don’t realize how serious an illness OCD is. While inaccurate media portrayal definitely plays a role in this misunderstanding of OCD, the fact that so many of those with the disorder mask their suffering so well might also be a factor. Not surprisingly, many people believe if a person can get up and go to work, then their mental health can’t be “that bad.” However, this is a false assumption. The truth is that being able to function does not mean someone is not suffering from severe mental health issues. Even if someone with OCD has visible compulsions (a need for symmetry at work, for example), what is obvious is their “quirky behavior,” not the depth of their pain. That often remains hidden.
Whether in the workplace, school, or home, many people still believe OCD is “no big deal.” This lack of understanding can be especially detrimental to those seeking accommodations, or at the very least, understanding. So we have yet another reason to continue advocating for OCD awareness: Things are not always what they seem. Those with OCD are often severely debilitated; you’d just never know by looking at them.