A version of this post first appeared on my blog in December 2013…….
While I believe some progress has been made in terms of OCD awareness and understanding, I also think we still have a long way to go. Quite often OCD is still very much misunderstood by the general public.
Why is this? Certainly misrepresentation of the disorder in the media plays a big part in this lack of understanding about OCD. Unless your life has been touched somehow by obsessive-compulsive disorder, you are unlikely to truly grasp what the disorder entails.
I was recently thinking back to when my son Dan first told me he had OCD. I knew as much about it at the time as most people who had no direct experience with it. As I’ve shamefully admitted before, my initial response to him was, “Really? But you never even wash your hands!”
Aha. What I was focusing on, and what I think those who know little about OCD pay attention to, are the “compulsions” part of the disorder. In many cases, this is the concrete part of OCD; the stuff you can actually see. (I say “in many cases,” because sometimes, as in Dan’s OCD, compulsions are not visible. This is sometimes referred to as Pure O.) Washing hands, picking up twigs, tapping the wall, checking the stove, flicking the light switch on and off. This is where OCD gets its “cute and quirky” reputation, from these observable compulsions. So an outsider looking in might think,”Sure, it’s a bummer that he has to check his stove twenty times before he leaves the house, but it’s not really such a big deal.”
Of course, those of us who know more about OCD realize these noticeable compulsions are only part of the story. It is the obsessions, the crippling fears that drive those with OCD to perform compulsions, that torment them. The anguish that those with OCD feel varies but it can be so bad that it has the potential to totally disable them. And while we can educate people about obsessions and even give them lists of common ones, you still can’t see them. If you have a loved one with OCD or are a professional who works with people who have OCD, then you have likely witnessed the devastating effects of the disorder. The general public has not, as those with OCD are adept at hiding their pain.
As we continue to advocate for OCD awareness, I think it’s our responsibility to differentiate between what OCD really is as opposed to what most people think it is. Only then can we hope to enlighten others who might then think twice about saying “I’m so OCD.“