When Mental Illness Is in Disguise


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) does not always flip light switches, count posts or line things up in rows. Sometimes OCD is becoming actively uncomfortable and antsy if someone else is sitting in the spot where you expected to sit. This discomfort may cause you to lash out in anger. OCD can be carrying all of your books and school papers in your arms because that’s the only way you can be sure you have everything. OCD can be not throwing away any school papers and carrying them all in an ever-growing stack because it would be terrible to not be prepared should the teacher ask students to pull out an old assignment from three months ago.

OCD can be wrapping every thought with a cloud of tangential and descriptive information which obscures the thing you want to tell other people. Only you can’t skip any of the information because it’s all connected. And if anyone tries to interrupt the thing you’re saying, you get angry, because you weren’t finished, and the thing you were saying is important and must be completed. OCD can be correcting the pronunciations of the people around you because if a word is said wrong, your brain cannot let go of that word until it is spoken correctly. One of these things is a quirk; all of these things together is a disorder that affects pretty much every hour of every day and every relationship in your life. OCD can look like disobedient defiance, rudeness and disrespect.

Anxiety does not always worry about things. Sometimes anxiety is a heart that races and palpitates even though there is nothing going on and the person feels calm. Anxiety can be feeling antsy and agitated, like post-adrenaline shakes, even though nothing happened. Anxiety can be imagining a dozen possible futures and making plans to be prepared for all of them. Anxiety can be hyper-organization that other people praise, and which is actually useful, except that it never allows rest, vacation or breaks. Anxiety can be needing to leave an event because there are too many people moving around and talking, making you unable to track everything. And you have to track everything, because if something goes wrong, you must be ready for it. Anxiety can be skipping work opportunities because they require face-to-face interaction. Anxiety can be checking up on other people’s work until they get annoyed with you, but you can’t not check because you have to be prepared if they didn’t do their job. Anxiety can look like a nagging and controlling personality.

Depression does not always stay at home lying in bed in a pit of despair. It is not always dramatic or suicidal. Depression can be doing all the tasks that are required of you but enjoying none of them. Depression can be feeling like things will never be better than they are now. Depression can be binge-watching television shows on Netflix, because then you don’t have to listen to your own thoughts. Depression can be playing endless games of solitaire to fill the spaces between required activities. Depression can be deciding to stay home rather than go out with friends because being social sounds too exhausting. Depression can be having friends drift away because you’re not the person you used to be and you don’t have the emotional energy needed to maintain the friendships.

Depression can be crying at seemingly random times over things which wouldn’t normally cause tears, like a happy song playing, or the store being out of the cereal you like. Depression can be a messy house because you only have so much energy to do things and laundry didn’t make the list this week. Depression can be not bothering to brush your hair or change clothes because it is too much work. Depression can look like a person who is standoffish, slovenly and unfriendly.

So if you have to deal with a person and they are awkward, rude, nagging, standoffish or negligent, pause a moment before you condemn them. It may be that they do have the character flaw you perceive in them. Or it may be that the person is fighting a daily battle you can’t see, and they need your compassion instead of your anger.

A version of this post originally appeared on One Cobble at a Time.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Generalized Anxiety Disorder

When I Accepted My Anxiety Wouldn’t Have a ‘Quick Fix’

For most of high school, nausea was my MO. My days were punctuated by finding silent and creative ways to burp, declining food at friends’ houses, chugging ginger ale before exams and, unfortunately, vomiting on or around anyone who took me on a date. In college, I resigned to eating frozen meals alone in my [...]

Why I Hate Articles About Anxiety as a Real Person With Anxiety

The other day I read an article titled “A Day in the Life of An Anxious Person” – it was published on a popular website and it was all over my Facebook News Feed. I clicked on it, read through it and immediately sent a ranting text to my boyfriend about how much I hated [...]

This Video Is for People With Anxiety Who Look Like They've 'Got It All Figured Out'

Her hair is curled. Her nails are manicured. She’s wearing make-up. And she lives with anxiety. Youtuber and actress Meghan Rienks is challenging the idea that anxiety has a “look” in a video called, “What Having Anxiety Feels Like.” “From the outside it’s easy to think that someone’s got it all figured out. Because my [...]
teacher writing on whiteboard

What I Wish My Students Knew About Being a Teacher With Anxiety

I’ve seen a couple of articles lately about what students wish their teachers knew about living with anxiety. I’m a teacher, and yes, I wanted to know. But now, I want to give the other side of the story. And it may not be what you think. For as long as I can remember, I wanted [...]