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What We Need to Understand About People Who Say 'I'm So OCD'

Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

“I’m so OCD.”

Those three words that make millions of individuals everywhere with actual obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) cringe. To some, this might be an understatement. I understand that when people make OCD kind of like an adjective, it can really shake those with OCD and rattle them to the core. This phrase can be viewed as poking fun at a debilitating mental illness, in addition to being misinformed. While I do not completely disagree, I would say I’m the individual who cringes at those words for just a moment. However, its effects do not linger with me, and I am able to brush it off and move on.

Let me be clear about one thing: yes, I do have obsessive-compulsive disorder. My OCD has waxed and waned in intensity over the years, ranging from very severe, to mild, to severe again, and down slightly to moderately severe. I have been on all ranges of the severity spectrum, experienced different categories/forms of OCD and have had it manifest in a variety of ways. Now, I do not like when people poke fun of mental illnesses, especially by those who know nothing about it, any more than the next person. It makes me uncomfortable. It’s… kind of awkward and unsettling, not to mention downright rude. But I do think there is a difference between blatantly making fun of an illness, and just not understanding and/or making light of a not-so-great situation.

In the past couple of weeks, I have had several encounters where people have commented about having OCD in a casual, and from how I took it, a non-serious or joking kind of way. Hearing it does make my hair stand up for a split second, but then I am able to brush it off. The reason: because I do not believe the majority of people make these comments in a malicious way. Not everyone is informed about every mental illness out there, and not everyone is required to be well-versed on the symptoms and etiology of every mental illness out there. To me, that would just be absurd, and to expect that people are going to know exactly what to say at the right time in the right moments and not offend anybody ever is not realistic.

Do I think people should be more informed on OCD and other mental illnesses in general? Absolutely. But heck, there is so much out there that I, myself, don’t know about, and I am almost 100 percent certain I have offended people in my lifetime (which, by the way, is and has been an OCD symptom of mine — worrying about offending others). I feel like this hyperawareness and concern over offending others has made me more tolerable of other people’s mistakes and misinformation or misunderstanding. Because that is really what this “I’m so OCD” phrase comes down to — not understanding, and being misinformed.

I am not going to blame that person for their lack of knowledge and sense about this mental illness, and I also try to always think of their intent. Almost every person I have come across has not had a bad intention. For example, I was at the doctor’s office, and the nurse’s assistant was cleaning down the exam chair while I was in the room. “Sorry,” she said, looking at me almost embarrassed. “I am kind of OCD.” Now, does she really have OCD? Probably not, but who knows for sure? I am not going to judge, blame or show my uneasiness to this woman who was just doing her job.

I am not going to lie; it does not always feel good to have the mental illness you struggle with be used as an adjective, but it comes down to the fact people just don’t know. At least in my experience, for the most part, individuals do not mean to be hurtful and spiteful. And sometimes, it is good to not take things quite so seriously. If everything in life was taken so solemnly, and we couldn’t make light of anything, how miserable would we all be? My OCD therapist often says that sometimes, if we can just laugh or make light, it allows us to take a step back and it can help us get through tough times. I am not saying every terrible thing in this world needs to be turned into a joke because that certainly would not be OK by any means. And I am definitely not saying OCD isn’t painful, because it is. But there is a time and a place for everything, and maybe sometimes, it is OK to not be so serious. That is what helps me get past when other people say, “I’m so OCD.” I just eye-roll and say to myself, “no, most likely just misinformed.”

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Getty Images photo via Choreograph