themighty logo

To the Girl With the Grilled Cheese Sandwich, From the Girl With OCD

A few days ago, I was in the dining hall for dinner making a grilled cheese sandwich. While waiting for the cheese to melt, I was listening to a conversation two girls next to me were having.

The first girl said to the other, “Haha, look at my grilled cheese! It is so crooked! The top is only, like, half on the sandwich haha.”

In reply, the second girl said, “Ugh, I can’t even look at it! Your grilled cheese is giving me OCD.”

The two girls laughed, grabbed their sandwiches and walked away, neither of them realizing what they said was wrong. In society today, mental illness is so stigmatized and so inaccurately used, often in passing with a joke.

Mental illness is something I hold near and dear to my heart. I am an advocate for destigmatizing mental illnesses and educating people about them. I often speak openly about my mental health issues with the people around me and I educate them to the best of my ability. As a person who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), I am used to hearing people misuse my diagnoses to describe their own life or situation, or to make a joke about a person. I’ve been dealing with mental illness since I was 3 years old. I joke about my mental illnesses in regards to my own life all the time — it is a coping mechanism. When I joke about my OCD, it is OK because I know what it is like to live with it. I am not joking about the illness itself nor am I being ignorant; I’m simply making a joke about myself.

When I heard the girl say this, I really wanted to say something. I desperately wanted to educate her about the fact that OCD isn’t caused by a crooked piece of bread on a grilled cheese sandwich. I can respect that the lack of symmetry can make someone uncomfortable, but I’d need a lot of convincing that it can cause OCD. In the past, I have educated people when they have misused a mental illness in conversation. I don’t do this to be rude or act superior; I do this because I know that as a person who legitimately struggles with mental illnesses, there is a huge lack of education among the general population regarding mental health. Many people are ignorant to the realities of mental illnesses solely because they cannot see the issues. You often can’t see anxiety or depression or OCD or bipolar disorder. As a result, mental health issues are often swept under the rug.

Getting help for a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, yet society has still stigmatized it. Telling someone they shouldn’t go to a therapist or be on  psychiatric medication is simply wrong and hurtful. Therapy and medication can be necessary aides for the mind. I have been in and out of therapists’ and psychiatrists’ offices for more than half of my life. I have learned to love and embrace my whole self, which includes my mental health issues. Because I am open about my mental health, I have made it my responsibility to help educate people and help destigmatize it. I wish I had said something to the girl making the grilled cheese. I wish I was able to explain to her that OCD is so much more than symmetry, that at least in my experience, it includes intrusive thoughts and high anxiety and nonsensical compulsions you can’t just turn off.

Mental health education is important for people of all ages. It is paramount for people to know it is OK to ask for help with their mental health. They need to know they are not alone in what they are feeling and they will feel OK again one day. People need to know mental illnesses aren’t the punch line of a joke, but rather a serious issue with which so many people live. Education will decrease the stigma and ignorance, which will hopefully lead to a rise in self-care and people getting help for their mental health.

Getty image by GaudiLab