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Why Having an Organized Planner Isn't the Same as Having OCD

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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.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and it’s finally my last class of the day. I sit down, pull out my planner and check for the 86,000th time that I have written down all my homework assignments and updated my to do list for school. A sweet classmate, who I’ve had like three half conversations with, looks over and says, “Oh my God, no wonder you’re doing so well in this class, you’re like super organized. I’m totally OCD about my planner too.”

My head feels like it’s spinning, and all I can think in my most sarcastic and condescending voice is, “Oh, you’re totally OCD, huh? You have horrible thoughts and images bouncing around, giving you more and more anxiety? You get up 37,000 times in the middle of the night because you ‘know’ you didn’t lock the door, or that somehow someone is going to get in and steal your purse? Which leads to … how will you get it back? Oh God, what if they take my keys and my jeep? Oh God, I have work tomorrow. I have class on Thursday, how am I going to get there? Is my insurance going to cover this? That’s it, I need to check. OK look, it’s still sitting there just like it always is, stop freaking out. OK, OK, OK I have to relax, I’ll just take my purse in my bedroom and lock the door. OK, I have my water, my iPad, my purse, and my Macbook is locked. Lock the door, jump in bed quickly. Relax, you have to get up soon.”

But all I can muster is, “Yeah, OCD — it’s the worst.”

She prattles on for a while but I’m not listening; I’m angry, I’m hurt, I’m embarrassed — not just for me but for her.

You’re in college,” I think. “How can you be so insensitive? How can you not see how insensitive that is? Do you ever care?”

Our professor is talking now, something about a quiz. “Oh man, snap out of it! A quiz is coming up on Thursday, or next week. Shit, I don’t know when. Ugh, please tell me it’s 3:15 p.m. and I can haul my butt to my jeep and go home.”

I look at the clock, but it’s only 2:10 p.m. “Great, a full hour left… ugh.”

I’d love to tell you this was a one-time event, but I’d also like to tell you that world hunger doesn’t exist, that cancer has been cured, that the economy is booming and you’re secretly a millionaire… but none of that is true. This has happened to me so many times, not always the same conversation, but it’s the same concept — someone trying to be “cool” or “hip” or some weird millennial version of sympathetic. I’m not sure what it is, but I know it hurts. It hurts a lot.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is more than being hyper organized. It more than liking everything to be clean and neat and in its place. OCD is horrific images and awful thoughts which make you feel horrible for thinking them — the feeling you get when you do something wrong and you know you’re about to be caught. It’s scrubbing your counter, hoping against hope that it will make you feel better for the horrible images and thoughts you’ve had today. It’s having an anxiety attack after watching any TV show or movie about some catastrophic end of the world. It’s being worried about all the “conspiracy theories” about the end of the world. Man, it’s exhausting, it’s awful, feeling like you have no control, never ceasing, on constant repeat.

So, my sweet classmate, is that what you go through? No, I doubt it. I shouldn’t assume I know, but hearing people say stuff like “I’m so OCD” it’s getting old and hurtful. I didn’t bother me for a long, long time. Heck, for years I said it… a lot. I got teased about it from my sweet well-meaning friends. I never thought it was hurtful until my OCD got worse. It wasn’t just cleaning when I was upset. It was being so “stressed out” by my daughter’s toys all over the room, a clear sign of a wonderfully delightful evening of adorable stories, hilarious songs and plenty of roleplaying. It’s when I freaked out on my son — who was 6 years old at the time — because there were breadcrumbs in the tub of butter. Yes, seriously, but at the time I had no idea it was my anxiety showing because I was overstressed and my OCD was completely out of control. It would be another four years before anything was “officially” diagnosed. I think deep down I always knew.

I want … no, I need people to understand the difference., because for me it’s about understanding. It’s about understanding we are all fighting an unseen battle. It’s about understanding that supporting our fellow humans can only serve to support us. This conversation needs to be had and it’s long overdue, and while I’m overjoyed it’s happening a lot … I worry it’s not enough. The stigma surrounding mental health can be overwhelming. Other times it’s embarrassing and recently it seems “cool” — like it’s cool to have to struggle.

Nobody should want to struggle; no one should want to feel out of control. There is so much negativity out there, and I would love nothing more than to scoop my kids and all my loved ones up and put us all in a happy little bubble. But that’s no more realistic than believing what my brain tells me is going to happen if I don’t tap my right thumbnail on my water bottle as I trot down the stairs leaving class. What we need is understanding, because just like Yoda told us, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

I truly believe that empathy leads to understanding. Understanding leads to compassion. Compassion leads to helping. Helping leads to healing.” Every small kindness shown will be continued to be shown to another.

So, next time you see someone with a beautiful, organized, color-coded planner… maybe just comment on the pretty colors?

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Thinkstock photo via Rawpixel Ltd

Originally published: April 28, 2017
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