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The Glamorization of OCD

Jan. 18, 2018
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We hear it every day: “I’m so OCD about my closet!” If not a closet, then maybe a planner, or the organization of one’s belongings. 

Chances are, that person probably doesn’t have OCD.

Everyone has personal preferences regarding sanitation, tidiness, and organization, but I can assure you that not every person has OCD. Preferring your clothes to be organized and your bathroom to be clean is not the same as having a debilitating anxiety disorder.

OCD affects an estimated 3 million people in the U.S. I am one of those individuals. When I was diagnosed, and for many months after, I denied my diagnosis despite multiple doctors’ opinions. Why would I deny something that so many people claim to have?

I denied my diagnosis because, growing up, I was taught by society that someone with OCD washes their hands until they become raw, never leaves a speck of dust in sight, and color-codes every aspect of their life. Unfortunately, society seems to have a very inaccurate and narrow viewpoint on how someone with clinical OCD behaves in their everyday life.

In order to come to terms with my diagnosis, I asked several individuals with OCD how their disorder shows up in their lives. A girl named Millie told me that her OCD “often revolves around ‘clean’ numbers,” “spending lots of time checking and rechecking that things are locked, safe, and just right,” and “doubling numbers” in her head because she believes it will keep her safe. She ends by telling me that OCD “is not a cute quirk; it is a debilitating illness that has the potential to completely control your life.”

Like Millie, my disorder tends to revolve around numbers. But unlike Millie, the way that my OCD handles numbers is different. A common behavior of mine is to keep a mental track of the number of steps I have taken. I don’t trust the pedometer on my phone: I feel the need to manually track them. My OCD ties with my eating disorder when it comes to numbers, and I even have a “safe” number of ounces of water I can drink in a day.

A woman named Amanda no longer feels the need to engage in her OCD behaviors, although she used to have a “clean hair scrunchy and a dirty scrunchy” and “clean feet slippers and dirty feet slippers.” She couldn’t wear the clean things unless she was freshly out of the shower.

Amanda’s responses to my questions were especially touching to me. Never had I heard of someone whose behaviors were so similar to mine, and her vulnerability in sharing them with me made me feel so much less insane. With years of therapy, my fear of mixing dirty and clean things has gotten better. There are still places where I have a hard time going because I associate them as being dirty (even if they are not literally dirty). 

Mental illnesses and disorders are not logical. To those suffering from them, the thoughts seem completely factual—even if the individual knows that they are irrational. It may even feel impossible for them to even attempt to distance themselves from their thoughts.

Conversations regarding mental illness and disorders are no longer as taboo as they once were. After all, nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffer from a mental illness. So why do we feel the need to keep them in the closet? No one should be ashamed of their mental illness. At the same time, the fact that I am diagnosed with OCD is not a badge of honor. I have OCD; I am not OCD.

To those of you who are also suffering from OCD or another mental health issue, remember that you are more than your diagnosis. You do not even need a diagnosis to struggle. As a society, we do not need to brag about our struggles or glamorize mental illness. I, Emily Charlotte, am glamorous. My OCD is not.

This article was originally published on November 18, 2016.

Cover Image via ShutterStock