Organization is Not OCD
I think I was ten the first time I heard about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I remember hearing about the disorder in clinical, definitive terms. Obsessive compulsive disorder is defined as an anxiety disorder that plagues people with unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sensations, the obsessions, that end up fueling the compulsions. In the mind of those affected, the compulsions are the solution to the obsessions, but in the end they just drive them further. As I sat listening in class I turned to the bored looks on my classmates’ faces waiting to see the lightbulb for someone else. As the teacher continued to list things I had been unable to explain for years of my life already I wanted to see another student who felt the same way, but I didn’t. So I kept it locked in, continuing with my quiet and consuming thoughts, reserving myself to something I would have to hide indefinitely. It was about two years later that I started to see counsellor who confirmed for me what I had feared and didn’t entirely understand.
My OCD started a small and unusual way as a child, but I can still remember it being there. Since before I can remember I was certain I was going to die before I was eighteen years old. It would consume me, I would lay in bed at night thinking about what it would be like to die in a car accident or just never wake up. I sat with this “fact” in my mind for years, obsessed with the idea that I would die before I was eighteen. But this was only the beginning.
As I got older my OCD developed in more concrete and patterned ways. Some days I would have to sit perfectly symmetrical because is something touched me on one side of my body I needed an identical touch on the opposite side of my body. I liked the tops of my dressers and desks to be completely clear and anything that was set on them at perfectly right angles. Sometimes I even hated the way words came out of my mouth. Even now, some days I’ll get stuck on word or phrase and I’ll have to say it over and over until it sounds perfect. (Here’s the secret, it never sounds perfect.) My list could go on and on.
All of my compulsions that come from my obsessions, though, are not “predictably” OCD. I don’t obsessively wash my hands and I’m not a germaphobe. When I was a child/teenager I was not particularly clean, so while my dresser and desk tops had a system, I could have clothes all over my floor and not be phased. I wasn’t flipping light switches. My whole life wasn’t perfectly organized in color coated tabs. That is how most people see OCD. It’s impossible to have a conversation about organization without someone claiming, “They’re sooo OCD.” Alphabetization and order do not equate to OCD, though.
Let me be clear, some people’s compulsions do manifest in this sort of way, but the difference is easy to see. Being a little irritated because something isn’t perfectly alphabetized or liking things a certain way is fine. Outside of my OCD I like things a certain way, I prefer things alphabetized and generally organized, but these are distinct from my compulsions. Because people perpetuate this idea that OCD is just a small frustration with how you prefer things, people with an actual problem are viewed as a joke or overreacting. To be completely clear, though, it isn’t overreacting that has me terrorized because I can’t get a word or phrase to sound how I want it to. It didn’t feel like a joke sitting in a stall in a bathroom in high school trying to get myself to feel symmetrical and trying to continue that feeling as I had to carry things through crowded halls. The fear and frustration that held me as I tried to get my dresser tops just right. Moving things a centimeter and sometimes breaking things or throwing them out all together if I couldn’t get it right. I’ve bruised my hands because I wasn’t sitting in the right spot. I’ve bitten the inside of my mouth until I bled as I was shaking because people wouldn’t take these compulsions seriously. I spent innumerable hours of my life fearing my looming death as I got closer and closer to my eighteenth birthday.
I’ve spent years of my life learning to self regulate my OCD, after years in counseling. I still distinctly have OCD and I spend a lot of my energy managing and hiding it. I have, over the years, not only come to fear my OCD but the reactions of people to my OCD. Most people go one of two ways when they find out about my OCD. I can generally see when people are uncertain of my stability and aren’t sure how to handle me. Or, and this is the far more common scenario, they assume I like things super organized or am picky and claim to be “super OCD” too, talking about how they like their kids’ toys organized.
I implore anyone reading this to reconsider how they use the term “OCD”, because this is a serious disorder. My situation, too, is much more manageable OCD. This disorder sends many people to need help and completely debilitate their life. It can ravage their minds and bodies. In the end comparing a preference towards organization to a disorder which can completely isolate someone to the point that they feel they have no control over their own minds, bodies, and habits is hugely trivializing towards people who actually suffer.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (2015, November 18). Retrieved August 23, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder