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Given that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year, you’d think everyone was pretty clued up on symptoms, causes and repercussions. Unfortunately, stigma, stereotypes, fear of the unknown, they all lead to it just not being talked about. As someone who suffers from our lovely friend OCD I wanted to clear up a few myths and rumours, and explain things you maybe never wanted to ask. Although these answers may not apply to all suffers’experiences, they may give you a better understanding about how it is more than lining up your pens on the desk, and how mental illness is just that: an illness.
“Is that the one where you’re always washing your hands?”
Yes and no. This is one of the token OCD symptoms everyone sees in the movies – it is seen as ridiculous, mad and sadly, often comical. But it is just the tip of the iceberg.
The reason a sufferer might stir their tea 5 times anticlockwise is because in their mind, if they don’t, someone they love might develop cancer, or crash their car, and by this point the sufferer thinks “well why would I risk it? I might as well stir every cup of tea I have for the rest of my life this way, just in case.” This may sound ridiculous, but it is very hard to believe it is not true, and you can become obsessive over adhering to these rituals.
“But you don’t seem crazy”
No, I like to think I’m not crazy. I do get it, I can’t blame people for laughing at that character in Friends who has to switch a light off and on otherwise his family will die. It can sound extreme and often the way for me to deal with it is to tell people and laugh at how strange it is. But OCD isn’t just for “crazy” people. Anyone can suffer, and it is far more common than you may think. Many people you know have it, and may not even know it themselves. It is so easy to think you’re just worrying a bit too much, but seeking professional advice might show you otherwise – if I had not seen a doctor, I might never have got it under control, and been stuck with sleepless nights and washing rituals for the rest of my life.
“Just stop worrying?”
If I had a pound for every time someone said “stop worrying” or “don’t overthink it”…
This is actually something everyone struggles with, and OCD sufferers simply find it harder than others. Try this: don’t think about a pink elephant. Whatever you do, right now, think about literally anything else but a pink elephant… You’re thinking about the pink elephant right now aren’t you? Unfortunately, that is how we work – the more you try not to think about something, the more serious it becomes in your mind, so you can’t just “stop worrying”. That’s why, when you’re panicking about an exam or a job interview, it ca be hard to just forget it and go to sleep, and that is why it is so hard for someone to believe that they can just stir their tea without it affecting the likelihood of something.
“Everyone’s a bit OCD, stop trying to be special.”
It is completely true that it is human nature to worry, focusing on that embarrassing thing you said at a party and forgetting how fun the party was, or washing your hands after handling dirty things. It is even fairly common to have superstitions – “I wear my lucky socks so I’ll win” – the difference is that someone who’s suffering from OCD will obsess and take them to extremes, avoiding situations to avoid doing rituals, and potentially letting it take over their life. You don’t just wash your hands after touching something dirty – you overextend it, believing you must wash your hands after touching anything someone else has touched. Then you can’t touch anything in public, which might lead to avoiding public spaces or even anywhere outside. So yes, everyone has aspects of their personality which are similar to elements of OCD, but no, no one who actually has OCD wants to parade it – to be honest we would all just quite like it to go away.