by Lakshmi Sadhu
“To not have your suffering recognised is an almost unbearable form of violence.” ~Andrei Lankov
“I can be really OCD about cleanliness,” someone professed to me recently. Absolutely aghast at the misfortune that befell this person, I enquired with great concern as to when he was diagnosed with this incurable and crippling mental disorder that requires years of cognitive behavioural therapy, and psychiatric medications to get under control.
“I don’t literally have OCD, dude. Obviously!”, he chuckled. Unfortunately, his humour was completely lost on me, and I couldn’t find it within me to return his laughter. I wasn’t being a self-righteous jerk; I rationally knew what he meant and that his careless usage of one of the most profoundly debilitating mental disorders on earth didn’t have a malicious genesis. I knew that.
Yet, when you have a loved one who spends 5-8 hours a day in the bathroom repetitively washing his hands raw trying to scrub away germs that only he can see, when the precious days of his one and only life are filled with battling the inner demons of his mind, depression, paranoia, and anxiety, instead of cultivating his dreams and his immense inherent creativity, beauty, wit and intelligence, you find it harder and harder to give such people the benefit of the doubt, to not immediately label them as ignorant and insensitive.
The usage of the term “OCD” has become incredibly commonplace in our language these days, and for all the wrong reasons. I’m not sure when the desire to have a dust bunny free home, a clean kitchen sink, or a colour coded closet became symptomatic of a devastating mental disorder. OCD has become some kind of a humorous shorthand, an adjective, to describe what is really just a personality quirk, or anal-retentive behaviour. It bears mentioning that a person who has OCD gains zero pleasure from their compulsions; their time-consuming, exhausting, repetitive, ritualistic behaviours actually give them even more distress, despite being performed in the first place to assuage their anxieties and paranoias. This is completely different from someone, without OCD, who likes to colour-code their closet; such a person actually gains a sense of satisfaction or pleasure from this behaviour.
Having vernacular rife with misused health lingo has repercussions that are more far-reaching that we think. Misused mental health lingo contributes to the societal stigma surrounding mental health conditions, and only further perpetuates the misrepresentation and misunderstanding of psychiatric disorders. It desensitises us to the suffering of those with mental illnesses, and does a grave disservice to those brave warriors who have to face hell every waking moment of their entire lives. Using OCD as a misplaced metaphor to describe otherwise normal behaviour, makes it harder for actual OCD sufferers to get the recognition and respect they deserve.
A big part of defeating mental stigma is in the way we communicate with each other. When we become more mindful of the way we refer to mental illnesses, we inadvertently become more mindful, and compassionate of our fellow human beings who have mental illnesses. Only in compassion, and awareness can the stigma around mental health be defeated.
Hank Green has a wonderful video on YouTube where he talks about the four mental health disorders we often use incorrectly – OCD, Schizophrenia, Psychopathy, and Bipolar Disorder. The video is only slightly over 8 minutes long, but has a wealth of information. Do yourself a favour, and check out his video below.
This post is not me preaching to you, or trying to make you feel guilty for the times you misused the term “OCD”, or descriptors for any other mental health disorder. I, too, have been guilty of misusing certain words in the past. However, I hope that this post at least makes you aware of the effects of making light of very serious illnesses.
What do you think?