The other day I was at my dentist getting fitted for a ridiculously expensive crown, and in between choking on the putty in my mouth and the dentist creating a temporary acrylic for me, we got to talking about my mental health. I think the last time I saw her I’d just spent 2 weeks in hospital, so she was curious to find out how I was going. Sweet of her to remember, I thought to myself. She has a great memory for things like that.
“You have OCD, yeah?” she asked curiously.
“Yep…that I do!” I replied casually, not realizing where the conversation was headed.
“So, what you’re thing?” she probed.
What’s my thing? Oh god, here we go. She’s one of those folks who want to know what my compulsions are, like they’re any of her business. Damnit. I really like you dude, don’t fuck it up now, please.
I looked at her kind of blankly, eyebrow raised.
“You don’t want to know…” I said.
“No, tell me… are you a handwasher? How many times a day do you wash your hands?”
Fuck it. Why does it always come down to this question. For someone who’s a medical professional, I really anticipated a bit more respect.
“No, not a handwasher..so, how’s that acrylic coming along?” I sighed, changing the topic. I think she realized it wasn’t a topic I was keen on discussing, and rolled with the change of subject matter.
There are times I’m more than happy to discuss my OCD with people who show genuine curiosity about the illness, but when you just want an answer to satisfy your belief that I’m a circus freak, I shut that shit down quick smart. She probably caught me on a bad day. The day before I’d had a run in with some woman at my group therapy who asked me what course I was doing there. CBT for Obsessive Thoughts I told her. “Oh you have OCD? Yeah I’m a bit OCD myself… I like my kitchen super tidy and my clothes folded a certain way.” I actually felt myself roll my eyes at her comment. I wanted to grab her by the arms and scream “That’s not OCD, you fuckwit! That’s being fussy, tidy, anal retentive…not OCD! If you enjoy it, or gain satisfaction from it, it ain’t OCD!” But of course, I maintained my composure and nodded my head feigning sympathy. “That must be tough…okay, well I’ve gotta go or I’ll be late!” I said, escaping into the lift. Admittedly, I get comments like that all the time when I disclose my illness. I’ve heard it a thousand times from people who obviously don’t have the slightest idea of what OCD is. Part of me excuses people’s ignorance, because that’s how they’ve seen us portrayed in popular culture- as a bunch of handwashing freaks who spend hour after hour tidying their kitchen pantries or rearranging desks. But then there’s the part of me that gets quite irate about the lack of understanding most people have of the illness. Imagine having Diabetes, and then having half the people you meet say “Oh, I get it…you know I’m a little Diabetic too! I ate a Mars Bar and a Twix at lunch!” Can you imagine how trivial that would sound? Having your very serious, medication managed illness reduced to a mere character quirk? It can be really infuriating at times. OCD by it’s very nature is something that makes many individuals that suffer from it feel deeply ashamed. So for it to be trivialized like that or to be probed as to what your compulsions are, or putting a person on the spot pushing them to reveal the content of their intrusive thoughts is really highly inappropriate and uncool to say the very least. So the next time someone tells you that they have OCD, acknowledge it and move on. If that individual wants to divulge more to you about their illness, they’ll let you know, but don’t push it. I know you’re curious, but you’re not entitled to know. For many individuals, that would be akin to divulging the content of their diaries, or the intimate conversations they have with the Shrink. It took me years to build up the confidence to reveal some of the things I’ve told you here, and there is plenty more that I still don’t have the courage to share. I can appreciate that people are interested in finding out more about an illness they might not know much about, other than what the media has told them, but not everyone is going to be keen to your teachable experience. Essentially, just try not to be a dick and everything should be fine. I’m always happy to field your questions and to tell you if you’ve stepped over the line, so feel free to drop me a note if you keen to learn about something I haven’t spoken about here.