Seriously Disordered Thinking

Warning: long.

It was Thursday and I was meeting a friend for lunch. Like me, she is partial to mugs and notebooks, so we skipped into Tottenham Court Road Paperchase. Lovely! Mugs, notebooks, ribbons, pom-poms – everything a girl could want! We looked at pretty things, we looked at useless things. We looked at pretty useless things. Then we looked at this:

We both have OCD. Normally, I can make a joke about it. Hey, I believe gallows humour gets us through some if our darkest times. But this wasn’t the bleak humour of the gallows, raising a wry smile as we see our sadness reflected in a comic way. Nor was it a harmless “what do you call two robbers?” “A pair of knickers!” type joke. It wasn’t a joke. It was making fun if me. And I don’t like being made fun of.

I’m going to write a few more posts about this, because I feel it is important. There are a number if factors why this product bothered me: 1) it pandered to the “I’m sooo OCD lol” brigade; 2) it perpetuates the belief that OCD is all about washing your hands; 3) it’s demeaning to everyone. Not people with OCD, not people with a different mental health issue, but everyone.

Let me expand number 1 first. OCD ain’t cute. It isn’t quirky, kooky, ditzy, klutzy, wacky or delightfully odd. It is hell. It blighted most of my life. I didn’t do as well in school as I could have done. It has destroyed much of my relationship with my father. It sent me as an inpatient to the Priory over Christmas 2008. It is not, and I repeat: not, fun.

Nor is it voluntary. If you like having your lipsticks in order of colour, or having cans of coke turned round the same way, then good for you. I’m a bit like that myself. But you can’t turn being a little bit precise about things into OCD. Because you, you lucky non-OCD person, would be able to skip merrily out of your house in the morning, feeling fresh and alert, even if your lipsticks were slightly disordered. Someone with OCD wouldn’t be able to. But whatever! You like your lipsticks neat! That’s, like, sooooooo OCD of you!!!11! I’m really OCD about putting my perfume on, like, let’s have lunch together and totally squeal!!!!1111111!!!!

That, my friends, is not OCD. OCD is, as its name suggests, Obsessive, Compulsive and a Disorder. Let’s take them in order.
a) Obsession.
Getting ‘obsessed’ with Johnny Depp does not count. Wondering idly if you have left the oven on, and then moving on with your thoughts, is not an obsession. I have various obsessions. They are the first things I think of when I wake up. They are the last things I think of when I go to sleep. When awake, I am thinking about them. When asleep, I dream about them. My first obsession is: my dad. Specifically, my dad raping me. Quirky, huh? I can’t touch him. He can’t touch me. If we do accidentally touch (for example, if he passes me something), I feel ‘funny’. I can’t describe it. I feel dirty and like I’ve been given an electric shock. I can, nowadays, be in the same room as him. I couldn’t, for about 95% of my teenage life. When I’m asleep, I dream my dad is sexually abusing me. Lol, I’m so OCD! This is an ingrained obsession which I’ve had since about age 7, when I dropped a kettle of boiling water on me (I was making my hostess badge for Brownies). I was wearing my nightie, which my dad then ripped off me (if you only learn one thing from this blogpost – it’s don’t do that. Soak the clothes in cold water before removing. Ripping them off hot can hurt your skin. So don’t do it!) and I had no knickers on. I was 7. Dad blinked and said “you’ve got no clothes on”. (Must intersect here – he was making an observation. He is not a pervert. He has never done anything inappropriate, nor would he ever) That was it. I knew, I just knew, I wasn’t safe. He was going to attack me. I was embarrassed and unsafe and oh help, he’s going to attack me. Please remember, I had no idea what kissing was, let alone sex, let alone rape. I just knew something terrible was going to happen to me, and it was going to be my dad.

Another perennial favourite obsession of mine is paedophilia. Yes, I worry I am a paedophile. I obess over the fact that I might be racist. That I look and smell wrong. That everyone is laughing at me. These aren’t little worries. It is not, as Slartibartfast would say, “perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe gets that”. These are obsessions. Thoughts you can’t get rid of. And they ruin every. Single. Day.

b) Compulsive
Aah, I remember my knees! They used to work! Not anymore… I snap all my joints – knuckles, toes, knees, neck, elbows, shoulder blades, back – out of joint. I don’t ‘click’ involuntarily, like you do sometimes when you stand up and suddenly you snap back into place; I click compulsively. It hurts. It really really hurts. It’s unattractive looking and sounding. I can’t bear it. But I have to do it. Here, I actually differ from most people with OCD, who feel like something bad will happen if they don’t do their compulsion. I don’t feel like something bad will happen, I just have to do it. Like carrying a hot plate, you have to put it down. You have to, otherwise, well, it’s uncomfortable. It’s like that, only the feeling isn’t ‘uncomfortable’. It’s an all-encompassing pressure that I’m powerless to resist. I’ve developed bunions from pulling my big toe out of joint. My knees are shot to pieces. I’m taking anti-inflammatories for my swollen joints. I know, totes adorbs >.< It hurts so much, I sometimes cry out in pain. People around me all jump and go “ooh, that must have hurt”. It does hurt. It’s horrible. I’m destroying myself. But I can’t stop. That, my friends, is a compulsion.

c) Disorder
Pretty self-explanatory. My life has been wrecked by this disorder. My way of thinking is disordered. My life’s outcome is disordered. If you can leave your house, thinking “well, I might be a racist paedophile, but as long as I don’t tell anyone, then it’ll be ok and go away soon”, then you are not disordered. Such feelings are unpleasant, but you are in control of them. You are your master. That is not a disorder.

2. I think I’ve quite comprehensively covered the ground that OCD isn’t about washing your hands. It can be, true, but it often isn’t. OCD is not a ‘clean disease’. I have OCD and my room is a tip.

3. Demeaning to, and I’m going to say it, everyone. People with OCD and mental health issues will, of course, recognise themselves in this. It’s someone poking ignorant fun of a chronic, debilitating condition. But a few of my friends – educated, reasonable, rational friends – have said that I need to lighten up about this. It’s only a joke! they say. And yes, I do realise the product itself is, unwisely, ‘humorous’. Yes, these people see nothing wrong with it. I might get it for my mum, chortled one of my acquaintances. They, honestly, see nothing wrong with it.

They will see plenty of things wrong in other places. Checking my Facebook page, I immediately see people all up-in-arms over some American Apparel ads that sexualise little girls. I have seen people make (horrendous) jokes about Israel’s electricity bill. Frankie Boyle famously said that Katie Price and Peter Andre were arguing over custody of Katie’s disabled son, but that one of them would eventually have to “give in” and “have him”. Wrong wrong wrong, condemned the Facebook collective. Some things should not be the subject of jokes, was the lesson I learnt from my fellow FBers. But, if that’s so, then why not OCD? It’s because OCD is the komedy kondition which we all have! I’ve got a friend who’s just like that!

Until the general public see that OCD isn’t funny – bowel cancer isn’t funny, osteoarthritis isn’t funny, ebola isn’t funny – and that it’s such a complex disorder that goes way beyond washing your hands occasionally; that it’s a serious and life-altering condition; that it probably affects someone you know more than you’d think, then, maybe then, we can make jokes. But this? This isn’t funny.

11 thoughts on “Seriously Disordered Thinking

  1. Beata says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It takes a lot of courage to talk openly about something so personal. Unfortunately, I have to agree with you – in general, the awareness of what OCD is and what it can do to people is minimal. Information about other serious conditions tends to be widely available – there are all sorts of leaflets on arthritis or cancer in doctors’ waiting rooms, but I’ve never seen anything about OCD. Maybe it’s time there was one?


  2. mariaalison says:

    I have seen some precious few leaflets in the doctors’ waiting rooms, but they’re mainly about contamination. Contamination is a part of OCD, but it’s so much more than just that. Still got a long way to go.


  3. Catherine says:

    This is really insightful, thanks for writing this. It’s ad that there exists a need to point out that making fun of OCD is extremely damaging.


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