"I'm so OCD!": The Struggle of Living with a Misunderstood Disorder

Gabi Bouvier reflects on her struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a mental health condition that is often misunderstood. In light of the acronym 'OCD' often being thrown around as an adjective in conversation, the reality of having this disorder is explained by someone who experiences it daily.

I often describe my OCD as a brain tumor that has no physical manifestation and cannot be removed. I am stuck with it. Likely, it will always be a part of me; however, it is absolutely not me. 

Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety-related mental health condition that produces obsessive thoughts that often lead to compulsive activities. Not giving into these impulses can lead to a range of anxiety, from mild to severe.

So, when someone casually tosses the acronym “OCD” around, do they really mean that they suffer from obsessive thoughts and compulsive activities? I have heard a lot of people say “I am really OCD about_______” but they are really saying ‘I am Obsessive Compulsive Disorder about ___________.’ Doesn’t sound quite right, does it? OCD is not an adjective with which to describe yourself; it is a disorder that some people greatly struggle with. What’s more, having this disorder does not mean being a “neat freak.” You can care about the precise organization of all your desk supplies and be super tidy. Congrats, you are a neat and organized individual, but you don’t necessarily have a disorder.

Personally, I have experienced panic attacks just from not being able to, or consciously trying not to, follow through with a compulsion. It is an out of control, debilitating feeling that prohibits me from even recognizing the simple fact that life will get better, and that OCD’s compulsions are not the be all and end all. And worse, it is so ridiculously illogical. When OCD has me at its mercy, to hell with anything remotely rational. I’m falling through my own personal rabbit hole that tells me that even though I just washed my hands three minutes ago, I need to go do it again. And for five minutes this time. Sure, it’s perfectly normal to wash your hands throughout the day, but this disorder blows that way out of proportion. It makes me cringe to admit it, but I have been known to wash my hands for five minutes straight. Five. Whole. Minutes. I’m wasting so much water and I don’t even have the ability to turn off the tap without throwing myself to the edge of panic. I am simply incapable of shutting down that part of my brain that’s obsessing over cleanliness. Forget about focusing on homework or my busy schedule, my thoughts can be solely orientated on when I can next get to the sink.

If you ever meet someone with OCD, try and remember that they live and fight against a disorder; but no matter what, that disorder does not reflect on them. My five minutes of water-wasting washing does not mean I am not environmentally conscious. I care. I do not want to waste water. It isn’t me who requires a long period of washing my hands. It isn’t me who feels the need to wash my hands after shaking someone else’s. It isn’t me, and it doesn’t reflect on my beliefs or thoughts. It reflects on how my disorder is messing with my head and ultimately, my behavior.

To have OCD is to be at constant war with yourself. If you give in even just a little bit, it has that much more power over you next time. If I give in to the demands and compulsions, I alleviate the anxiety for the moment, but ultimately feed the disorder. I know that if I didn’t fight OCD every day, I would eventually become a shut in, and unable to cope with the outside world.

Disclaimer: This is a personal story of my life with OCD. However, this disorder has many sub-categories, symptoms and compulsions. I have only discussed a few that I struggle with, but there are many manifestations that vary for different people.