33 responses to “Ableist Word Profile: You’re so OCD!”

  1. RMJ

    As a slob with OCD, I LOVE this. Great work!
    .-= RMJ´s last blog ..Corporate sponsored terrorism and stalking from Toyota =-.

  2. meloukhia

    I loved this post, Ouyang Dan. It explains really eloquently how hurtful it is for people to use an actual medical term in current usage in a context which they think is funny or amusing; it belittles and marginalizes real people, and displays a lack of understanding about what OCD actually is like to experience.

    Your last line, in particular, raises a really good point. I know that some people who have friends with disabilities try to normalize the experience and make it a little less scary/unknown to themselves with humour, and that’s really not appropriate. EVEN when the person with disabilities uses humour to accommodate people and make them feel more comfortable.
    .-= meloukhia´s last blog ..Formative Experiences =-.

  3. kaninchenzero

    Oh yeah, this. Other people have muttered about my having OCD — but I don’t. I have some compulsive behaviors that are probably related to other ways I am neuroatypical. I couldn’t possibly tell you what will happen if I don’t engage the hand brake on my car when I park it on level ground. I’m not worried it’s going to roll off. The world will stop spinning on its axis and the oceans will slosh across the continents in a tsunami of unimaginable proportions, maybe? It’s a rule. Park the car, pull up the hand brake. If I don’t the inside of my head gets itchy.

    I read compulsively, to the point where I’ll pull closer to other cars on the freeway to see what their bumper stickers say and get uncomfortable if I can’t. I have some version of dermatillomania (which makes keeping my hands off new tattoos so they heal properly and look pretty just loads of fun). My fingernails can’t get longer than a certain length and I don’t like my hair to get too long. I like symmetry (in dress, hair, etc.) when I can get it.

    Thing is, I can let most of these things go. (Which is a good thing for me since I tend to purge my inventory of stuff periodically and I’m married to someone who hoards. It makes for a lot less marital discord if my wife’s habits aren’t grating on my nerves.) I’ve learned to cope pretty well with the cognitive dissonance. What it’s not — for me — is disordered. Most of the time.

    Ask me again after I’ve stayed up all night clicking through TVTropes (which I won’t link to right now) because I can’t get myself to stop and I might tell you different.

  4. Bene

    As I said on Twitter…this, seriously, this. You have pinpointed exactly the problem I have with people using this language but was never able to fully articulate. Painful and difficult and so not the same thing.

  5. A.W.

    Well, the reading thing is familiar, ‘cept I don’t drive. I’m also a compulsive hoarder. A – bad – one. I tend to save everything because I worry that someday, somewhere, I might need it. What’s worse is I also pick things up when shopping because I might need it. Like a table lighter. I can’t imagine needing one, but damned if I could leave the place without it. I’m only saved by my cheap nature – if it isn’t either very unique, ridiculously inexpensive for the product or has a solid use (I dislike purely decorative items), I won’t get it. I’m one of those people who come home from a bread run with six florescent straws, a packet of gauze and a pencil sharpener in the shape of a plane. S’ridiculous. I suppose it’s a blessing I’ve never cared for the impulse items at cash registers – thank god they’re all cheaply made and breakable. On the upside, I don’t buy things I already have, so that (funnily enough) limits buying possibilities, especially at this point.

    I did have a bit of a problem with turning the sink off, I was afraid of wasting water if it somehow managed to drip, used to make several trips in the span of minutes to make sure it was off before bed. Halfway up the stairs and your mind – pokes – you with a ‘what if…?’. Managed to quit that, mostly, when the stove knobs started to intrude as well. Was getting to be a bit much. Part of ‘fixing’ that, for me, is a ‘look but no touch’ deal, I think. Made for several rather nasty nights at first, though.

    I’m anal retentive about plugs. Really, anything with some sort of transference. Gas, water, electric. Like lights. I tend to walk around the house shutting shit off, irritates people. If something isn’t in use, I can’t stand if it’s plugged in. On the upside, I don’t go on an in-depth hunting trip for shit to shut off, so that’s a definite plus. So not a disorder, I just need to keep an eye on it, make sure it stays within reasonable limits.

  6. Napalmnacey

    I’m OCD, but most people couldn’t tell. I have the intrusive, violent thoughts. When I pull out hair, I never do it on my head. I usually stick to leg hair – nobody cares about leg hair, right? I also nibble the skin around my nails, or chew the skin inside my mouth. Or snap split ends. I do these things when I’m stressed, when I feel “stuck”. I used to bite my nails down to the nubs, but I managed to reverse that compulsion. Now I’m compelled to have neat, pretty nails. I feel bad and uneasy when my nails are uneven or bitten.

    When I walk away from my cats, I have to kiss them on the head and cuddle them until it feels right to let them go. Often the cat gets sick of it. On the odd occasion I’ve had a boyfriend, kisses goodbye are the same. Thankfully, it’s just seen as being lovey-dovey. I’ve never had a long-term partner, so that behaviour never really came to light.

    My room is a disaster. I hoard. It’s heartbreak for me to part ways with objects. I hate my room. I hate my things. I wish I had a nice room, with nice things in it. I wish so much I could be a neat, organised person. It was bad before I was ill with a chronic pain condition and sexual abuse trauma, but now it’s just ridiculous. It’s all too much for me.

    So yeah, when someone flippantly throws the acronym “OCD” around in reference to being super neat, it kinda makes me want to burst out into tears. Cause I could go through exactly what my life is like with this condition, or I can laugh it off and internalise the message that my pain and struggle is worth less than an able person’s ability to make a pithy joke.

  7. Rue

    I’m unable to find just the right words for how much I appreciate this. Thank you for speaking for me in this arena; I often feel like my OCD controls me, and not the other way around, and I hate hearing people minimize it, or tell me that I can’t “be OCD” because my home is often a mess.

    (Because the mess has gotten away from me, and to tackle it without significant help, at that point, is to cause panic-anxiety. If it hadn’t ever built, if I had had the time to straighten things the way I spacially want them, it would have never been — but the kind of person who uses OCD as a noun doesn’t want to hear that.)

  8. Lis

    Thank you for this. My OCD at its worst means I live in the middle of a pile of squalor, littered with tiny pieces of paper folded into intricate geometric patterns. (And a few other things, but yeah, my OCD prevents me from being neat and tidy.

    I’m not asking for a trigger warning, but when I read about your corkscrew my own OCD went “What a great idea! Om nom nom” so now I’ll be thinking about that for the next little while. It’s so frustrating to me, that things most people regard as mildly gross are for me really upsetting, because my obsessions are mostly under control unless I get triggered for them. (I can discuss sexual assault with a pretty clear head, but mention one spider and I’m obsessing all afternoon.) But given the variety and oddness of obsessions in OCD, there’s no way I can ask for trigger warnings from anyone who isn’t a really good friend of mine. It’s so hard to make co-workers or classmates understand that no, I CANNOT sit here and listen about your house getting fumigated–you either have to stop talking about it, right now, or I have to get up and walk out of earshot, right now, or the consequences for me could get pretty ugly.
    .-= Lis´s last blog ..God, I can’t even. =-.

  9. kaninchenzero

    Oh, Lis, thank you! I knew there was something I’d left out and I couldn’t remember what it was. I have a lot of obsessive thoughts about all the interesting ways I could be damaged. I’m not afraid of heights, but high places are uncomfortable; my mind insists on treating me to lovingly detailed descriptions of what might happen if I jumped and prods me to experiment. When depression turned into depressive psychosis I could not get these kinds of thoughts to stop at all. I don’t know what it’s called (other than ‘intrusive thoughts — here, take risperdal’), but it’s annoying as hell.

  10. Rosemary

    So much amen!

    Calling oneself or someone else “OCD” about something is supposed to be a compliment these days. Like, “you are so organized and efficient – you’re so OCD!” or “my house is so clean because I’m so OCD about it.” And just ugh. No.

    For me, OCD is about staying up all night re-working a particular list until it feels perfect or sighing a sigh of relief when I find a sign somewhere in which the letters come out “even” when I count them in my special way or having an anxiety attack if I can’t remember what my order of operations for the day is supposed to be based on the complex system I came up with to make decisions for myself because I don’t know how to make even simple decisions without a complex system anymore.

    It doesn’t mean my books are alphabetized or my house is clean or I have to wash my hands a certain number of times because actually my house a wreck, my books are stuffed into their shelves in haphazard ways and … okay, fine, I do have to wash my hands in a complex systematized way, but it’s the same complex system I use to brush my teeth and put lotion on, so it’s not about the hand washing itself at all. [And as a side note, if I didn’t have to obsess so much about all of these other things, I might actually have the energy to keep my home cleaner and organize the books better, so in some ways OCD makes me a sloppier person!]

    And yes, some people with immaculate homes have OCD and cleaning is their compulsive activity, but some people with immaculate homes just happen to have the resources and ability and desire to keep their homes clean and organized without a lot of stress and worry – and those two things are not the same at all.

    In conclusion: yes to everything you said.

    Also (I feel on a roll about this tonight apparently), my best friend who only manages to get out of the house on average of once a week because her checking rituals, much like ones you described, are too stressful for her to manage is NOT agoraphobic no matter how many times people say she must be if she is scared to leave her house. That is a whole different issue, and is serious in and of itself, but no. The two are not the same.
    .-= Rosemary´s last blog ..Blah-der-day. =-.

  11. PharaohKatt

    I have some compulsive behaviours, but not OCD. I describe them as nervous habits, or nervous compulsions. One is brushing my hair. If I get nervous, I brush my hair. It’s kind of hard to explain exactly why, but there it is. It’s tied strongly to my anxiety.

    I can’t imagine what it would be like to have OCD. It would be more than just co opting if I described my compulsions as OCD, it would be rude and insensitive and exclusionary. Thank you so much for this entry. It needs to be said.
    .-= PharaohKatt´s last blog ..The Spoon Theory: How Does It Affect You? =-.

  12. Bene

    So much to respond to!

    Lis, I have the same thing, a couple of trigger words that can come up in conversation out of nowhere, and there’s really no way to ask even friends to anticipate them.

    Kaninchen, that’s exactly my problem with high places, too. I’m really glad I’m not alone.

    Ouyang, I personally found, despite my massive problems with his politics, that Orson Scott Card did the best fictional depiction of OCD I know of in his novel Xenocide.

  13. Anji

    I’ve written about this a few times on my private Livejournal, though not quite so eloquently. You’ve picked up on one of my pet bugbears here. Also – the use of OCD as an adjective. It’s not an adjective, it’s a noun – people can’t be OCD, they can have OCD. Small but annoying, that. My dad uses this “I’m so OCD (because I organise my CDs alphabetically/must have clean shoes/whatever)” thing and every time I have to point out to him actually, dad, OCD is a debilitating illness that has a massive effect on my life and you’re trivialising it.
    .-= Anji´s last blog ..Blogrollin’ =-.

  14. Bene

    One thing, Ouyang–it won’t make a ton of sense if you haven’t read Speaker for the Dead first. (And again, Card’s politics, while less explicit in these earlier books, can be frustrating. I find it amusing that I was introduced to OSC by my first girlfriend, both us being bi. Molto luls.)

    Anji, I’m with you about OCD not being an adjective. It kinda boils down to the ‘person with’ semantics topic, helps me understand it better, because I’m me, I’m sure not the embodiment of OCD, for crying out loud.

  15. Rosemary

    Just a note to those commenting saying they have some of the traits of OCD but don’t have OCD:

    What you can say to describe that, if you’re comfortable with it, is that you have *some* obsessive compulsive behaviors (or just obsessive, just compulsive if it’s just one or the other for you). Many people have OCD-like symptoms without it being the full disorder. Obsessive compulsive behavior runs in my family, and both my mom and brother exhibit many of the traits but not enough for it to be disordered – it doesn’t interfere with their daily functioning, in other words. I got the full-on disorder, lucky me, but my mom and I often discuss some of our similar issues. It’s just that she can make an extremely detailed list and feel slightly embarrassed about it, but not have to spend hours making it or hide it away in a private notebook because it’s so complex and strange – and she can actually freely go off-list during the day without having a breakdown about it.

    So, yea, obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors can still be talked about in some similar terms without co-opting the “disorder” part of the equation.
    .-= Rosemary´s last blog ..Blah-der-day. =-.

  16. MomTFH

    Thanks for this post! I wrote about the casual usage of the term “OCD” to mean “likes things to be orderly” in a really offensive Facebook quiz in this post on my blog.
    .-= MomTFH´s last blog ..My day yesterday =-.

  17. Kaz

    I think it’s also worth thinking about where the obsessive/compulsive behaviour that is not part of OCD is coming from. E.g. upthread kaninchenzero mentioned various O/C behaviours probably being part of (more general) neuroatypicality, and I can attest to a bunch for myself – for one, I seem to parse rules very differently from NTs (aka if I break a rule THE WORLD ENDS), which results in some behaviour that most people probably read as obsessive or compulsive. I also have a lot of behaviour on the lines of checking whether I have my train ticket with me or not every five minutes, simply because I know I have to be very very careful; I really cannot cope when things start running too counter to my expectations or surprising things begin to happen. If I was at the train station and had lost my ticket, my brain would go “WORLD ENDING initiate shut down now”. Most people would just buy another damn ticket. So it’s kind of logical that I’m a lot more cautious and go overboard on checking things in order to make sure I don’t wind up in situations like that. Finally, I often stim by sorting things, folding things into patterns, sometimes yanking at my hair, etc.

    So these three things give rise to a number of behaviours that could arguably be called obsessive-compulsive, but I can trace them/the reason for them back to my autistic brain. Similarly, I gained some recurrent suicidal fantasies/impulses while I was depressed. So although I have some of the behaviours, they all stem from something else that I can identify leading me to be rather sure I don’t have OCD and should not co-opt the disorder by acting as if it’s remotely the same thing.

    (I entirely sympathise on how frustrating it is to have people say things like “I’m so OCD!” when, no, they’re really not. ADD gets used similarly, and although I probably don’t have that I’m close enough that someone who clearly has no clue joking about it makes me want to scream and throw things.)
    .-= Kaz´s last blog ..weird sensory things =-.

  18. Bene

    Not to negate or force anyone’s definitions, but I do want to point out that OCD is very often co-morbid with other anxiety and mood disorders (source: Stanford University). Mine hangs out with depression and a mild case of ADD.

  19. Lis

    Ouyang Dan – thank you! I generally get triggered by violence/gore and insects. It’s hard to keep track of, but if I know I’m reading between my fingers, it helps.

    I use OCD as an adjective describing behaviour–“That’s an OC tendency of mine”–but partly because people have confused the term, I find “I have mild OCD” causes clearer communication than “I’m a little OCD.”

    Bene: Yes. It’s really hard to pin down a specific diagnosis of “real OCD”. Mine hangs out with depression and social phobia, and is a great chameleon because now that my symptoms are mostly under control through CBT, it doesn’t look like OCD anymore.
    .-= Lis´s last blog ..God, I can’t even. =-.

  20. V

    Thank you for this post! As a clinical psychologist in training who works with clients with OCD, the casual use of OCD bothers me. I can only imagine how much more that would bother you and others WITH OCD. Newsflash people: It’s not fun. :(

  21. sanabituranima

    Yes. This.

    Another OCD slob here.
    .-= sanabituranima´s last blog ..Like lightening =-.

  22. Kat

    Thanks for posting this. I can definitely relate. I’ve had issues with dermatillomania and some with trichotillomania. I’ve been better with those lately, but that’s probably because I haven’t had as much stress in my life lately.

    possible trigger warning
    I used to have obsessive thoughts of gouging my eye out. I have a fear of heights and had some obsessive thoughts of plummeting to my death. It was really bad when I was living in a 14th floor in Egypt. Also, seeing the Happening didn’t help. D:

  23. notemily

    Like kaninchenzero, I have some compulsive that don’t cross the line into full-on OCD but are still annoying. I also pick at my skin, mostly scabs from ingrown hairs or pimples, which take forever to heal because I’m always picking at them–especially when I’m stressed. And I’m a clerk at a library, which mostly involves moving large piles of books from one place to another. I always pick up books in groups of five, and I get flustered if I make a mistake and pick up four or six instead. Sometimes I’ll find myself still counting in my head even after I’m done.

    I also have emetophobia–fear of vomiting–and I completely agree with Lis that things that don’t seem that bad to most people are completely disgusting and triggering to me. One gross scene in a movie or book (or conversation), and I’ll be thinking about it all day, obsessing over it and ruining my appetite. It’s better than it used to be, but it still sneaks up on me sometimes.

    Anyway, in the past I’ve joked about being “OCD about it” as shorthand for “this is just my particular quirk, and I can’t explain it.” But I’ve never had full-blown OCD. I do have anxiety disorder, depression, and ADD, though. I’m never quite sure what’s causing which behavior.
    .-= notemily´s last blog ..itsthemusicpeople: awoodennickel:All by Banksy on the West… =-.

  24. MK

    YES. THIS. I get told pretty frequently that I have OCD and it’s not at all for the things I do that I think of as being obsessive compulsive tendencies. I like things to be labeled. If I’m going to clean something, I want to clean it thoroughly. I like to keep my books organized. People, for whatever reason, associate these things with OCD.

    It’s the things they can’t see, like certain thoughts I just *cannot* get out of my head (usually involving doing something very violent to myself that I *know* I’m not going to do, like gouging my eyes out). Or pulling out my hair and not being able to stop. Or how I become attached to objects very easily and will often cry when throwing something away, even if it’s just a piece of paper.

    When someone calls me OCD, if I’ve got enough spoons, I will correct them and explain why that statement is offensive/inaccurate/etc. People have been pretty good about listening, but they never seem to remember. And even if someone does know about, say, my Trichotillomania, they will not connect it to OCD.

    Ugh, this all reminds me of hearing someone recount how he would call his friend when he *knew* his friend would be doing his rituals, so that the friend would have to start over, and he just thought it was hilarious. It wasn’t a social space I was comfortable in so I didn’t say anything but ho boy did I want to punch that guy in the face.

  25. meloukhia

    Lauredhel and I were just talking about fruit, and we managed to find an example of ableism fail in an article about…peaches. PEACHES!

    “Adults with OCD love them because the flesh doesn’t adhere to the pip in the same way as it does in a regular peach, so you don’t finish the eating experience covered in juice, having to lick yourself like a dog.”

    It’s everywhere.

  26. DDog

    Among other mental/behavioral difficulties, I have some routines and systems which forgoing/altering makes me intensely uncomfortable, and I have vivid images of horrible accidents every time I get in my car; but I can still eat and leave my house if those systems are messed with, and I can still drive without too much difficulty–may be obsessive and/or compulsive tendencies, but not OCD.

    There is a difference between doing things because you prefer it that way, having things you feel antsy about not/doing but you can live with, and having a disorder that prevents you from doing things you really would rather do instead because you have do something else instead (often repeatedly). Conflating the three isn’t just incorrect, but can be awkward, unpleasant, painful, and humiliating. Yay!
    .-= DDog´s last blog ..DDog: @bwvalentine I didn’t really get it either. The wrapper story was mostly useless, but the inner story was interesting. =-.

  27. Tree

    Thank you for writing and posting this; it was very illuminating. I am quite sure I will try never to use OCD as an adjective again (I’ll use it only when talking about the actual illness).

    This was uncomfortable for me to read because it reminded me of my problem. I have dermotillomania. My body is covered with scars. I’ve picked my scabs, pimples, and other blemishes for more than twelve years now. I can’t go more than a few minutes without doing it. Lately it’s begun to manifest as trichitillomania as well (I pluck my pubic hairs- what’s the problem? It’s unfashionable to be hairy there *sarcasm*). It doesn’t help that I have chronic major depression (although that’s managed with medication now). Stress and anxiety make me want to pick even more.
    I’ve seen a hypnotist and a psychiatrist. Neither was effectual. I’m now 20 years old. I don’t know what to do.
    Anyway, this was an interesting piece to read; thanks for posting it.

  28. Laura

    ACK. This. Like many others who have commented on this thread, I HATE it when people do this.

    I have OCD. It doesn’t manifest itself in a terribly visible form–a lot of the times, when i tell someone I have OCD, they say “Really? I never would’ve known!” This is probably because TV shows like Monk make everyone think that someone with OCD will be instantly easy to spot. It’s also because I’ve been able to manage it pretty successfully in the past few years. But the thing about my OCD is that it’s largely mental, in that it’s very visible to ME but not necessarily to others. I don’t check doors or wash my hands or do a lot of the other typical compulsive behaviors. I do pick my skin, and people have noticed that before, but it’s not to a chronic level. I also have facial tics, which may or may not be related to the OCD (might just be genetic, I’m not sure), but those have gotten a lot better than they used to be. The big problems I have are the intrusive thoughts, the obsessions, the horrible images that pop into my head. Before I was diagnosed, and before I started actively managing my OCD, these caused me to become very depressed and even suicidal, simply because I could not get away from the horrible things in my head. I didn’t understand why I was having these thoughts, I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and I thought that I must be a horrible person for having such horrible thoughts–even though I didn’t want to have them.

    Anyway, that’s my story. Therapy and medication have helped me out a LOT. I’ll never be cured, and I’ll have to deal with OCD for the rest of my life. But I wish people would realize that, as you said, it’s not a cute habit. It’s not a funny little quirk. It’s very painful and, at times, devastating.

    Thanks for this article!

  29. SUZANNE S.

    This really upsets me too because I have heard people say “I wish someone with OCD would come and clean my house.” I suffered with OCD for many years and I hated all the cleaning I had to do, I even had to bleach my hands, they would crack and bleed. My steering wheel came apart from having to wipe it down with rubbing alcohol all the time. If I made my chidren a sandwich I had to wear plastic disposable gloves and when my daughter had a friend come over I had to clean for three days before hand just to be sure not to contaminate the guest. OCD is no joke !!!!!!

    For anyone who is dealing with OCD now, you can recover, like others have said it is always there in some way, but you can greatly improve your life, it may take some time but you can get there.

  30. Sarah

    This is late, as far as when the article was posted, but I only started reading FWD recently, and have been going through and reading all of the Ableist Word Profiles, and I feel obligated to drop a comment.

    As someone with OCD, I find jokes about it and people claiming they “have OCD” — or, even worse, “[are] OCD” to be very hurtful. But worse than people using OCD in an ableist manner is people telling me that I can’t have OCD because I don’t conform to whatever their idea of what having OCD means — usually that I don’t spend my spare time cleaning my flat or checking doorknobs. There are more compulsions than cleaning and checking locks, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the obsessions.

    In short: Thank you for posting this. I now want to take a page out of this and write about my own struggles with the disorder (but I’m not sure it would make it to publication on my blog because of my obsessions and compulsions).

  31. Taylor

    I know what you guys mean about the whole heights thing. kaninchenzero said it perfectly. “my mind insists on treating me to lovingly detailed descriptions of what might happen if I jumped and prods me to experiment”. I used to get that way around knives, and my “Gross Idea of the Moment” is regarding eyeballs (I don’t want to trigger anyone by saying it. It’s icky). The detailed visions aren’t coming as often (bless you, Zoloft), but I swear, I can feel it in my eye.
    So it really annoys me when neat people say they have OCD. No. You don’t. Be thankful. Because I would really enjoy not having to think about eyeballs.