Breaking Expectations is staff writer Danielle Allsop’s firsthand experience living with mental illness.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Some of you may not think of OCD as a mental illness, but as a way to say someone is “neurotic” in a demeaning way.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), “feeling the need to check things repeatedly, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over… People with OCD can’t control these obsessions and compulsions. Most of the time, the rituals end up controlling them.”
When I first began having bouts of anxiety at the age of 12, I would engage in bizarre, reoccurring rituals, which at the time didn’t seem weird. It was just something I did.
Before leaving the house, I would have to wash the dog bowl three times, or, as I convinced myself, something bad would happen to my family. Even when I was washing the dog bowls, I knew how ridiculous it was—how would washing the bowl three times save my family from something bad happening?
Whenever I would use my hair straightener or the stove, I would check at least five times to make sure they were off so that nothing would catch fire. It got to the point that when I would try to leave the house, I would end up turning around just to check, again, that they were turned off.
When you’re so consumed with following every made-up ritual, you’re not in the right state of mind to comprehend the legitimacy of the ritual.
What most people don’t understand is the constant voice that accompanies OCD. There is no “on” and “off” switch. It is a constant stream of thoughts that make it difficult to focus on anything else, until you’ve done what the voice says.
Think of a mom, whose toddler hasn’t grasped the “I’m-not-the-only-one-in-the-world” stage, constantly begging for mom’s attention. Sooner or later, mom gives in, in the hopes that the toddler will stop talking. But toddlers never stop talking, and neither does OCD.
I feel like society uses the term OCD loosely, saying things like “she’s so OCD about her yard,” or “I’m pretty OCD about my closet.” While the sentiment is there, OCD is nothing to joke about.