There are a few things which crop up again and again on social media which are described by the writer as being OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This can annoy the absolute Hell out of people with actual OCD because sometimes the thing isn’t associated with OCD or the thing is being described in a way that someone with OCD wouldn’t experience it. I am a very organised person who also happens to have severe OCD. I’ve picked a few of the regular topics that crop up in order to examine, from a personal point of view, if they are or aren’t to do with OCD obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions and Compulsions are an integral part of the Disorder, hence the name. O. C. D. Crippling anxiety is also a product of the action of OCD obsessions on a person.
When challenged, many people say, “I was using the term in its popular sense, colloquial sense or ‘street’ sense”. Popular? Like “spastic” or “nigger” or “faggot”? All three were once widely used popularly, colloquially and in a ‘street’ sense. All three always were pejorative and discriminatory, even the first one, which was originally a clinical term for an actual, debilitating medical condition, as OCD is today. Just because a lot of people use the term OCD thoughtlessly, doesn’t make its flippant use any less offensive or stigmatising to the sufferers of the serious mental health condition which is actual OCD.
So, here we go:
Chipped nail angst –
“I’ve chipped my nail-varnish. Now I’m going to have to do it again. How annoying! I’m so OCD”
If you’re merely annoyed that your nails are now imperfect, you may be either a perfectionist, vain or a vain perfectionist. You probably don’t suffer from OCD.
If you think, “Oh my God! My nails are imperfect! What if bacteria gets into the nail? What if that bacteria gets into food as I’m preparing it and the people I’m close to get sick and die as a result?” Something along these catastrophic lines. Yes, this sounds like typical OCD thinking.
Arranging the weights in the gym correctly
Either you’re a tidy perfectionist or you work at the gym. Also, simply lifting weights obsessively is not automatically OCD either. Obsessed? Yes. Compulsive? Possibly more motivated than compelled. Disordered? Eccentric maybe. Body Dysmorphic Disorder muscle dysmorphia is however, on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, though due to significant underpresentation and resultant underdiagnosis, I haven’t been able to get accurate statistics of its frequency.
If you arrange the weights because you think that if they weren’t arranged properly, somebody could get injured and die and it would be your fault, then this sounds like OCD responsibility taking.
Tidying your room late one night
About time too, you slob! It’s OK to tidy sometimes, not just when you’re bored. It’s OK to tidy really well if you want to. It doesn’t mean you have OCD. You might just be becoming a bit more mature and responsible.
If you tidy, clean, retidy and reclean your room for several hours a day, every day, no matter how tired you are, but the anxiety of “it’s still not clean or tidy enough” never really subsides, this could well be OCD thinking and compulsive behaviour.
Tidying instead of studying
I’ve done this. Not because of my OCD, but because studying Early 19th Century English Portrait Painting was really, really dull. Cleaning, tidying, playing music, playing video games, texting your friends. None of them are OCD compulsions in this context. You just don’t want to do the boring studying, but you probably will eventually, after you’ve wasted lots of time dicking about.
Keeping your car, motorbike or bicycle clean
The #OCD hashtag is a favourite with car detailing companies, boy racers who have pimped out their 1994 Vauxhall Corsa and keen cyclists. They equate pride in keeping vehicles clean, polished or vacuumed as OCD behaviour. In itself, this isn’t OCD, because there is no anxiety associated with the habitual (not compulsive) behaviour.
This one isn’t quite so simple as just that. I have motorbikes, which I keep immaculate and shiny, not because of OCD, but because I take pride in riding on beautiful looking motorbikes. I have, however, a significant fear of being embarrassed in public, which encroaches on my motorbike riding, so I also would not want to suffer the public embarrassment of being seen on a less than perfect motorbike. A pain in the ass, but not life-limiting.
I have a friend who also has OCD, who had motorbikes too. He kept his motorbikes immaculate to keep them free of “contamination”. Every time he returned from a rideout, he spent hours “decontaminating” the bike. He started to come out less, to avoid having to perform the compulsion of bike decontamination, yet still did the cleaning ritual. Eventually he stopped coming out at all and sold his motorbikes. THAT sadly was OCD vehicle cleaning.
Keeping your makeup organised
If you like to keep your makeup organised, great. Wow! That’s a lot of makeup! Look at all those nice makeup cases and overnight bags you have, all stacked neatly, full of so much expensive makeup. As a guy, this mystifies me. Maybe it’s a type of collecting, like collecting superhero action figures. Maybe it’s an unspoken wish to be a beautician or makeup artist. It’s not OCD.
I know several people with OCD for whom having, touching or putting on makeup is an anxiety ridden nightmare. Not fun at all. A huge gut wrenching challenge, which often they can’t complete. It defeats them. I don’t want to be more specific than that, because that’s their burden, not mine. That is OCD associated with makeup.
Buying lots of clear plastic storage boxes
This is quite a common one. “I’ve been to IKEA/Staples/B&Q… and bought lots of storage boxes for all my stuff. I’m so excited to get to spend the morning organising. #Organised #Motivated #Neatfreak #OCD LOL”. Being neat or organised doesn’t mean someone has OCD. Some people are just organised, neat and like to tidy stuff.
People with OCD can demonstrate a need for order, which is misconstrued as being tidy. For the OCD person, the neatness or tidiness are much less important than the “correctness” of the thing. A dressing table of objects isn’t arranged in a very exact, precise way to make it tidy, but because, in the mind of the person with OCD, a terrible thing will happen if the objects aren’t kept arranged in that exact way. Correctness, not neatness. There is no joy in carrying out the task, it just must be done in order to prevent disaster.
Being very happy about cleaning and enjoying it
If you clean a lot, enjoy cleaning, are happy while you do it and gain a great sense of achievement at a job well done, then you don’t have OCD. You just like to clean. Weirdo! Get a hobby! Go to the gym. Go for a walk.
If a person with OCD has contamination obsessions, they will clean, disinfect, scrub and bleach to get rid of the contamination. This is a compulsion to try and alleviate the anxiety caused by overwhelming obsessive thoughts about germs, dirt, bacteria, infection, disease and contamination. Cleaning is stressful, because it has to be done right, in order to get rid of all contamination. If there is any doubt, the cleaning continues. There is always doubt. There is no satisfaction in a job well done because the job is never ever completed. There is always doubt. Always.
A child arranging toys by colour or type
All children do this. I did it, you did it. Children explore their world through play. Recognising order, similarity or dissimilarity in things is part of learning about the world. It is natural. It is normal. It’s not OCD. If however, a child spends several hours a day, every day performing the one same task, this could well indicate a problem. Maybe OCD, maybe something else entirely.
Being annoyed at an architectural or decorative flaw
This is a common recurring meme on websites like Buzzfeed. “23 photos that will drive your inner OCD crazy!”. Hmmmmm.
A misplaced tile in a floor tile pattern or a decorative ceiling detail which is misaligned does annoy me. Is it because I have OCD? No. It’s either because I have a natural tendency towards perfectionism like anyone can or, more likely, it is because I also suffer from OCPD, which sounds like OCD, but is a different condition with different characteristics, including a rigid sense of right and wrong and extreme perfectionism. Most people who wince at a misplaced manhole cover are just normal people who like a bit of order. A few will be people with OCPD.
SEE ALSO: Being annoyed that your soft drink can ring pull doesn’t line up with the packaging artwork and being annoyed that pictures aren’t hanging straight.
Arranging your clothes by colour in your wardrobe
I arrange my clothes by type, colour and pattern in my wardrobes. I do it because it is logical and saves time in the mornings. I don’t have to search for something because it will be where I put it. Would I become anxious if somebody had moved an item of clothing? No. I would be annoyed that someone had been in my wardrobes without permission. No focussed anxiety, no OCD.
People with OCD can have problems with clothes. Some can’t wear clothes of a certain colour or pattern, or a specific item of clothing in case something very bad happens as a result. Some people must wear a certain colour, pattern or specific item in case something bad happens if they don’t. Think of your lucky underpants, but taken to a horrific extreme. Other people can’t wear a piece of clothing if they believe it has become “contaminated”. They will avoid wearing it and keep it isolated from their other clothes or they will wash, scrub, bleach, burn or throw the item away.
Sorting M&Ms by colour
This one has done the rounds so often it has passed into urban legend. I have never known, read about or heard about a person with actual real OCD who arranges sweets/candy by colour*. The only people who do it are Van Halen and bored kids. I like jellybabies. I eat them by colour because I like the taste of some more than others. When I eat Smarties, I eat them randomly because only the orange ones are flavoured differently. I don’t like M&Ms.
This photo was tweeted by someone who suffers from severe OCD. He’s halfway through an epic cycle ride to raise awareness of OCD. He didn’t feel any need to sort this confectionary by type.
*EDIT 21/9/15: I have at last encountered one person with actual diagnosed OCD who suffers significant real anxiety if the sweets/candy remain mixed. So it’s not impossible, just almost unheard of.
Organising CDs, DVDs, Spotify lists or iTunes playlists
My CDs are arranged by genre and sub-genre, not alphabetically by artist or album title. I love music. All sorts of music. It makes sense to me to arrange similar music together. Record stores do that too. Do record stores have OCD? No. They want to make it easy to find the music that people are looking for. I am no different in that respect. Creating playlists in Spotify or iTunes is a bit of fun music geekery, nothing more, no matter how seriously you take it.
I do have an OCD thing associated with CDs and DVDs – when the disc goes back in the case, the writing on it has to be lined up at 90° to the long side of the case. I have in the past checked CDs endlessly in case the disc had managed to become misaligned in the case. This caused me significant anxiety and pointlessly wasted many hours.
Writing lecture notes very neatly
I wish I had a pound for every tweet I’ve seen along the lines of, “Just finished my study notes. Four different colours of pen and three different colours of post-it notes. I’m soooooo #OCD LOL!” It’s almost exclusively girls who do this. Girls love stationery. Girls often love colourful study notes. These girls mostly don’t have OCD.
There is however a type of checking based OCD which is associated with writing things down, including writing study notes. The writing has to be perfect, correct, contain no errors and contain nothing accidental like a written down insult to the person who would be reading the piece of writing bignose. If there is a single error, the page must be destroyed and started from scratch. …Oh God! I accidentally just typed bignose into this blog post. Now Bignose will realise that I think they’ve got a big nose. Funny, isn’t it? But what if you’re worried you’ve called your boss a lazy motherfucker in an email you’ve just sent? Not so funny. Imagine that for every single piece of writing, speech or hand gesture you ever do. I will read this blog post through thoroughly at least 10 times* before posting it, just to be sure. In the past I would have reread it for hours, in a sustained state of panic and anxiety. Bignose.
*12 times before publishing, to be exact. No doubt several more times after publishing. (24 times, edited or corrected 10 times)
The Amazing True Facts Twitter accounts love this factoid: “Grammar pedantry is a type of OCD”. Their wrong. …There wrong. …They’re wrong. Being anally retentive about the use of language is not OCD. It’s pedantry. I am a creative director. I amend copy because it’s part of my job, not because I believe a family member will die horribly if I don’t.
Having the TV remote volume at an even number
I have pondered about this one. It is such a common thing to have the #OCD hashtag attached and it is ALWAYS “my TV volume must be an even number LOL #OCD”. This mystifies me. I have actual OCD and my volume controls are always set at 23 for the digital channel receiver and between 15-17 for the TV volume itself. I have also had a lifelong compulsion associated with multiples of five, but this has no link at all to TV volume numbers. Do people maybe just generally prefer even numbers?
EDIT: A friend of mine has since sent me this article, which seems to answer the even numbers question:
Wired Magazine – Even Numbers – click here
Preferring a certain number of followers or likes on a social media platform
This again seems to be an even numbers thing, sometimes a multiples of ten thing. People like nice, round numbers apparently. It’s a quirk and seemingly quite a common one. Common quirks of human nature which aren’t linked to anxiety and obsessive thoughts of impending catastrophe aren’t OCD.
Filling your car up with fuel and wanting to get either the cost or volume to be a whole number
Facebook and Twitter love this one. Again and again and again. MAJOR OCD DILEMMA! This sale:$39.99 10.0000000 gallons? What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!!!!! Simple. You pay your $39.99 and leave, doofus. It wasn’t even funny the first time I saw it, but some shit jokes just keep coming back, like herpes.
*EDIT 26/9/15: I have at last encountered one person with actual diagnosed OCD who suffers significant real anxiety if the numbers don’t conform to a certain pattern or order. So it’s not 100% urban legend, just 99.99999999%. Thankfully, this figure causes me no anxiety.
Getting rid of notifications like Snapchat or email on your phone.
This one isn’t straightforward. Sometimes, as with tweets about Snapchat, people go through posts without looking at them, just to get rid of the notifications. Snapchat sounds dull.
There is, however, a type of anxiety caused by mobile phone notifications: emails, texts, missed calls, Twitter notifications, Facebook notifications, calendar alerts, mindfulness practice reminders, Instagram, Pinterest… the list is endless. All of these inescapable things, each demanding our immediate attention with their own distinctive alert sound. People can’t escape, because the little rectangular God who must be obeyed is always at hand. I’m typing this sentence on one. People feel obliged to answer the call, reply to the text, like the 63 photos on Facebook of their workmate’s ugly baby. It causes genuine anxiety and stress. But it’s not OCD.
A person with OCD would have to answer the call in case the caller was in a crashed car sinking into deep water. What if I didn’t answer and the person drowned? What if? What if? WHAT iF? This is OCD hyper-responsibility thinking.
Arranging the apps on your phone by colour
You’ve got too much time on your hands, you like pretty colours and you’re bored. Awwwwwwww, ain’t that home screen purdy? This is very unlikely to be because of OCD, unless there are intrusive thoughts and anxiety attached. I arrange my apps by function, such as health apps, utilities, photo apps, music apps. They are arranged for ease of access to the most used apps. This also has nothing to do with OCD. I’m just organised …and occasionally have too much time on my hands. …Ermmmm…
Putting all of your cooking ingredients in bowls before preparing a recipe.
You are a pretentious foodie arsehole, with a dishwasher, who is trying to emulate the chefs on TV. You do not have OCD, or if you do, that’s just a coincidence. I love cooking and preparing ingredients, but it’s utter stupidity to make things more complicated than they need to be. My food hygiene routine is rather extreme though. That’ll be the contamination OCD.
Arranging prepared food on a plate
Arranging food in some sort of order on a plate doesn’t require OCD. It also doesn’t make you Raymond Blanc. Ironically, many of the photos of plates of arranged food with an accompanying #OCD hashtag are laughably sloppy. As Raymond would say, “Oh lalaaaa! OCD? Je crois que non.”
Having your bedding properly folded and arranged.
This can be an indicator of OCD if there is anxiety associated with things not being “correct and just right” and an excessive amount of time and attention are spent adjusting and redoing. A person with OCD for whom this is an issue doesn’t enjoy doing this at all. The bedroom door angle, curtains and other items in the room would likely also have to be “just so and correct” before they could let down their guard slightly and get into bed.
Picking out and arranging your clothes in advance of an event
What would have happened if you hadn’t sorted your clothes in advance? That’s the crucial question. If you answer with, “it wouldn’t have given me time to buy matching shoes” or something similar, you’re just very organised. If you answer something like, “it has to be the right outfit or very bad things might happen” then that sounds like OCD thinking.
Using a diary or planner to plan your itinerary precisely
How much anxiety would you experience if you lost your planner? There’s that word again. Anxiety. It’s a central element of suffering OCD. Not worry. Debilitating, crippling anxiety. Focussed anxiety, not general anxiety. What would you envisage happening? Would it be the slight annoyance of having to buy a new planner or restore your diary from a computer backup? Or is it that you’ll forget a meeting and instead of meeting you, your colleague will get knocked down crossing the road, just because you lost your organiser, you selfish, careless, catastrophe causing evildoer?
Packing a suitcase efficiently
So, you’ve folded everything precisely and your suitcase is a picture of neatness and order. You’re so proud of your packing, you’ve tweeted a photo of it. Meanwhile, a person with real OCD might pack and repack dozens of times more, with no sense of satisfaction.
This is a quote from somebody I know who has OCD: “We’re off to a music festival this morning. So far, all I’ve packed is a pair of glittery cat ears and a biography of Kate Bush. Sorted.” OCD people can be normal, even daft too sometimes.
Decorating a Christmas tree well
For two weeks, from the end of November, every single year, this one crops up with the #OCD hashtag attached. In the last couple of years, even a few celebrities have talked about being OCD with their Christmas decorations. This is utter utter bollocks. They are proud of their Christmas tree, are a little anally retentive and like to decorate.
I take three full days to put up my Christmas tree. I have beautiful, traditional decorations, which I have collected since I was 11. It is decorated with military precision and anyone who sees it gasps at its beauty. Yes really. It causes me a lot of genuine stress until it is finally perfect. But that’s still not OCD.
Being a stickler for punctuality
People with OCD don’t like to be late. Unfortunately, because of the necessity of carrying out compulsions, they are also often late. They berate themselves for being weak and giving in to the compulsions, which they often are aware of as being nonsensical. But it happens again and again, because the OCD is in control. Someone who is always punctual isn’t carrying out endless OCD rituals to make them late.
A supermarket shelf stacker arranging packs, bottles or cans neatly
They’re doing their minimum wage job to the best of their ability. Good on them for taking pride in their work. It’s sad that a job well done is so noteworthy these days that it deserves a post on Instagram or Twitter, but it’s not OCD.
I’ve tried to be lighthearted and objective about this blog post. If someone has sent you a link to it because you’ve posted one of the memes listed, I hope it has made you think a little.
If you believe you may indeed have OCD, please contact your local doctor or look for information and advice on the following websites:
International OCD Federation