Growing as a person

I have been encouraged and inspired by my wife’s gardening, my kids at school gardening club and by the gardening tweets of @OCDTrudy to try a bit of gardening myself. 

I am not a natural gardener. I have in the past struggled to even remember to keep house plants alive. But I have had little glimmers of green fingered tendencies through the years. Aged 10, I once broke a twig off a privet bush. I felt so guilty that I “planted” the twig in my front garden and nurtured it into a small privet bush. 

In adulthood, my attempts at gardening have involved planting nasturtium seeds and the occasional winter pansy plant. Not nothing, but nearly nothing, in gardening terms. In the last few years, I didn’t venture much into the garden at all. My wife has always been the gardener of the household. I stared through the conservatory window, like a prisoner looking over the prison wall at the greenery outside. 

I absolutely love being outdoors and I love seeing the beauty of plants, trees and flowers. But my fear of failure prevented me from trying to garden. I had myself convinced that I am the grim reaper of plants, my toxic presence extinguishing the life from them. Me plus plants equalled dead plants. 

As part of mindfulness practice, I have become more heedful of the changes in nature and the seasons. It has helped me gain a more cyclical view of time, rather than a linear one which sees death and darkness as the endpoint of each year. 

I have seen that nature merely draws breath, waiting for the year to turn. It doesn’t die. It rests. Regroups. Waits patiently for the return of the sun. 

So, rather too late last year, at the end of May, I sowed wild flower seeds and waited. Waited and watched. Watched and waited. Nothing. The grim reaper of plants had struck again. I had failed. This was a big deal. I don’t fail. If I think I might fail at a thing, I either don’t do it at all or I go to extraordinary lengths to succeed to an exceptional degree. Succeed or don’t do the thing at all. There is no try and maybe fail. Failure doesn’t happen to me. But last Summer it did. 


I did a thing that totally failed. I had to face up to failing at something. Failing spectacularly at something that I had in truth expected to fail at and I had been proven right. Why had I done this to myself. I do not permit myself to fail. And yet, I had knowingly failed. Had I deliberately self sabotaged? This didn’t sit well with me. But I had also set myself an objective of learning to fail. Learning to know what failure feels like. Learning to cope with failure, accepting it as a possible outcome and learning something from having failed. I needed to learn that failing sometimes is OK. This might sound like a rudimentary life skill, but it’s one I’m still trying to learn. 

So, what happened next? Did I give up?

No. I took stock of what I hadn’t done correctly. I read some of the lovely gardening books I had bought for my wife over the years. I started to ask my wife lots of annoying questions as she was gardening. I learned and I began to plan. 

What needed to be done when?

In my incredibly task driven mind, I was drawing up a plan of attack on the garden. I started to schedule task alerts into my computer/phone diary. I do this with everything. I could tell you the weekend that I will put up my Christmas tree in 2023. Yes really. 

I was also looking at other people’s gardens, parks and National Trust gardens to see what I liked and didn’t like. Taking photos. Remembering names. Looking things up when I got home again. Working out what was within my very limited skill set and what was too ambitious for a keen beginner. 

I was giving myself a chance to succeed a little more at the second attempt. Some of my forays into pruning and planting last Autumn were supervised by my wife. Other, wider family responsibilities for my wife however, mean that a lot more of my activity has been unsupervised. Oh dear. Yes, I have killed a few plants, but much fewer than anticipated. 

I have enthusiastically continued to plant, sow, trim, prune and fertilise according to the increasingly busy schedule programmed into my phone. These are experimental times for me. As mid March approaches, only a few of the bushes I have planted are showing signs of buds and leaves. But I am also learning patience. Every morning, I pootle round our little back garden and tiny front garden noticing the infinitesimal changes in things. Sometimes I haven’t a clue whether these are good changes or bad – they’re mostly good. There always is some tiny change to look at. Since regrouping my gardening mindset last Autumn, tiny changes have kept me going.

So, as Spring approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, I have to reign in my natural impatience and instead notice a leaf here, a flower there, an occasional shoot emerging. 

Will I succeed this year? Only time will reveal the answer. I am hopeful, but I know that it is a learning process. Not everything will work, but that’s OK. Partial failure is OK, because that means partial success too. I am learning how to fail. I am also learning how to succeed in a meaningful way. Given the number of seeds I have sown and bulbs I have planted, if only 20% of them grow, the garden will still be a riot of colour, mostly orange and blue, in the months to come. 

And next year will be better, not because it has to be at all costs in order to beat my previous best attempt, but because the grim reaper of plants has swapped his scythe for secateurs and success for happiness. Well, I’m trying to. 


The voice of mental illness

This isn’t a blog post about “hearing voices”, in the sense of auditory hallucinations. It is about the tone of voice and phraseology of the thoughts that accompany mental illnesses. For me, each of my mental health conditions has a consistent and recognisable voice. When I have a thought, I can now recognise which condition is doing the talking, or if the thought is of my own creation. Being able to do this is a fundamental part of the toolkit of recovery. 

So how do the conditions sound to me?

OCD: The voice of OCD is insidious, like a snake’s hiss. That should be a massive warning klaxon to the mind, but the mind doesn’t hear the hiss, just the words. 

The OCD whispers that it’s our friend and protector. It puts a reassuring arm round our shoulder, steering us where it wants us to go. And we go. Like someone vulnerable, groomed and coherced by a creepy family friend. 

The voice of OCD is persuasive. Plausible. Believable. No matter how ridiculous the idea is that it whispers to the mind. We know that it’s whispering nonsense. We’re sure that it’s whispering nonsense. But… there’s a sliver of doubt. I’d best do what OCD wants me to do, just in case…

Aaaaaand it’s got us. Hook, line and sinker. Again. No matter how many times we’ve been caught before. 

Then there’s the OCD trigger voice. Like an opera soprano with her hand caught in a car door. Strident. Loud above all else. Screaming the panic into you to take action now. Immediately! If you don’t, the very worst is definitely going to happen. ACT NOW! Carry out the compulsion to avoid certain disaster! Do it before it’s too late! She keeps wailing, drowning everything else out. 

So eventually you do the compulsion. The trapped-handed soprano stops screaming. The panic drops. A tiny moment of calm, maybe even relief. But then the whispering voice starts again. What if you didn’t do the compulsion correctly? What if disaster hasn’t been averted, merely delayed? What if? What if? What if? And before you know it, the careless soprano has her hand trapped in the car door again. 

Doubt is OCD’s weapon. It doesn’t even have to be reasonable doubt, in the legal sense. A single, tiny, poisonous sliver of doubt is enough to pierce the mind and embed the toxin once again. 

OCD is a one trick pony. Sure, it has infinite variations on a theme, but it always plays the same tune. Recognising the lyrics and disbelieving them is the start of putting the hissing serpent back into its basket, with the lid shut tight.


OCPD: If Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder was a person, it would be a US marines drill sergeant. An uncompromising bully for which nothing is ever good enough. Ever. A harrying voice which pushes ever forward. 

The voice goads you to do better, always better. The last success was a fleeting thing, to be improved upon. Never worthy of congratulation, only introspection and analysis of how it could have been done better, how the next thing must be done better. 

Each task is a competition with your previous self. The OCPD says that Old Self was weak. Imperfect. Flawed. Unacceptable. Not good enough. New Self must be better. No excuses. No mercy. Everything is a task. Perfection is the goal. Anything less than perfection is failure, no matter how close it came. Do the task, meet the deadline, be perfect, don’t show weakness, don’t hesitate, don’t slow down, don’t draw breath. Keep the juggernaut rolling forwards, ever forwards. Failure is not an option. 

The voice of OCPD is an absolute bastard. Absolute in its true sense. All or nothing, black or white, win or lose. No room for grey. No room for error. No room for weakness. OCPD is an utter asshole. A shouty, demanding asshole. And sadly, that’s what the sufferer can become in turn. A task driven, order obsessed, singleminded, inflexible, perfectionist asshole. The inner bully begets the outer asshole. 

It’s stressful being that protégé asshole. Exhausting. Lonely. It gets results. Success. But what is all the success in the world worth, if it requires being whipped through life by an asshole in your mind?


Depression: Of all the mental health conditions I have experienced, depression is by far the most deliberately harmful and destructive. It is just as much a parasite as the other conditions, but seems Hell bent on destroying both its host and itself in turn. 

The voice of depression is mean, evil, remorseless. There is no pretence. It wants to do you down. Its vocabulary is scathing: “Pathetic. Failure. Carcass. Dead man walking. Waste of breath. Waste of a soul. Sad little fat failure. You’re better off dead. You are a liability to this world”. The tone is harsh and sadistic , like a Dickensian villain. 

The voice of depression is internalised death-by-a-thousand-cuts. It eats away at you, like a wasp larva, hollowing its way out of its living host victim. 

I get angry at the voice of depression now. When it spits its bile through its gritted teeth, I shout “FUCK OFF!” back at it, sometimes out loud, if nobody can hear me. Depression is an evil thing, intent on killing. It is my enemy. I will show my enemy no mercy. My family motto is “Cut and burn to victory”. I like to summon a little of that family bloodlust when fighting the voice of depression, cutting it down mid sentence. 

PTSD: For me, PTSD is voiceless. That is to say, it has no voice of its own, only echoes of my voice in memories and flashbacks. 

I can hear the voice of my thoughts as I relive or recall events. “You’re trapped. Cornered. There is no escape. You must hide, fight or die. Don’t show weakness. Don’t fall. If you fall, you’re dead. Stay on your feet. No, stop drop and roll! Roll to cover. Head down. Cover vital organs with limbs. Make yourself small. Invisible. Take the pain. Stay quiet. Take it. The pain will stop eventually. Please let me die a clean death God. A bullet to the head. Instantaneous. Don’t let me be blown up. Half dead. Dying. Gargling. Moaning. Screaming. Run! RUNUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUN! Keep running. Don’t look back. Don’t slow down. Don’t stop. Knife out. Ready to be caught. Ready to defend. Be ready. Be ready. Get home.  Get home. Quietly. Calm your breathing. In shadow. Survive.  Hide. Hide. Hide. In darkness. Silent. Curled. Hide”. 

That is all so fresh in my mind. I can hear myself think it all, because those phrases never went away. The phrases from so many different situations. Some I escaped from, some I couldn’t. 


The worst thing about these voices is that, as for many people who suffer mental illness, there isn’t just the one voice. There is a cacophony of voices from all sides, all the time. Like being trapped in a crammed full lift (elevator), surrounded by people shouting. Some of them constant, never even drawing breath. Others watching for signs of fatigue, weakness, the guard dropping, before joining in the discordant haranguing chorus. All of them heard. Every single word. 

A few moments on the beach or in the woods, with the mind briefly quiet, are blessed respite. 

Picking the perfect tomato 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a blog post about farming, gardening or shopping, but it’s not. It’s about part of my work as a graphic designer.

Sometimes I source stock photography images to use in the work I do – print adverts, packaging, leaflets, brochures and websites. Stock photographs are useful and cost effective for generic images, such as an exotic beach background, an animal or a piece of fruit.

My problem is that when I search for an image, it has to be the best image available. Take, for example, the humble tomato. One of my company’s clients is a manufacturer of horticultural products, so sometimes I need to source stock photos of exemplary flowers, fruits or vegetables, including tomatoes. On a professional stock photo site like iStockphoto or Shutterstock, there are A LOT of photos of tomatoes. When one puts in search terms like “tomato, leaves, plain background” there can be literally thousands of images in the search result. By default, the most popularly bought images are shown first. This means that hundreds, maybe even thousands of other design professionals have already trawled through all the images and chosen what they believe to be the best image of a tomato.

So do I choose an image from page one of the results, pay for it and download it? Of course not. I’m me. The fussiest, most perfectionistic, single minded graphic designer there is. I will disregard the professional judgement of thousands of my peers and insist on looking through most, if not all of, the thousands of images of tomatoes. I generally add several images from the first couple of pages to a “lightbox” (like a possibles list or wish list), look through all the other pages, then return to the lightbox and pick one of the images shortlisted from page one or two.

My peers were right. They often have similar judgement to me. Quelle surprise! I waste time going through all the other images unnecessarily. Time I can’t charge the client for. It’s not a good business practice.

I have recently started to challenge this pointless behaviour. I always have an image in my mind of what I’m looking for. If I find something nearly identical or absolutely spot on, there on the first page of search results, I acknowledge that I have done so and accept that I am highly unlikely to find an image which is incrementally better. This took quite a bit of negotiation with myself the first few times I did it. The doubt lingered with me that I was missing out on the perfect image, even though I had already found what I was looking for.

The quality of the finished designs has not diminished and I’m doing more chargeable work in the same time as before. My ridiculous perfectionism is grudgingly satisfied that I’m not taking lazy shortcuts or cutting corners at the expense of quality. Result! It is possible to change OCPD thinking and behaviour, but it’s by no means easy.

Meanwhile, when shopping for fruit and veg in the supermarket, the search for the perfect tomato continues.

Is that OCD?

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)

Grammar pedantry 

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:


    OCD Action

    International OCD Federation

    Don’t section me!

    SECTIONING, AKA INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT: Involuntary commitment or civil commitment is a legal process through which an individual with symptoms of severe mental illness is court-ordered into treatment in a hospital (inpatient). 

    I have an extreme fear of being sectioned. 

    It is a fear that was instilled into me by my mother. She physically, mentally and sexually abused me until I escaped, aged eleven. Mantras about not going to the authorities were interwoven with the verbal abuse mantras as she beat me and ritually humiliated me. She told me that if I went to the authorities or told an adult what was happening, I would be “locked up in The Home with all the other bad boys who told lies”. “The Home” became a scary place in my imagination. A cross between a prison riot and Frankenstein’s castle. 

    My mother was making sure that her abuse never came to light. With hindsight, I now also believe that she was projecting her own fears of being sectioned, as an unpredictable, violent schizophrenic who always refused to accept her diagnosis and refused all treatment. 

    Even in those days – the late ’70s to early ’80s, it was widely rumoured that physical and sexual abuse were endemic in some care homes, such as the Kincora boys’ home. That was the kind of place where all the bad boys were put and that was what happened to bad boys when they got there. Faced with this, I chose to suffer the devil I knew and also try to deflect abuse away from my sister whenever I could. It was awful, but BEING PUT IN THE HOME appeared a much more awful prospect. 

    I had also seen portrayals of “lunatic asylums” in film and on TV, mostly in horror stories. The staff were always scary; the patients were always scarier. I knew even as a child that I was somehow “different”, but I also realised that I wasn’t like the horror mental patients or my mum. If I sought help for being different, I would be locked up with them. Aged 8, I got a neighbour to bring me to the hospital for “migraines” (true, but being extremely economical with the truth) for which I was prescribed Valium (Diazepam).

    As I grew older, I went to a (Roman Catholic) Christian Brothers Grammar School. I am a Protestant, but it was a school which had a high academic reputation. The Christian Brothers knocked the shit out of us when they felt it was appropriate. There were also a couple of them who liked a bit of creepy touchy-feely at the boys. And this place was where the good boys went?! What the Hell must the place where the bad boys went be like?! To be fair, some of the Brothers and most of the civilian teachers were normal, reasonable people, who taught us well. School was much safer than home. A haven even. I still believe that Father Jack Hackett taught me maths in second year though. 

    In 1983 my dad was admitted voluntarily as an inpatient to a psychiatric ward for depression. Alcohol is a depressant. If you drink enough of it, you become more depressed. I visited him once and only once. The hospital was a Victorian mental hospital – a lunatic asylum – which looked like it hadn’t changed since being built. It was a frightening place. The scary mentals in the horror films were real. I got out as soon as I could, in case the staff realised that I belonged there too. 

    So even though I knew I was “different”, a mental, I never sought help. I feigned normality very successfully and built a life and career. A graceful swan above the water, whose feet were bloodied stumps from frantic paddling out of sight below the water. Plus, at the time, I saw what was in my head (the OCD and OCPD as I now know them to be) as allies, bringing order to the chaos and helping me push ever forward out of the mire. My mind was a disciplined thing; I was not my parents. 

    And thus I rolled on for decades, like a locomotive with momentum, until the wheels started to shake loose in 2006 to 2007. The depression which I had experienced in my childhood and teens had gradually seeped back into me. The OCD was way beyond its usual “normal” level. PTSD was encroaching. Suicidal thoughts were there. I needed help, but I couldn’t ask for help. I had lived with the constant fear of being found out. Outed as abnormal. Publicly humiliated and stigmatised. A failure. Damaged goods. A reject. An untermensch. A fraud who needed to be locked away for the safety of the public. Sectioned. SECTIONED. The villagers with pitchforks and blazing torches would finally surround the monster. 

    Eventually, with the support of my wife, I went to the GP. This was an immense leap of faith, a huge risk for me, but I was desperate and I owed it to my family to do the right thing. I explained what was wrong and then immediately said that I would not submit to inpatient psychiatric care. 

    I had no need to worry. Care in the community, AKA “just prescribe some antidepressants”, meant that I could continue struggling on, hiding in plain sight amongst the “normals”. I hobbled onward for six more years until I hit rock bottom and crisis point. 

    Even when I was in A&E in July 2014, actively suicidal but not wanting to kill myself, one of the first things I said to the crisis team member was “I will not submit to inpatient psychiatric treatment. It would be counterproductive.” At the absolute lowest ebb I was still terrified of being sectioned. Of being locked up in the place where all the bad boys get put. 

    I still feel the same. Despite seeing sympathetic depictions of modern psychiatric inpatient care on TV and in non fiction books, the thought of being institutionalised terrifies me. It’s the ultimate failure. It’s complete surrender of control and mastery of one’s own destiny to someone else. I cannot relinquish control. Inpatient care to me would be a place of containment, confinement, possibly indefinitely. 

    I know it’s beneficial for other people, but I could never submit to it. I am lucky. I have a family who support me in recovery, who suffer my excesses with patience and care, whose love I don’t always feel worthy of. I have a bottomless well of bloodyminded determination to recover and succeed on my own terms. I am recovering. I will not be sectioned.