Reducing Stigma and Standing up for the Truth–Even When It’s Hard

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I recently wrote a piece for B Stigma-Free, a great new initiative that aims to–you guessed it–reduce stigma. Oftentimes I feel like I’m preaching to the choir when I write about how important mental health awareness is, and it’s in my day-to-day interactions with acquaintances and co-workers when I feel less confident in spreading the truth about what OCD is. Sometimes etiquette gets in the way of me correcting someone’s misconception about OCD, and sometimes I still worry that if I tell people about my own embarrassing obsessions they’ll judge me.

How do you deal with it when you tell someone you have OCD and they respond with a casual remark, like “I have that, too. My kitchen always has to be scrubbed clean!” Do you nod and smile? Do you explain that the person probably doesn’t have OCD, at least not based on that particular “symptom”?

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3 responses »

  1. As someone who frequents an OCA group, I have found it a very positive experience. I take my OCD thoughts to them. Outside of this group few people understand what OCD is (my wife does for the most part). Most associate OCD with the compulsive aspect, like the desire to keep things clean or to wash one’s hands, pray a lot, etc… Most people do not get the obsessive part that causes the compulsion. I try to tell people that it is more like a phobia and the compulsion is a type of avoidance. Phobias seem to illustrate the fear aspect that OCD sufferers have. While this analogy doesn’t explain OCD completely I think it is pretty helpful. So someone suffering from a Pure-O, could say they have a phobia of certain themed thoughts that cause them distress. I have found that people who don’t have it do not understand it fully. Many therapists who treat anxiety disorders do not understand OCD (an unfortunate reality when one begins searching for treatment), so it might be asking too much of the average Jane/Joe as well.

    • What I’ve found most interesting–and kind of baffling–is when someone reads an article I’ve written, or attended a book reading, and still says something like “I’m really particular about how I fold my towels, I know how you feel.” I understand that people can’t quite grasp what OCD really is, but I guess I hope that once I’ve explained it in more depth that it would become clearer. A fellow OCD-er may describe it best when she says, “If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not OCD.”

      • What’s interesting about OCD is that it seems to involve a particular circuit in the brain. Studies in animals have shown that the grooming ritual if started, must be completed.
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2853748/
        So the biological response is there and can be induced. For some reason, it strikes me as a possible way for someone who has no experience with OCD to understand the science part of it at least. We as humans may have many of these subroutines. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to understand that the brain is then co-opted by anxiety. The psychological/emotional pain is definitely what sets OCD apart from quirks, tendencies and preferences.

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