What it’s really like to have obsessive-compulsive disorder

No, wanting a tidy desk doesn’t mean you have OCD

OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) seems to have developed a whole new meaning over time, to the point where it’s not uncommon to hear someone casually use it as an adjective to describe themselves. Coming from experience, it’s pretty awkward having to stare at my feet trying not to whack the boy that’s just told me he’s “sooo OCD” because he always puts milk in before water when making a cup of tea.

The ‘OCD Stereotype’

When people think of OCD, they often imagine a spotlessly clean room: everything is in order from their highlighter pens to their colour-coordinated wardrobe. They don’t imagine the mental breakdowns or the tears, just the neat stack of books organised in alphabetical order. It becomes a statement on organisation: “OMG Jenna is so OCD. Did you see her handwriting? It’s so neat.”


I’ve been told I ‘don’t look like I have OCD’, whatever that means

Wait, so what actually is OCD?

OCD can be pretty crippling, it’s much less “I like a tidy bedroom” and a lot more “If I don’t tap the wall 64 times someone will die”. Sounds pretty scary right? That’s because it kind of is. I’ve been told frequently that I can’t have OCD because I’m not a tidy person. The truth is OCD is such a massive spectrum of things and no matter what the compulsion it can be really debilitating.

Obviously some people’s compulsions may centre around keeping things clean and tidy but it can be so much more than that. Personally my OCD comes in two forms: patterns and obsessing over situations.


Okay, so my pens are definitely in colour order. In that respect, I fit the stereotype. Rainbow colour order if we’re being precise (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, we all remember that one) but there’s more to it than that. Multiples of four are a must for me. If I’m stressed and start tapping my foot, I cannot physically stop unless it feels right. I may do it four times, I may do it 120 times, all I know is that if it doesn’t feel right the panic sets in and that’s a pretty scary feeling.

My best friend (right) has suffered through thousands of long distance stressed out phone calls but we can still enjoy a good night out

For my A-Level revision, I was so stressed and panicked that I’d convinced myself if my notes weren’t colour-coordinated I wouldn’t get into uni. Cue daily emotional breakdowns.

The problem with how a lot of people misuse the term OCD is most people need to learn the difference between a preference and a medical condition. Liking your pens in order and having a mental break-down because some nightmare of a human thinks it’s funny to keep moving your blue pen are two very different things.


Situations are possibly my most frequent obsession. I worry about a trip to the pub with the lads and ladettes in case something I say makes them hate me forever. It isn’t being a little scared of embarrassing yourself, it’s being terrified every time you speak that people will disown you as a friend – highly unlikely but you can never relax enough to know.

So how do you ‘deal’ with someone with OCD?

My first tip is don’t say “deal with”, it makes us feel like a burden. I feel like I’m a trouble-maker back in school whenever I hear that phrase. The trick is to not deal with it but let us do our thing. It may be super annoying to listen to someone knocking on wood for 20 minutes but I can guarantee it’s way more annoying for us to have to do it. If we really do need help, a cuddle and a cup of tea go further than you’d think.


Hugs go a long way in my book

Don’t get me wrong, people can be amazing and understanding when it comes to OCD. I have friends who will sit there and let me re-do my essay plan 12 times (there’s that multiples of four compulsion again!), even though it means leaving the library an hour later than planned.

Seeing the funny side

Some people like to make jokes about their OCD  and that’s okay. My parents make fun of my weird compulsions all the time. The thing is, my parents can make fun of me because I know as soon as things hit the scary stage they’re right there calming me down and doing everything in the world to make my life easier. What’s not OK is making fun of something you don’t understand. My family may not have reached the end of the line on the “OCD understanding train” but they’re pretty close. The trick is to find the balance between making light of a situation and being serious – most of the time people will let you know what’s okay for them.


Knowing I would stress out about my AS results, my Dad thought he’d help by giving me hourly updates

BUT if there’s one thing we pretty much all hate, it’s people saying they have OCD when they don’t. So let’s make a resolution to stop using mental illness as a descriptive for the benefit of the people who really can’t handle tablets being taken from different sides of the packet.