OTCD: Obsessed With Trivialising Compulsive Disorder

17/06/2016 15:08 | Updated 17 June 2016

Some may argue this acronym is a little OTD; the rest, however, are too busy tweeting about how their friend is "a little OCD. Lol."

I can empathise. I'm a little OCD, a tad anxious and a bit anorexic; I starved myself for two hours, before eating symmetrical carrot sticks. Oh, I'm also a little bit diabetic. I give an insulin shot now and then, but nothing serious.

In a trivialised list of my own health conditions, one particular statement stands out. My claim over diabetes is no more shocking than that of anorexia, or OCD. However, it differs in that it doesn't exist; neither does "a little heart diseased" or "I'm so cancer". In modern day society, physical health isn't an adjective.

For OCD, it is a very different story. It is the cutesy character quirk in sitcoms and a default synonym for neat-freaks. Search "OCD" on twitter, and you are inundated with the "so OCD" adjective. As an assessment, I responded to the first three tweets I saw on the tag. All of them presented a stereotyped view of OCD, but one exchange stood out:

If only a "day off" existed in mental illness. Perhaps, in this world, it would not account for 25% of deaths each year. According to the World Health Organisation, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is one of the top 10 most debilitating illnesses; yet in a list of the 'top 10 most trivialised', where sufferers qualify for an OCD vacation, it would be a strong contender for first.

The situation has not been helped by the comments of public figures. Katy Perry has "OCD on tour. If there is broken makeup in my purse I freak out," while Naomi Cambell is "too OCD to trash a hotel room." Last November, on ITV's Good Morning Britain, Ultimo creator Michelle Mone claimed: 'It [OCD] can prove really useful in business. It makes you really organised. So I love having OCD.' She was criticised for her comments, but they typify the misguided beliefs of society.

The celebration of OCD is epitomised by Channel 4's Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners. Now on its seventh series, the show effectively endorses a compulsion for cleanliness, with little regard for the devastating reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Compulsions, in isolation, create the mythical "so OCD". They are generalised by the continual sound of a hoover, or 'perfectly' aligned coca cola cans. What it fails to acknowledge is the cause. Sufferers of OCD do not gain pleasure from rituals. They do not have a Monica Gellar love of cleaning. The compulsions only secure momentary relief from intrusive thoughts. The obsessions are triggers target your mind, never hearing your plea for a ceasefire. Does Katy Perry create a bulletproof case for her makeup, because she fears one spillage will cause her to fall on stage? Has Michelle Mone ever blamed low sales on the messiness of a single cupboard?

Fortunately, more individuals are now speaking out on the realities of OCD into public consciousness. Lea Dunham's won praise for her depiction of the illness in Girls, showing a sensitivity that the television industry should learn from. In an interview with the BBC, writer and model Lily Baily discusses her overwhelming fear of harming others, while Archie Lamb's illness left him unable leave the house. The "secret illness" project gives a voice for those with OCD, "while bloggers such as Ellen White and Katie Simon Phillips have challenged the trivialised depiction of the illness.

For many, OCD is more debilitating than I could ever imagine. It can leave people housebound, isolated and, in some cases, cost lives. Nonetheless, my own experience does highlight the danger of the stereotype. In short, I'm not a particularly tidy person - just ask my sister. Misguidedly, I associated OCD with cleanliness and repetitive behaviours alone, echoing the misrepresentation in society. I was guilty of this; in turn, I was also left in the dark about my own mental health. OCD is a complex illness.

As I type, loose strands of knitting wool surround me and my mug sits on a marked coffee coaster. Yet as I pick up the mug, I will do so with two hands. Earlier this year, when I was receiving inpatient treatment for anorexia, it wasn't the food that reduced me to tears one mealtime. It was sensation of heat running through only one of my hands. I envisioned the whole left side of my body burning. In my mind, I was contaminated and unbalanced.

This intrusive thought of contamination soon triggered a compulsion to scratch my skin. It was not deliberate self-harm, but the only way I found momentary respite from the storm in my mind. It doesn't bring pleasure. My arms hurt for days after and I wore long sleeved tops during the latest heatwave. Through numerous coping strategies, which have included stress balls and dressings over my arm, I have learnt to manage it better. Other areas are more difficult to address.

Coffee cups aside, my need to have balance can turn a hundred-metre stretch of paving stones into a minefield. For as long as I can remember, my feet cannot touch the lines. My legs will unnaturally stretch that little bit farther, or awkwardly shuffle in order to reach the next 'safe' slab. Balance; it can turn the most innocent of shopping trips into a constant anxiety-trip. Only yesterday, a simple knock of my left foot saw me hide in a coffee shop an hour later. From holding a shopping bag in one hand, to picking up clothes in Zara and those delightful pavements, I needed to stop. The thoughts didn't stop.

Yet it was only this year, during treatment, that OCD was identified. After confronting the exhaustive list of eating disorder behaviours, I saw how much of my day was tied to these scripts I didn't write. Lines that could be traced back to my diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, at the age of 7. When I give my insulin injections, they last six seconds. No more, no less, or I panic the insulin will fail to deliver.

One of the initial catalysts for my eating disorder was a pervading fear of high blood sugars. I change my clothes multiple times because I feel dirty inside. The cause? My blood sugar was in double figures, or it ended in an odd number. The urge to scratch my skin is also intensified by higher readings. While tweeters take their OCD vacations, I counting down the hours until my next test predicting extreme hyperglycaemia; no distraction can alleviate this fear.

I am currently working with my CPN on ERP therapy. It sounds quite technical, but the philosophy is simple: Exposure. Staying in the outfit I put on that morning, or listening to my voicemail. It is a proven treatment for OCD, but often distressing in practice.

To the makers of the slogan, "I have CDO. It's like OCD but in alphabetical order. AS IT SHOULD BE," I hope you never know the reality of mental illness; the storm that strikes you unawares, when you are miles from shelter. Next time you call someone "so OCD", reconsider your choice of words. If you do believe mental illness can take a day off, I would love to know the name of your employer. Until then, please stop before trivialising mental illness. It is a twenty-four hour antagonist, not an adjective.