A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with a Basal Cell Carcinoma or BCC as they're often called, in the middle of my back. For those of you that don't know, it's a non-melanoma form of skin cancer and the most common type. If you don't treat BCC's they have the potential to grow bigger and deeper leading to damage to surrounding tissue, cartilage and bone. Depending on where you have them, they can be difficult to treat without leaving some level of disfigurement or scarring. But unlike a melanoma skin cancer, it is very rare for basal cell skin cancer to spread to another part of the body and while there is the increased risk of having another once you've already had one, treatment for a non-melanoma skin cancer is completely successful in approximately 90% of cases.
I was very upset at the time, lost a few too many hours to Google on the subject, but made myself feel better by reminding myself that whilst it wasn't at all nice it was not the 'bad' kind of skin cancer and this one could be treated quite easily, leaving me with a small scar. I have regular checks, I'm extra vigilant, have had a few things removed here and there, but so far nothing more. I didn't really tell many people about it but those that I did tell, I found myself maybe wrongly or naively playing it down and saying to them that it 'wasn't the worst type' and not the 'bad kind.'
I find myself having similar conversations about my OCD and anxiety with non-sufferers.
Take a chat I had with my hairdresser who, I have to say, is one of the most kind-natured people I know.
Me: Well things have been a bit difficult because I've been suffering from OCD actually.
Her: Oh my God!! I'm TOTALLY OCD! I drive me boyfriend mad with it.
Her: Definitely. Like now right, we had an online shop delivered this morning and I really want to get home tonight and rearrange the shopping in the cupboards. I love it. Is that what you're like? Ordering and that?
Me: Erm. Not... really.
What I wanted to tell her was that I couldn't give a flying fig whether the contents of my shelves were organised, at right angles, colour coded or alphabetised. It might matter for some, but for anyone with OCD there would certainly not be any enjoyment in it. To explain mine better would be to tell her that since she told me as I sat down, that they'd had a woman in earlier that day that had been 'up all night with a dodgy tummy', I could literally FEEL the germs on my chair. Through the rising panic, I was busy retracing my steps to check what I had touched on my way from the door to the chair that might have also come into contact with this woman. I wanted to tell her that I have not really been listening to what she has planned for my split ends, as my mind has been desperately making little mental post-its of what I can and can't touch on the way back out of this contaminated germ box. That I would probably have a shower when I got home before touching anything just to be extra sure. That I wished I could hold my breath for the rest of the appointment. But I didn't.
She went on, very sweetly, to suggest it might also help for me to take more time for myself and have a good pamper now and again. I didn't have the heart to tell her that what I have is going to take more than French Tips and a Vajazzle to fix. I knew what she meant though and I've tried it before. Tried to fix the outside to look like my old self in the hope that this would change what was going on, on the inside. And it worked for a bit. I had my hair and spray tan done. Then I just ended up thundering round again like a stressed-out, but albeit well-groomed Oompa-Loopma. All anxious and orange.
We sufferers have a huge part to play in the awareness and understanding of our illnesses.
I know I've probably been guilty of not helping in the past. You see at first, when you're trying to hide your anxieties or compulsive behaviours because you feel ashamed or pressed-on by the weight of the stigma of having a mental illness, you play it down. You make a little joke about it here and there and mask over the reality of the difficulties you're going through. It's far easier to be quirky than crazy. Then as things progress and you begin to learn more, live with it more, become battered and downtrodden by it more, it starts to nark you that people don't get what it really is and what it isn't.
There are some things that are just not OCD. And to be clear, you are not OCD you have OCD.
OCD-UK sum up why perfectly;
People often confuse OCD for pernickety personal quirks of choice or preference but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is far more serious than people realise. The key is in the name and the word Disorder which is defined 'a psychological pattern associated with distress or disability'.
Most people who choose to have set behaviour like having their home tidy or certain order for their CD collection do so out of preference and choice which leads to some form of satisfaction, but which is NOT OCD.
By describing such behaviour as OCD is a subtle way of saying "oh, yeah we all do that, no big deal."
People affected by OCD find their behaviour (the compulsions) dictated through distress caused by the relentless obsessive thoughts and anxiety which frequently leads to periods of disablement, rather than some kind of satisfaction.
So how far am I prepared to go in trying to re-educate people? Maybe one day I'll become a caped crusader. Slowly I'm beginning to do my bit and will continue to do so where possible. For now though, my energy is best spent in trying to overcome it. This is why the work of charities like OCD-UK and OCDAction are so important to raise awareness and challenge these misconceptions, picking up the slack when we're lacking the ability to challenge it more ourselves.
From now on when I'm asked, I'll just start being honest. No jokes, no deflecting, I'll tell them what it really is. 'This one's the bad kind'.
For more information on what OCD IS NOT speak to my hairdresser.