I don't want to sit here and act like I am sort of expert in recovery and all things in mental health. I am just your average Joe or in this case Josephine, who is sharing their experience of recovering from an eating disorder. Like many who suffer with anorexia, I don't feel like I "deserve" this title, I continue to argue with myself that I am not anorexic. The word burns in my brain day after day, I remember for so long I couldn't even speak the word or associate myself with it, but more on that on a later date.
Something which has been on my mind recently is the popularisation of OCD. OCD, which many of you know stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, has become more "popular" in the media, such as programs called Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners on Channel 4. While I am pleased that such a serious mental health issue is being recognised and awareness is being build in the general population, I worry about many people having the wrong understanding of what OCD is and sometimes flitter the word around in every day conversation without much thought. How many times have you heard, or even said the phrase, "I am so OCD". This is not to publically shame anyone, but hopefully re-educate some people to truly understand what the illness is around.
Some people refer to any form of routine or "quirk" as OCD, such as the way you like to write lists or need to double check that the car door is locked. However being organised does not make you OCD, neither does being clean or double checking things. I am not going to go into the symptoms or diagnostic criteria of OCD, but to be diagnosed with OCD you need to be obsessing about your behaviour for at least an hour a day, everyday.
And yes it does annoy me that this picture spells colour without the U, but this does not make me OCD!
However, if you do want to learn more about OCD, I would highly recommend reading the book "Am I normal yet?" by Holy Bourne. This is a truly amazing fictional story of a girl's experience of suffering and living with OCD; while trying to lead a normal teenage life; which I think we can all agree is hard transition as it is!
So why am I writing about this? People's frequent comments about their "OCD quirks" really grates on me. OCD is highly associated with other mental health issues, including eating disorders. However, please note that a symptom of low weight and malnutrition can cause obsessive behaviour (check out the Minnesota Starvation Study for more information). At both a low and health weight I have suffered with symptoms of obsessive behaviour, do I consider myself to have OCD? No. I do not think that it is fair to say that I have OCD to the people who are genuinely suffering from this mental health illness. Having routines and "quirks" does not mean you have OCD. Like with an eating disorder, weight and behaviours are symptoms rather than the problem itself. Being skinny does not mean you have anorexia and being a healthy weight does not mean you cannot suffer from an eating disorder.
Having a mental health problem means it interrupts with your daily activities and your ability to function in every day life. This will obviously vary in severity for different people, but does not make it any less serious (note to self, please look above at said belief about not having anorexia!).
My obsessive behaviour is closely linked to my eating disorder, but it does go wider than that. I will not go into specifics with regards to my eating disorder obsessions as I do not want to trigger anyone or give anyone ideas. I know that when another person with the illness says they do or think one way, I sometimes think well why don't I do that? Am I not ill enough because I don't do those behaviours? Anorexia is a competitive illness and it thrives on comparison.
However, my obsessive behaviour extends further than my eating disorder, I also have an issue with cleaning the house. Countless professionals have asked me "well how much time do you spend cleaning the house?". For me it is not about the number of hours I spend doing it, this can range from 10 minutest to hours, it is the anxiety which comes with it. It is cleaning before leaving the house for work, it is spending all day ruminating about what I need to clean and how I am going to clean it all day long, it is running out of work as soon as the time hits 5 pm because I need to go home and clean or refusing the invitations for social activities because I must go home and clean. Again I repeat, do I have OCD? No, but I do suffer with obsessive behaviour. I feel I have a slight insight to how someone with OCD may feel, if it impacts me on this level, I cant even imagine what someone with OCD goes through.
It is the overpowering compulsion of the behaviour which takes over their lives, in the same way as eating disorders. Many suffers say they feel controlled and have no choice but to do this behaviour, there is no sense of relief or accomplishment with finishing a task. Sounds extremely familiar to an eating disorder right? To say to someone with OCD "just stop cleaning", it is like saying to someone with an eating disorder "just learn to eat properly".
So next time you hear or say the phrase "I am SO OCD", take moment ad think about what this really means.
I know this issues extends to other mental health problems such as "I am so depressed today" and "feeling a bit schizo at the moment". I have to say I am guilty of this too, I am not proud of this behaviour, but I want to acknowledge and change tis.
I understand on the one hand it is about not taking life too seriously and having to watch every little word or sentence that you say, but where do we draw the line?