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When people joke about being “so OCD,” what they mean to say is that they have a preference for something to be ordered specifically, or that they are slightly more neurotic about cleaning their house than what they perceive to be the norm.

This is not what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is.

Tics, the pattern of behaviors that have come to be the identifying trait of someone with OCD, is only one way the disease manifests.

But these are the symptoms, not the problem.

When you are diagnosed with OCD, what you are diagnosed with is a disordered way of thinking. This does not only mean that you feel the need to check whether or not the door is locked four times. It means that you have recurring, compulsive thoughts that you feel you cannot control; thoughts that are so invasive, they end up running your life until you take some form of compulsive action to make them stop.

People with OCD don’t always express it by trying to micro-manage their lives, though that’s a common symptom.

Imagine this:

Think of an irrational fear you’ve had lately.

Your partner doesn’t love you that much.

You’re unsuccessful.

People are laughing at you.

Now keep thinking about it.

Imagine that thought appearing back in your head every day.

Imagine trying so hard to ignore it but it bubbles up no matter where you are – making you feel absolutely miserable.

As time goes on, you start to trust yourself.

By the quantity of sheer exposure, you start to believe that this is true.

So rather than endure it, you start to take action.

You start to “fix” your body, become a rabid over-achiever to prove yourself at work, become paranoid about your relationship, obsess over what people think.

Anything to make yourself feel better about this thought that you can’t let go of.

This is what it’s like to be in the mind of someone with OCD. Sometimes, it manifests as “there are germs every where,” and then a compulsive need to clean until they’re all gone. But that’s not as easily relatable to someone who isn’t paranoid about that. Everyone struggles with their self-worth and concept of “success.” It’s easier to imagine being haunted by that.

The reality is that OCD is disordered cognitive processing, and that can manifest as an inability to let go of difficult situations or ideas, being convinced that invasive thoughts are reality, being more easily traumatized by difficult events, being extremely sensitive to other people’s feelings and responses, and so on.

OCD is not a behavioral disorder, it’s a mental illness that sometimes manifests in disordered behavior. There is a difference, and it’s one that you should think about the next time you joke about being “so OCD.” Not only is it socially tone-deaf, it’s insulting to those whose lives are being ravaged by it.

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