Dear ‘The Media’,
We need to talk about OCD.
Recently I have seen more and more TV shows on the topic of OCD. This has been exciting in one sense; prior to these past few years, very little has ever been out there on this anxiety disorder. And because of that, I spent a big part of my life when I was growing up feeling weird, isolated and unnatural. However, with that being said, I still think you have such a long way to go in portraying what OCD is and can mean to those with the diagnosis.
OCD is often portrayed in the media as having a nasty thought and needing to carry a ritual out as a result. And yes, this is part of it. So sometimes, I will experience an intrusive thought about something bad happening in my life, about something horrifically life changing which will lead to the urge of tapping my personal belongings or rearranging things an even number of times until it feels “just right”. This is what I have been seeing in the media. But to that I ask you: how are you representing what’s happening on the inside?
The thoughts that OCD churns out can be utterly agonising and impossible to ignore. I would say that for me personally, the obsessive thoughts, worries and images in my mind are so much worse than the rituals. Of course, you can get stuck doing the same ritual over and over but did you know that you can get stuck in your mind too?
Sometimes I doubt that you do.
It almost feels like those making TV shows/documentaries now feel that this is what OCD is all about: ritualistic behaviour. I feel like you think you’ve sussed it out and now this representation is the one that is consistently put out there. Instead of asking people to carry out rituals for the camera, have you ever thought that asking open ended, interested questions to get the person to talk about their experiences might uncover more unknowns?
You have no idea how much of this anxiety disorder is locked inside.
I can spend hours with the same horrid thought stuck in my mind that no ritual can ease. If I’m trying hard that day not to carry out rituals, because this is what I’ve been taught to do by society and psychotherapists, I can spend hours and hours going backwards and forwards in my mind:
“Should I tap that item or not? I’m not supposed to. But I feel so anxious. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. Will it make it better or worse? Can it really help?
I don’t know what to do.”
OCD is diverse in the same way that this concept exists in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation etc; each person who has a diagnosis of OCD is different to the next, something I think you are missing the mark on. Some people’s OCD may revolve around lots of different intrusive thoughts, some may have one specific thing. Maybe some people with the diagnosis don’t even experience the urge to carry out a ritual! Maybe others are locked inside their mind. Everybody’s worries and intrusive thoughts will revolve around different things, there is no one size fits all.
Just because we have been branded with the diagnosis of ‘OCD’ doesn’t mean that everyone in this population shows the same traits.
I fear that if OCD, this complex and intricate disorder, is persistently shown in one specific light, it will only continue to be widely misunderstood by the general population. You have worked hard to challenge the misconception that OCD is merely about cleanliness or perfectionism so let’s do the same now. Let’s challenge the idea that rituals are all that defines OCD. Let’s focus on the inside and listen to what people have to say.
I’m sure you have the best intentions at heart but there’s always room for improvement. There’s no time like the present.
Beth @ Me, Myself & Mental Health.