Sorry, It’s Not Your OCD.


Sticks and stones may break my bones… but I think words can hurt just as badly.

I am a firm believer that words have the power to shape a person’s worldview and even to shape the world itself.

Somewhere in between the very personal and the extremely international is my beef with the frivolous use of the term “OCD.”

For some reason, it comes up often in cloth diapering forums:

  • “Is it just my OCD, or is the label on this diaper off centre?”
  • “My OCD is driving me nuts! I’m just missing one colour to complete my rainbow!”
  • “DH just used all the AppleCheeks inserts in the AMP covers and vice versa… I’m freaking out… must be my OCD!”

Big deal, right? It’s just a figure of speech. Well, to me it is a big deal, in the same way I cannot stand adolescents tossing around the expression “that’s so gay” or anyone saying “I just got gypped (or jewed) at the flea market.”

Regardless of if you are gay, a Roma or Jewish, hopefully you recognize that using those expressions is offensive and ignorant.

In my cloth diapering examples above, and everywhere else I see it, when the term “OCD” is bandied about, it’s actually not done so as an insult. It’s used as a catch-all synonym for perfectionism, attention to detail, Type A Personality, need for control, etc. It’s used offhandedly, in self-deprecating statements about a person’s quirkiness.

And it is exactly this casual usage, this “oh aren’t I so silly” message that bothers me.

If you haven’t already guessed, I have battled with the real OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Let me assure you that it is anything but a quirky or silly little problem that has me wanting to line my diapers up in a perfect rainbow.

There are most likely women and men whose OCD symptoms do cause them to want to line their diapers up perfectly: the difference is that it’s not adorable or funny. They’ve possibly wasted hours of their day trying to arrange them “just so” to give them relief from the anxiety they feel, only to find that that relief lasts mere minutes before they need to launch back into the routine.

My own OCD is not something that is visible to your average onlooker. Mine happens mostly in my head. My compulsions involve trying to get my thoughts “just right” and to stop the unwanted thoughts from coming back. My OCD means shame, sadness, fear and desperation.

My OCD has meant missed work, missed opportunities, severe weight loss, countless hours of therapy, medication and a potentially unfathomable amount of internal turmoil and distress to anyone who has never felt what it’s like to feel like you do not own your own mind. In one instance I spent an entire year in the throes of OCD, unable to function at my best, unable to thrive and at times very nearly giving up on myself out of sheer desperation to be rid of the monsters in my mind.

While I am very much recovered from my OCD, it, like my anxiety in general, is something that risks flaring up in stressful situations. I am lucky to have found the right mix of therapy (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Exposure Response Prevention) and medication (SSRIs) to be able to live a life unhindered by my OCD.

When people use the term “OCD” flippantly, I feel like it minimizes what I’ve been through. One of the most significant steps in my recovery was when I became able to tell people that I had OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). People are more or less understanding about GAD, but as soon as I bring up OCD, the reaction is: “Oh ya, me too! I hate when the books on my shelf aren’t in alphabetical order!” Which is kind of like telling someone you have diabetes and having them reply, “Oh ya, I have to watch my sugar intake, too!”

I don’t think anyone using the term OCD offhandedly does so with ill intentions. I think it may be a lack of awareness, or simply the fact that the term is used so frequently to mean “perfectionism” that people don’t think twice about employing it in that sense.

The critical distinction to make is that OCD causes debilitating suffering. While many OCD-sufferers are also perfectionists or people who like to be in control, I can assure you it is not the same thing.

If you think you may be struggling with OCD, I strongly urge you to seek help, and to not be afraid to admit that something is wrong.

And if you don’t actually have OCD, but just derive pleasure from things being neatly arranged or from completing your collection, let’s find another word for it!

Resources that have helped me:

[affiliate links]



14 responses to “Sorry, It’s Not Your OCD.”

  1. Mylène Bélanger

    Nice share, thank you.

  2. Mel

    I appreciate this post. I use the term OCD to describe my quirks because I have no other words for them. I do not do this with ill intentions or to minimize those who have this illness, but as a way to describe myself or help myself feel like it is a condition, instead of just feeling crazy. I don’t know if this is why others use the term, but this is my reasoning. I have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and while the term obsessive has been used, it has not been diagnosed. I understand your frustration with people that don’t understand because I have friends that move things in my house or while out at a restaurant just to laugh at how quickly I realize and fix whatever had moved. I feel like this is not just perfectionism because it is a need, I must move it and I can’t focus on anything until things are right to the point of tears when someone doesn’t let me turn the napkin dispenser right side up. I can still function just fine, yes occasionally I’m late because something needs to be right, but otherwise okay. Maybe I am just a perfectionist, but to me the label seems to fit. I would love to hear what words you do think are appropriate because if they do seem to fit me, then I will try and be more sensitive and use them. I don’t know if all this came across correctly but I assure you that I mean this most respectfully and I appreciate your point of view and you bringing awareness to this issue. Do you think that perhaps there is a spectrum for this illness, or is it all our nothing?

    1. Lindsay

      I think you aren’t using the term in the way that bugs me! You are experiencing true discomfort.

  3. Melissa

    Thanks for sharing maman! As someone who also struggles with OCD and anxiety I really related with this, thank fully mine is a fairly mild and mostly relates to my relationship with myself. I had never even thought that someone with a severe case of OCD would find the flippant use of the term hurtful.

    1. Lindsay

      I think even someone with mild OCD can see the difference between someone genuinely having an OCD moment and just loving a line up of perfectly colour-coordinated diapers!

  4. That was beautifully written (and the graphic looked great, too!) Thanks for sharing that. It’s great to see continuing education and awareness for a wide range of mental health topics, but of course it’s awful that it’s not as much as it clearly needs to be :\

  5. Brandi

    I see your point, very well said! I have a family history of mental illness so this type of thing strikes a chord with me. I don’t use that term and I cringe when I hear/read it. Hopefully this will make others choose their words more carefully in the future. I’m sorry you’ve had to suffer with OCD and GAD, thank you for sharing your story.

  6. This drives me insane, too! People say the same thing about ADHD…um, no. I have an incredibly strong need for things to be symmetrical. Nothing can be crooked, colors have to match, etc etc. but it isn’t OCD, I’m just anal. To throw around terms like OCD and ADHD so easily perpetuates the idea that these aren’t serious, sometime debilitating afflictions. Ugh.

  7. Amanda W-B

    As someone who suffers from OCD and GAD, I want to thank you for writing this. It is so irritating to hear someone say that. When I was in the throws of it, just the idea of being in public and touching public surfaces caused me to shut down. Thankfully, thanks to the right medication and meditation, I am able to get through the day. I still have serious quirks ie counting, obsessing over locks, etc., but I can function with the exception of driving. To me when someone makes a flippant OCD comment, I feel like they are downplaying the severity of this condition. It can ruin your life, not just bug you that something was out of order.

  8. Thank you. I had never thought of the use of O.C.D. that way.

  9. Kris

    This!!! I feel the exact same way when people use ADD as a joke or a flippant figure of speech. I have a pretty severe form of ADD, that has affected my life drastically and negatively. and when people make light of it, it hurts. Even though they don’t mean for it to. Especially when I mention ADD and they laugh and say something like “me, too! I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on! Haha!” Just makes me cringe. Or the “squirrel” joke thing. Ugh. So thank you for this. And if I have ever used the term OCD flippantly, which unfortunately I think I may have, I apologize with all my heart.

  10. Nicole Feldmann

    I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 11 years old (mine is also with my thoughts). I was also diagnosed with ADHD. On top of those two issues, I have struggled with a variety of eating disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia, Compulsive Over Eating, etc) I have been through tons of therapy and taken medication since I was diagnosed as a child. I hate when people use terms relating to issues like they’re nothing as well. I totally understand how you’re feeling.

  11. jess

    I have had OCD symptoms ever since childhood, but it was all internalized and I was not able to put a name to it until I got older. My parents never noticed it in me until I as able to explain it in my late teens. I have been able to manage it and keep it under control (as it only really starts to bother me when I get stressed, and I can handle my stress and keep my OCD at bay) , It’s more internal thoughts about symmetry and numbers and feelings and sensations that need to be maintained.
    I am currently going through diagnostic testing for ADD as well as just went to my first group therapy session last night for anxiety. I agree that these flippant comments send little jabs through me, but are not meant to be taken as insults. I feel the same way when people talk about “depression”. It’s a severe issue, and irks me when people are so casual about it. My husband has major depressive disorder which has really effected our lives, and to hear off hand comments about how “depressing it is that tim hortons was out of your doughnut” is not even in the same realm as barely being able to get out of bed for days.

  12. Alishia Chamney

    Great article! It’s a good reminder to be sensitive to the words we use. Thanks for sharing!

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Welcome to my Wolf Pack!

My name is Lindsay and I am a 40-year-old mama of four trying to live an eco-friendly, budget-friendly life! I am a substitute teacher and Child Passenger Safety technician in Calgary, Alberta. Join me on my adventures!

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