Friday 6 October 2017

‘I’m so OCD’

People like to use the term 'OCD' as a character trait, but what does it really mean?
- Krishna

As someone who suffers from OCD, I don’t think that the phrase 'I'm so OCD' will ever stop making me feel like I’ve been slapped across the face. It doesn’t even make sense, I mean think about it.

But that phrase, along with so many others, even along with products that showcase OCD as a form of organization, have made my life so much more difficult.

I first understood that I had contamination OCD when I was at university. For a long time before I knew that I had OCD, my behaviours' were just a quirk. I remember being called ‘infection control’ and always being relied on for having hand sanitizer in my bag. With time, what started as a quirk grew into something much more consuming. By the second year of university this simple overuse of soap was an illness that had the ability to trap me in my own home.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is cycle. It starts with an obsession (an intrusive, recurrent thought) which causes anxiety and severe discomfort. This is followed by an action which stops the anxiety. The issue is that the relief is short lived and the cycle starts all over again. For me this would focus on washing and cleanliness. I remember once having three showers straight after each other because of being near ‘contaminated things’ in my own home. It was exhausting.

At my worst it was a struggle to leave my home, I was unable to cook food and use a public bathroom? Forget about it! But there were also other things. Things that were more subtle. I would lie a lot to avoid certain social situations; I used food and alcohol as coping mechanisms (which when you are at university doesn’t always ring alarm bells) and my self esteem was basically non-existent. All of these things were interlinked. It wasn’t that I had OCD and I washed my hands a lot. It was that I had a debilitating illness that affected basically every aspect of my life.

But I think I was lucky. I had heard of OCD at some point in my life, which meant that I started to seek support when I realised that I couldn’t fix what was happening by myself. I also started campaigning and decided to use my experiences to try and raise awareness. I wanted to put the difficulty that I was going through to some good use. If I could help one person to understand what OCD really felt like or give someone the confidence to seek support themselves, then it felt like maybe all the pain was worthwhile. That it had a purpose.

Recovery was a long process. When something is so integrated into your life it takes a lot of work and time to change it. I often say ‘recovery’ because I view mental health on a spectrum. There isn’t ‘well’ and ‘unwell’ in my opinion. My recovery was about understanding and recognizing the harmful thoughts and behaviours’ that I had developed and challenging them. Forcing myself to face them until they no longer caused me pain or anxiety.

Imagine that - think of the one thing that you are the most terrified of in this world, then imagine having to face it every single day for prolonged periods of time until you are no longer scared of it. No it wasn’t easy, but it was perhaps the most beneficial and life-changing thing that I have ever done.

We should all be looking after our own mental health just as we would our physical health, because it isn’t an abnormality to experience a mental health difficulty and recovery isn't about never feeling down or unwell. I have experienced recovery but I still go through periods of difficulty. Times where I can feel the intrusive thoughts creeping back, manifesting themselves in different ways. When I notice that I am going through bottles of soap much quicker and using avoidance techniques again. The difference now is that I can notice it. I can see the signs and I know what I need to do to ensure that it doesn’t get worse.

I will forever feel frustrated when I hear phrases like ‘I’m so OCD’ because it trivialises something that impacted my life in such a consuming, challenging way. It isn’t a joke; it's very real for a lot of people. This OCD Awareness Week I want to continue to share that understanding.

The next time you hear someone joke about OCD, question it, ask them what it means. Then tell them what OCD actually is.

You could be helping someone like me who just needed to know that she had an illness, that it wasn’t her fault and that it could get better. And it did.

Want tips on understanding OCD or want to seek support? Visit OCD Action or Mind.

Hi I’m Krishna, the Design and Office Manager at Student Minds. I setup my first OCD awareness campaign back in 2013 which led me to the Student Minds group at Sheffield Hallam University. I then joined the Student Minds staff team in early 2016. As a graphic designer I am passionate about using design to raise understanding of mental health difficulties, inspire conversations around mental health and help to show people that they are not alone.


  1. Incredible resume of OCD Krishna reading it has certainly opened my mind and understanding of what people with OCD may be going through coinciding with symptoms of mental health explains the behaviour and illness of OCD patients.
    Well done and keep up the good work

  2. A really insightful piece Krishna, well done for your courage to share and calling out a cultural norm that deserves to be reconsidered for trivialising OCD.

  3. I have OCD as well and I totally understand what you mean about people saying "I'm so OCD." It is so frustrating and it undermines the struggles of people living with it. I don't think I've talked about it yet on my blog.