Lewis & Clark, we are not all “a little OCD”

Mental illness seriously affects every facet of life, goes beyond TV depictions of handwashing, neatness

A person with her eyes closed with big thought bubbles crowding around her.
Sofia Reeves / The Mossy Log

Oct. 9 – 15 marks the fourteenth annual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Awareness Week. Sponsored by the International OCD Foundation, this week’s online and in-person programming seeks to dispel misinformation about the mental disorder. 

OCD is what it sounds like: a mental illness wherein “obsessions,” intrusive thoughts or images, cause someone to engage in “compulsions,” repetitive rituals they know are irrational. This chronic, life-long disorder affects approximately 1.2% of the U.S. population. Assuming national statistics are applicable to the Lewis & Clark student body, that is around 26 undergraduates with OCD. 

I am one of them. I was eight years old when I told my mother I was hearing voices. If I did not touch the doorway to my third grade portable three times, Miss Williams was going to drop dead. I knew the life of my favorite elementary school teacher did not really rest in my tiny, Magic Marker-stained hands, but that did not matter. 

While my peers rushed home after school to watch “Wizards of Waverly Place” reruns, I was whisked away to therapy. It took three mental health professionals and six years for me to get an official diagnosis — one I immediately rejected. 

I did not fit in with the neurotic hand-washing crowd. What could I possibly have in common with Monica Geller, that label-making OCD neat freak on “Friends?” Monica was a punchline, her ultra-organized “ribbon drawer” antics the target of an incessant ’90s sitcom laugh track. I did not want anyone to laugh at me. 

Many people — even well-informed, socially conscious students at LC — confuse OCD with a preference for keeping things neat and tidy. I do not blame them. Generation Z grew up with “Glee’s” Miss Pillsbury, a cutesy, doe-eyed guidance counselor polishing her grapes before every meal. Between Monica and Miss Pillsbury, I only ever saw one version of myself on TV: a quirky cleaner whose symptoms were never so severe as to make her undesirable. 

It is true that people with OCD can develop intensely distressing fears about germs and contamination. The COVID-19 pandemic has not done my community any favors in that regard. 

But having OCD is like spinning an unpredictable game show wheel of what ifs — and you don’t get commercial breaks. What if I skipped a bubble on my midterm scantron? What if I cheated on a boyfriend and just forgot about it? What if I slice myself open while chopping tomatoes? 

I do not know what it is like to feel alone in my own head. Before I turned twenty, I committed to donating my brain after I die, in the hopes that doctors will develop more targeted treatment for OCD. This mental disorder not only impacts every facet of my life, but whatever comes afterward, too. 

When I tell someone at LC that I have OCD, there is something I dread more than jokes about handwashing and Monica Geller: a well-intentioned, pithy response that “everyone’s a little OCD.” 

I want to make it clear that I am not here to gatekeep who can and cannot relate to this article, nor am I against self-diagnosis. The previously mentioned therapy and medications cost my family tens of thousands of dollars, and not everyone has access to that kind of life-affirming care. However, I do take issue with LC students trying so hard to relate to me that they end up trivializing severe mental illness. 

When I came to LC three and a half years ago, my diagnosis was a fiercely kept secret, but today, I decided to trust our entire campus community with who I really am. Urgently, my brain is turning over just one question: What if you listen?

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1 Comment

  1. Hi there. I don’t know how this commenting works but I hope you see this. My name is Zoë and I also have severe OCD. I was diagnosed at seven years old and am now a sophomore studying art on campus. I want to meet people like me. I’ve met so few people who I can relate to in this way. Would you be open to talking sometime? You can find me at @Tangmermaid42 on Instagram or if you do have access to my comment, you should be able to see my email. If you’re comfortable, I’d love to meet up sometime. 💜

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