The other night I was having a drink with a friend when she used one of my favourite phrases: “I’m a bit OCD.”
Of course, the friend didn’t mean she had a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder. Instead, she was talking about how she organised her handbag, about how particular she was about it, and how thorough she liked to be.
I let the comment slide, because, in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter. But although the comment didn’t offend me, it did annoy me. My friend is an actual therapist, and she really should have known better.
The term “a bit OCD” is both frustrating and frustratingly familiar. Often, people think it’s OK to use mental health terms in everyday language, and often proclaiming themselves to be “so OCD”, “depressed”, or “having a panic attack”. This shouldn’t be a problem, but it is. Especially when terms like “OCD” come to mean something quite different from their medical meanings.
OCD is everyday language has come to mean “perfectionist”, “particular” or “organised”. But OCD in its true sense is a mess. Below is a guide to the difference between OCD and perfectionism:
- People will OCD can ruminate over the same thing for hours, weeks, months, or years. These thoughts can centre on anything and be immensely frustrating. Perfectionists don’t do this.
- People with OCD experience excessive vivid, intrusive thoughts often depicting frightening situations which will never happen. Perfectionists don’t have this.
- People with OCD can sometimes be hoarders. Their homes will be full of things they do not need and yet cannot let go of. Perfectionists don’t have this.
- OCD can cause those with it to act out pointless, lengthy rituals by which they check that everything is safe (that they didn’t leave the cooker on, that when they hit that bump in the road it wasn’t actually a person, that the taps aren’t still running and the door really is shut). The person with OCD will know that these time-consuming rituals are irrational, however, they have to act upon them even if they cause them distress. Perfectionists, on the other hand, like things to be in straight lines, in the right order, so they are neat and tidy and look nice.
- OCD can lead to severe depression. Perfectionism can lead to severe tidiness.
- OCD is a mental illness which can ruin your life. Perfectionism is a personality trait to put on your CV or covering letter.