8 April 2013

Straighten it like Beckham

Tell someone you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and you'll probably get one of the following responses (translations included):

1. 'Really?' - 'I don't quite know what that means, but it doesn't sound good.' This is likely to be followed by an uncomfortable silence and a slight shift in body language, ie to a more defensive position. 

2. 'I know what you mean, I'm always checking the doors are locked.' - 'I've heard of OCD, but I don't quite get what it is.'

3. 'Oh, the cleaning thing?' - 'I've heard of OCD and it mainly seems to involve a lot of soap and bleach.' This is sometimes followed up with: 'I wish someone would clean my house.' - 'Would you clean my house?'

4. 'What, like Howard Hughes?' - 'I had no idea I was acquainted with a crazy person.' This is likely to be accompanied by a significant shift in body language, ie scrabbling to get away from you as fast as possible.

5. 'You mean, like David Beckham?' - 'He's a great footballer, I'll give him that, but he's a complete head-the-ball.' 

With the exception of no. 4, I've had all of these responses to my own 'confession'. Each is understandable, while not necessarily well informed or helpful. 

Most people have little personal knowledge or experience of OCD. Their reactions are either a by-product of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, or the often misleading information gleaned from high-profile cases and depictions of the condition in films and on television.

OCD covers a wide spectrum of behaviours, including a number of related disorders, and affects people to different degrees. The eccentric and reclusive Howard Hughes, whose main obsession was a fear of contamination, was at one end of the scale: he was unable to integrate in society or behave in a way that might be considered even remotely 'normal'. Others, like David Beckham, are affected less severely: they maintain careers, families and friendships in spite of their condition.
Photo: Peter Gettins Photography

And me? I'm like Beckham: sadly, not because I'm good-looking, rich, famous or have even the tiniest sporting talent, but because my OCD also revolves around a need for order and symmetry and hasn't completely crippled me.

It's a need that might be mistaken for simple tidiness; it's far more than that. Tidiness doesn't usually extend to arranging the contents of your fridge following the lines of the shelving racks - which is one of my many compulsions. I know it makes no sense, but that's OCD for you: an illogical tyrant.

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