12 October 2015

Open season

I've been candid about having OCD for many years, so I'm prepared for a variety of responses when I discuss this with somebody for the first time. Most people are interested to discover what the condition really entails, as it's often misrepresented in the media. Most, equally, are sympathetic about the difficulties that it causes me. 

The odd person, however, reacts in a less helpful way. One former colleague - for context, female and senior to me - initially seemed understanding, but then began to make highly inappropriate references to my mental health status.

One day, I was emptying a cupboard in my boss's office ahead of his move to another part of the building. As I shoved pile after pile of documents into confidential waste bags, my colleague suddenly called, from the open-plan office outside, 'Oh look, Helen's having one of her OCD clearouts!' The observation was made in front of numerous other staff and delivered with a laugh. 

Through gritted teeth, I responded, 'Actually, I've been asked to do this. I wouldn't be wasting my time with it otherwise.' Guessing that any elaboration would fall on deaf ears, I chose not to explain that, in fact, my OCD only applies to my own environment - my desk, my car, my home. I have no desire to arrange anybody else's belongings and can happily exist alongside others' mess, providing I'm able to preserve my own oasis of order.

Image courtesy of aopsan/
It struck me as strange that an intelligent woman, who claimed to have a therapy qualification of some sort, would come out with such a comment. After all, if you were aware of a colleague's physical ailment, would you draw attention to a flare-up? Imagine shouting across a room, 'Oh look, Helen's having an eczema outbreak!' - and laughing about it.

Even if I had, in fact, become caught up in a compulsion, I can't imagine why anybody would feel it necessary to point that out. For some reason, those with mental health issues seem to be fair game for ridicule.

No doubt it is partly due to fear of the unknown. Some might see a person who looks different, or who behaves differently, to them, and be unable to handle the discomfort this causes. Sadly, there are far too many reports of those who are disabled, or disfigured, being abused by complete strangers - essentially for something they can't help, and which isn't doing anybody else any harm.

Or perhaps it's the abusers' low self-esteem that drives them to such unkind, pointless and incomprehensible attacks, which can sometimes even become physical. In order to feel better about themselves, they have to point out others' 'faults'.

Explanations of OCD can't prepare the layman for the reality of the condition, and observing compulsive behaviours can certainly be an uncomfortable experience. Rest assured, however, that it will never be as distressing to witness compulsions as it is to be caught in their grip.


Lindsay said...

I can vouch for Helen being able to cope with other people's messy environments. She's been to my house and not run away screaming.

I think you are right, Helen, about people's lack of tact being related to their own inadequacies but I think also that people are often quite unaware of the effect their behaviour. I have had clients with voice problems whose colleagues joke about their 'funny voice' even imitating them, when the person affected finds it anything but funny, and is often lacking confidence and morale because of a long-standing problem.

I can imagine OCD often comes in for similar treatment.

Anonymous said...

Two words come to my mind....ignorance and insensitivity. Thanks for this post as hopefully some people will see themselves and change their behavior.

Helen Barbour said...

Lindsay, the situation you describe in relation to your voice patients is almost unbelievable - I can't imagine how their tormentors sleep at night.

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, thanks for your comment - perhaps this will, indeed, make people think twice before making inappropriate remarks.