I started this article based off a comment from a reader asking about small bits of OCD this person has, and if that qualifies as “OCD.” I’ve decided to expand this to include mental disorder in general. FYI, the answer—you’ll find—is that yes, a little OCD is still OCD. There are reasons this matters, and I’ll get into that.
First, it seems a bit oxymoronic to say that everyone has at least a little bit of a mental disorder (or a few.) If such a thing is true, then is any of this really a “disorder?” That, I feel, is best to lead with. I do use the term “disorder” because I believe there is a model for the brain working perfectly. However, I don’t believe I have ever said—and I know I do not believe—that this is achievable. So indeed, there is a perfect order—but none of us have it.
I don’t feel it is necessary to go down any path that religion takes care of—the reasons for human imperfection in light of a perfect God, stories of Original Sin, and all of that. That area works best in fables, and I’m really not in the business of fables.
I like to stick with reality—just what is happening here on this planet. In this universe, if you will, though we don’t understand much beyond the planet we’re all living on. But reality, that is key. Nothing beyond that.
I have a firm belief in scales when pinpointing any characteristic onto a person. Say from zero to ten, or zero to one-hundred—the gradation is relative and irrelevant. I often believe these scales even have depth—a third dimension. Maybe more than three. But rarely do characteristics of any person lie in the black or the white—the 0 or the 10. I believe this about people’s sexuality, true political feelings, everything that is hammered into us as black and white.
Thus, I believe this about mental disorder as well. I would even go as far as including the term “mental illness” in this. Labeling things a “disorder” is a way of avoiding the fact that the brain is not acting within its template. Which is the case. With everyone. We are all mentally ill in certain aspects and all fall on a scale with every possible mental illness.
I, of course, have OCD. When people joke about someone’s essentially benign OCD, this brings up some issues with how correct it is to label said person with a disorder that is quite debilitating to people like me. Does this lessen others’ feelings towards those whose lives are deeply affected by OCD? Not at all! No!
The way I see it, if someone can more easily grasp someone that has OCD to a level of, say, three out of ten… it brings that person—if they wish to try to understand—closer to knowing what might exist in a person if you triple—exponentially—that amount of benign and fun OCD to a nine out of ten.
Most people don’t go with that line of thinking, but I’d sure like them to. Just to think—no action required. When you see someone who jokingly can’t stand a bathroom tile askew by a fraction of an inch, you can step back and extrapolate that feeling as something so all-consuming that it actually takes all of the energy of someone like me. It is an easy pathway to understanding. That is all that is key here.
Now I’m not going to go through the litany of mental disorders. You’re going to have to consult your DSM-51 for that. All of the disorders and illnesses—from depression through sociopathy—we all have some! Yes, of each one. I’d hope, as a caring human being, that you have less of most of them. But the truth is we’re all on the scale. We’re all on every scale.
Quick, think of a person. Any person. They’re a little sociopathic.
That’s true. Now, this goes against a lot of the ways sociopathy is defined: the lack of a conscience. But that is a black and white definition, and I don’t see things that way. I see people with a scale of conscience from, say zero to ten. The CEO of your workplace—probably close to a zero. True heroes and saints—probably close to a ten. And the rest of us are also most likely2 up higher on the scale—but not at a ten!
So we’re all screwed? And screwed up? Yeah and no, that isn’t the point.
The point is compassion and understanding. If you look at places you have slight tinges of mental disorders and even illness—you can step back and amplify that by a very high magnitude, and realize that is where people like myself exist. And what people like myself have to trudge through just to live.
Your quirky ol’ OCD is OCD. You are not wrong for calling it OCD. Mine deserves no specific action from you or the rest of the world—other than understanding that mine is debilitating. That’s it, no one is any more right or wrong.
Or, better put, we’re all wrong.