I believe in scales and spectrums. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll not go too deep into multiple dimensions of spectrums of certain mental illnesses and just focus on them as if they were a scale of one to one-hundred —one being the barely noticeable and one-hundred being completely debilitating.
It is important to think of mental illness on a scale as such, and that absolutely means that—in my opinion—people can exist on the very lower end of the spectrum, with the mental illness barely affecting their lives. And these conditions are important!
There’s a lot of talk about people flippantly throwing around OCD as a condition, many with OCD giving the evil eye to the phrase “I’m so OCD” when someone really just means “I’m very organized and disorganization bothers me.” That may or may not be OCD near the “one” end of the scale, but I feel it is important not to outright dismiss any of this.
I’ve found in my journey with OCD—which is well beyond the lower end of the scale, but luckily has been mitigated from peaking at one-hundred—that I actually have characteristics that are akin to those who flippantly say “I’m so OCD!” I share these feelings at the lower end of my own scale. I need things in containers, I dislike mess, all of that. The difference with me is I also have very strong intrusive thoughts, as well I can get into episodes where my OCD—my need for things to me right—overtakes all thought and debilitates me completely for some period of time.
However, let’s focus on those with just a small amount of OCD. And let’s consider them on an OCD spectrum, with valid feelings. Why is this important, and why should we not dismiss these peoples’ feelings as flippant? Here’s the key:
Their minor experiences can be extrapolated in communication with them to understand full-blown OCD. And if we assume OCD can have a spectrum, we would also assume a lot more people are at the lower end of the spectrum, and possibly greater than fifty percent of people are, at least, near the “one” end of said spectrum. Maybe seventy, eighty percent of people? I don’t know. But I bet it is close to that.
This means that we with full-blown, debilitating OCD can more easily communicate what our OCD is like by merely explaining that these OCD (or “OCD-like”, if you wish) feelings that “normal” people have, they just need to multiply those feelings by a factor that brings them to debilitation.
Being low on the spectrum of any mental illness, I’ve found, allows one to better understand those with a debilitating form of the condition. For example, I actually do not suffer much from depression. I have major anxiety issues, but I very much know anxiety and depression are different things, and I pretty much experience only one of these to any level of affecting my life in a major way. But if we were to put me on a depression spectrum, I am not a “one.” I would say I would be a ten out of one-hundred. Thus I can understand what it may be like to suffer from chronic depression by multiplying my number by a factor.
I also have echoes of bipolar. From everything I’ve read about bipolar disorder, I’m somewhere on that spectrum. I would not classify myself, if asked, as a “bipolar person.” I wouldn’t feel that is right. However, I can empathize with people who suffer greatly from it—and I know people who do—because I at least know the architecture of it all.
I do feel it would be offensive to just throw out the phrase “I’m so bipolar about stuff!” However, at the same time, I am somewhat bipolar, but not fully. And that should not be seen as offensive to say.
My moods swinging from a somewhat mild mania to a somewhat low-low is important to me understanding those who swing much more wildly up and down. I’m not ignorant to it all. And that is a good thing in terms of understanding.
So the next time someone says “I’m so OCD,” it may be best to respectfully say—or at least think—that if they were to multiply that feeling by ten or more, they’d understand what OCD really is to those who are debilitated by it.