Nikko* (II-BS-MGT) wakes up with intrusive thoughts. In the morning, when people usually just stand up and leave their mess of a bed behind, Nikko has to check. He checks for the click of his lamp switch, the ring of his alarm, his already-made blanket that doesn’t seem right enough, and the gap between the door and its frame that just never seems to close.
But what if he left the switch on? What if his alarm never stopped ringing? And what if his blanket has come undone and the door never shuts close? There is a sudden distress that forces him to go back to his room, turn the lamp off even when it already is, and make his bed one more time. This distress is known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and like other mental illnesses, it affects millions of people every day.
While there are different symptom clusters or “types” of OCD, Nikko’s case echoes those who have the disorder. According to psychology professor Dr. Joanne Valle, OCD has two main characteristics that can both or individually occur to the person: obsession and compulsion. For Nikko, his obsession is that he might have missed something like a lock or a switch that he didn’t turn off. His compulsion, on the other hand, is the urge to check these locks and switches eight or more times to feel relieved.
OCD is a complicated disorder that people often get confused with another disorder called obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). However, Dr. Valle says that while they have similar symptoms, OCD is ego dystonic, meaning the person is repulsed by what he or she is doing while OCPD is the opposite—it is ego syntonic, which means the action is acceptable to oneself.
“People with OCPD are gratified and although people with OCD are also gratified, it is very brief until the distress comes back in,” says Dr. Valle.
Just like other mental illnesses, OCD does not have a cure yet. However, treatment can be done to lessen its symptoms. Patients need to take both medications and talk therapy.
“Kung ma-stabilize siya through psychotropic drugs, pwede na siyang kausapin; makakaupo na siya, makakausap mo na siya nang mas madali,” Dr. Valle explains. (If their OCD gets stabilized through psychotropic drugs, then they can talk [to psychologists]; they can sit and talk easier.)
Nikko, however, does not resort to drugs and therapy. “I limit myself to checking things three times. It’s sort of a challenge for me sometimes but I try to do it.”
Romanticizing mental illnesses
You’ve probably heard it before or even said it yourself. “Nagkaka-OCD na ako!” (I’m getting OCD!) or something along the lines of that which has now become a familiar phrase in conversation. It happens when one sees a dirty room or when things aren’t uniformed. However, OCD is more than a common experience shared by everyone who likes their things neat.
“Obsessive-compulsive disorder is when it already creates distress,” explains Dr. Valle, emphasizing that people usually equate it with being orderly and neat when it is more than that.
Even worse, some people see OCD as a cute quirk, making one flawed but also attractively imperfect. While getting anxious about misplaced tiles or dirty kitchen sinks can be symptoms of OCD, it is always better to get diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist first.
This is no different from romanticizing other mental illnesses. In the rise of social media and the idea that these disorders make people appear deeper and more interesting, people believe that self-inflicted scars are beautiful or that eating disorders are something to be envious about. In this case, OCD is merely a quirk that makes one interesting.
“[OCD] is not something that one wants to have. Hindi siya madali, mahirap magkaroon ng OCD,” Dr. Valle emphasizes. (It’s not easy, it’s hard to have OCD.)
Behind the “spick and span”
“The OCD I have annoys me at times when I suddenly have to check things eight times in a row, or even more,” Nick reiterates with a slight tone of aversion. While this may seem parallel with people having a neat-as-a-button personality or the normal spick and span, there is certainly something beyond such thought.
Dr. Valle elaborates further on the level of functionality of an individual being put on the line when one exhibits the disorder—that the personality tied with being a lean, mean cleaning machine is just another phase and that many sufferers aren’t just overly-concerned with cleanliness.
“Yung talagang OCD psychological disorder, ay ibig sabihin na hindi talaga sila maka-function properly,” states Dr. Valle. (OCD is a psychological disorder that means people cannot function properly.)
She sheds more light on the dreadful side of the disorder by sharing the effects of the incessant habits the disorder employs. “Magkakaroon sila ng problema with people kasi nga may mga habits sila na makakaapekto sa relationship nila with other people.” (They will have a problem with other people because of the habits that may affect their relationship with others.)
Although this is possible, Nikko assures that having OCD has not affected his relationship with others so far, let alone with himself. “It does not really affect my performance since my OCD goes away whenever I have a lot more important things in my mind,” he says.
Breaking the walls
The whirl of sensationalizing issues that go beyond the usual norms is indeed inevitable. What may seem odd and unusual to the normal flux of people does not usually go through the x-ray machines unnoticed and questioned.
Although such issue is an unavoidable part of society’s nature, it does not stand as an excuse for people to continually participate in the infamously wide sphere of stigmatizing and stereotyping.
“Just like everybody else, you shouldn’t stigmatize them by not treating them the same way. You just have to be extra sensitive that they have different needs, meron silang iba’t ibang pinanggagalingan (they come from different walks of life), but nevertheless, they will still have to be treated the same way as how you treat other people,” ends Dr. Valle.
Indeed there may be the existence of differences and atypicalities, but at the end of the day, we are all just simply human–one and the same.