When You Don't Fit the "Right" Definition of OCD

Jordan Brown

There are people who get you. And there are people who are still figuring you out.

Some accept who you are right away. Others want you to prove your worth.

This a fact of life: not everyone is going to accept you for who you say you are. At first. Or possibly ever.

So what do you do when this happens?

And does it even matter?

Let’s find out with a story.

You Don’t Seem Like You Have OCD (The Real "Definition" of OCD)

It started off well enough.

I was assigned to a group in a graduate school social work class. It was HBSE, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, a mandatory course for master’s level social work students.

We were talking about a case study that we had read for homework that week. The case study described a woman’s mental health symptoms.

I love talking about mental health, and I’m very comfortable about my mental health journey. Some people call it oversharing. I just call it keeping it real. It’s more enjoyable to just be open and honest about something that most people deal with at some point in their lives.

There was a natural pause in the conversation. So I started talking about some of the OCD symptoms that I’ve dealt with.

“Yeah, I’ve even dealt with skin picking. It’s not fun, and it doesn’t make any sense. But that’s the thing about OCD, it doesn’t have to make sense. You know you shouldn’t be doing it but still you do it.”

There was an immediate reaction from a classmate.

“You don’t seem like the kind of person who has OCD.”

I can’t even remember what I said exactly. I think I was mainly stunned and just looked at the floor for a bit. Then, I tried to explain that there are different forms of OCD and they are not always noticeable. There is no one "right" definition of OCD. People who deal with anxiety and OCD are often very good at hiding their symptoms — at least, for a while.

Then something beautiful happened.

Someone I didn’t know well at all at the time spoke up.

“I pick my skin too!”

She then went onto to tell this beautifully heartfelt story about the issues she had — and has — with anxiety and how she can get lost in her head for long periods of time and pick at her skin while feeling anxious. She spoke in trance-like way and smiled as she talked.

The 3 other group members looked on in silence, their faces a mixture of puzzlement and shock.

My comment about my own struggles led to this moment. Being vulnerable opens the door to connection.

Lack of Mental Health Awareness About OCD? Educate.

I learned something from this interaction with my fellow graduate student.

I quickly cycled through a few emotions when she doubted my OCD — surprise to anger, and then relief to joy.

I’m glad I didn’t respond with anger. I ultimately responded with a story, and it led to my now-friend doing the same thing.

We always have a choice when we are faced with lack of mental health awareness. We can lash out in disgust when people don’t understand us. Or we can pause, take our emotional temperature, and go for the higher, more loving response.

I don’t always do this. I’m not perfect. But when I can, it opens up the conversation.

It lets others dealing with similar issues to open the door, peer out, and decide it’s safe enough on the other side to walk through.