Well, it’s been a while. With my new position, I’ve had little extra time to blog. Shoot, I’ve had little extra time, period. But that’s a post for another day. While I typically write about teaching and educational technology, this post will be a little different. Consider it my attempt to discuss something close to my heart, to inform others about a common misconception.
I like to be organized. For those who know me, that is not a surprising statement. A structured, organized environment contributes to my productiveness and peace of mind. My classroom was always this way. I didn’t like clutter, and everything had a spot. My bulletin boards and the student work displayed on them were always straight and level. I used to endure friendly ribbing for using a level to make sure my bulletin boards looked just right (which I thought was funny, because those who initially teased soon became the ones asking to borrow the level). Now that I’ve moved into administration, I like my office to be the same way – neat and organized, two things that help me be more productive.
Over the past several years, when commenting on my neat classroom or office, I’ve had many, many people say things to me like:
“Yeah, I have to be neat too. I’m totally OCD that way.”
“I need to clean off my desk. My OCD is kicking in.”
In our society, I think there’s a large misconception about OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). It’s a term that gets casually thrown around without much thought being given to what it actually is, because most people don’t know what it really is. On the other hand, consider mental retardation (now referred to as intellectual disability). That’s a term that doesn’t get thrown around too often, because most people have a general idea of what it means. Think of it this way…If you made a mistake while completing a task, would you say, “I’m so retarded” to those around you? I don’t think so. Why not? Because you know what intellectual disability/mental retardation is, and you know you’re not a person who has that impairment. Plus, you know (hopefully) this is a comment that would be highly offensive to those individuals who do have this impairment, as well as to their families. So why then do people off-handedly say they have OCD, when chances are, they don’t? Wouldn’t this be offensive to those affected by OCD?
So, what is OCD? Many use the term to describe people who like things neat and organized, but this is the misconception. Just because someone likes things to be tidy (even really, really tidy), it doesn’t mean he/she has OCD. OCD is an anxiety disorder. People who are affected by it are plagued by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry. They engage in repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated fear or anxiety, even when the fear, anxiety, or behavior is irrational. Having OCD means so much more than being a “neat freak.”
You see, I have a personal connection to this subject. I have a loved one who has been diagnosed with OCD. For several years, I have struggled to support this person who has suffered from crippling anxiety, fear, and worry. I’ve watched as the person’s mind gets “stuck,” obsessing about things that rationally don’t warrant that kind of worry, and feeling compelled to behave in ways that won’t take the worry away. I’ve seen how this disorder can absolutely paralyze a person. Thankfully, with prayer and the aide of family and an excellent therapist, my loved one has learned to manage OCD.
So why did I write this post? To make anyone who has ever incorrectly used the term OCD feel guilty? Absolutely not. I’ve put my foot in my mouth, made comments without having all the facts more times than I want to admit. No, my goal is simply to educate, to let others know that OCD is more than a propensity for order and neatness. It’s something individuals and their families all over the world struggle with on a daily basis. I ask simply that we grant the disorder and the people it affects the respect they deserve.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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