“This world health day, let us talk about one such particular word. A word that deserves more gravity than is credited for.”
Diction. Words. Terminologies. Technically speaking, all of these are usually just coined for convenience in identification and reference of ideas, obviously, right? Some may beg to differ. Maybe, there really is more to words than just having a mere meaning. Speaking in terms of mental health, words can sometimes act as lifelines. Having a word to describe one’s state of mind is often all that one needs to hold on to. A word makes a concept very real and solid, which may or may not be a good thing for the patient, but it gives him/her something to identify themselves with.
But some words have gradually become the subject of injustice, being irresponsibly tossed around, being assimilated into what one might call pop culture. This world health day, let us talk about one such particular word. A word that deserves more gravity than is credited for.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a mental illness whose consequences are dispersed over a spectrum ranging from short-lived anxiety to suicide. People suffering from this disorder feel the need to check, perform certain routines, or have certain thoughts repeatedly to the point where it gets in the way of their life.
Ava, a 27-year old woman, complained of excessive checking. Her symptoms dated back to her childhood when she spent hours on homework because of a need to have each page perfect with no erasures or cross-outs and hours arranging her room so that it was in perfect order before sleeping. By high school, she couldn’t complete assignments until after the term had ended and did not participate in any extracurricular activities because her time was spent checking work assignments. When she entered college, she developed new checking rituals to assure herself that she had not caused harm to anyone around her (e.g., checking electrical appliances for fear that she had started a fire, faucets for fear that she had left them running, and door locks for fear that she had left them open). These rituals began to consume several hours a day leading her to be late for class or to miss it entirely. Although she sought therapy, she did not tell the therapist about her obsessions and rituals for fear she would be labelled “crazy.” If only she’d had another word to describe herself, had it not been used already for describing trivial perfectionism.
Madeline, a patient of the same, gives a firsthand account of how suffocating OCD really can be:
“Imagine being trapped. Not a lot of air. Your palms are sweaty. Your heart is racing. Maybe a movie is playing, or a song. One you don’t particularly like. Over and over and over again. Imagine being stuck on the Disneyland ride “It’s a Small World” for days and weeks on end. Or maybe you are inside a room. With no door handle. No window. No phone. No way to get out. Welcome to my OCD.”
OCD is said to have affected 2.3% of the world’s population, a figure much smaller than what seems to be claimed of late. This claim may not directly affect a real victim of the illness, but it surely does make the percolation of help way more cumbersome than it is supposed to be.
As a way of empathising with this ailment and many others, this World Health Day, let us oath to endeavour more discretion and sensitivity towards maladies we may not have exhaustive knowledge of. All the same, let us not hold ourselves back from talking about them, let us keep these buzzwords “trending”, because sometimes awareness can make all the difference.