|We're not just switch flippers.|
Please stop casually asking this question.
Don't feel bad if you have done it before... it seriously happens all the time. I get it actually, and it's kind of sweet in a way.
Based on a basic understanding of OCD, you think I'm a little quirky. Expecting that my answer will be related to hand washing or checking the toaster three times, why not ask?
What you don't realize is that based on the reality of OCD what you have really just asked me is, "What are your biggest and most shameful worries and fears and how are you irrationally coping with them?"
Compulsions like hand-washing are performed in response to obsessions - major worries and fears that incessantly taunt their victims. Some people with OCD do not even have observable compulsions and are mainly plagued by the obsessive thought aspect. These issues do not make for light, casual conversation.
The "What's your OCD thing?" question reveals how little the average person knows about what OCD really is. To be fair to the average person, even doctors don't always know. Yesterday at my annual physical when I mentioned OCD to my new doctor she asked a similar question. This is an educated woman with a degree in medicine, and her question showed me how surface-level psych training must be for family doctors.
It's a tragedy that there is so little general knowledge on OCD, but there are still ways to be supportive to someone who reveals this part of their mental health history to you. Here are four quick tips:
1. If a coworker or acquaintance mentions that his OCD is bothering him, try asking how you can support him.
2. If a good friend tells you that she has OCD in private, admit that you do not know much about it but that you are there to listen to whatever she wants to share. Try to let her control the conversation and what she reveals.
3. In serious discussions of mental health with anyone, try to respond intentionally without casually brushing it off, making assumptions or cracking jokes.
4. Remember that it is okay to realize that you are in over your head. Even therapists aren't experts on every mental health problem! If a friend reveals something to you that you think may be a sign that this person is losing control and could be in danger or dangerous, admit that you are not an expert and try to get help from someone who is!