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This blog post originally appeared on Huffington Post on June 16th, 2015, and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.

This morning I woke up to a “How OCD Are You?” quiz trending on my Facebook newsfeed. Three of my “friends” had taken the quiz and subsequently posted the results to their timelines. Of course this quiz — and others like it (a quick Google search turned up 4 similar quizzes related to OCD or obsessive compulsive Disorder) — is not intended to measure and analyze the symptoms of those who are legitimately concerned about their mental health; rather it is meant to be fun and humorous.

As someone whose life was once consumed by OCD, I cringe every time I see such quizzes because they relegate my experience — and those of others with OCD — to nothing more than an idiosyncrasy, a quirk, something that warrants laughter and ridicule. Unfortunately, trivialization of OCD is not isolated to internet quizzes. Indeed, people with OCD are often a caricature for anal-retentiveness and perfectionism, the butt of the joke on Saturday Night Live and a frequent punch-line for stand-up comedians and improv comics. And I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t hear the phrase “I’m so OCD” or “You’re so OCD” used in casual conversation to describe behaviors that are mildly perfectionistic.

OCD is also a popular theme in hipster and variety stores. I have seen mugs, hand sanitizers, apparel, even OCD action figures that exploit, trivialize and make fun of OCD, all at the expense of people who actually have OCD. Indeed, there seems to be an emerging industry profiting from the exploitation and trivialization of people’s very real and deeply painful struggles. And while such products are meant to be humorous and light-hearted, the pain of their cumulative impact cuts deep.

So what exactly is OCD and how does one distinguish between OCD and the common idiosyncratic or superstitious behaviors popularized by the quizzes and products mentioned above? To start, superstitions, quirks, and ritualistic behaviors do not fall under the umbrella of OCD unless they significantly interfere with day-to-day life. In fact, only about 1.6% of the population has OCD, an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted and recurrent thoughts, feelings, and impulses (obsessions) and/or repetitive thoughts or behaviors that a person engages in to neutralize or counteract the obsession and decrease anxiety (compulsions).

While films and television all too often reduce obsessive-compulsive behaviors to checking and hand washing, OCD is vastly complex and manifests in a variety of ways from praying and symmetrical obsessions to having intrusive, unwanted violent and sexual thoughts. For me, OCD first emerged as anorexia nervosa at age 13. By fifteen and with my eating disorder under control, my OCD began to change shape. I started praying incessantly, always repeating the same prayer. The more I prayed the more I needed to pray, not for spiritual fulfillment but rather to quell my anxiety and feel my obsession. In addition to praying, I engaged in counting compulsions. From blinking and walking to eating and touching, all of my behaviors had to be done in multiples of five. Of course, such actions impacted all aspects of my life. As a high school student, my obsessions and compulsions kept me from paying attention in class; thus, my evenings were spent re-teaching myself the day’s lessons. My OCD grew so severe that I could not drive for nearly three years and had to live at home during my undergraduate studies. My social life was also impacted: I was secretive and insecure, too afraid to have my experiences further invalidated, trivialized and misunderstood.

Yet like others with OCD, my experience has not been one-dimensional. OCD has made me more patient, resilient, and empathetic. I have learned that my strengths and perceived weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. Indeed, my propensity for obsessions and compulsions also fuels my persistence and unrelenting determination. The will of character that sustained my OCD is the same will of character that has helped me beat anorexia, cope with OCD, train for a marathon, fight for social justice, and obtain a doctorate.

To paraphrase Joshua Walters, I am learning to see the “mental skillness” in my “mental illness” and I am beginning to rewrite the narrative of what it means to live with OCD. In doing so, I am finding the confidence to speak out and say that my pain is not a punchline; my struggle–and the struggles of all those who have OCD–is far more complex than a clean bathroom, a color-coordinated closet, or a clever one-liner on the side of a coffee mug. So the next time you consider posting the results of an “OCD quiz” on social media or saying that your organized desk makes you “so OCD”, think about the broader implications your words and actions have in perpetuating a narrative that belittles people’s lived experiences.

Be more intentional, think critically, and educate those around you.

Such actions, while seemingly insignificant, are the building blocks for a kinder, more compassionate world.

To learn more about obsessive compulsive disorder, and how to find help, please contact the International OCD Foundation at http://iocdf.org or 617-973-5801.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.


  • There is humor about having OCD and then there is humor that savages the experience of having OCD. I have debates in my facebook group all of the time about what innocent memes and little jokes about rituals constitutes true misrepresentation and insensitivity regarding mental illness. The examples in this article truly do go way over the line – OCD action figures and quizzes that assess how “OCD” one is contributes to the stereotype of a harmless, silly, joke of a disorder that completely ignores the crippling and painful realities of the true survivors of this illness who struggle with it every day. This is a sad account regarding the kind of education and awareness that still needs to be introduced to the world about the realities of mental illness in all of it’s forms.

  • Cathy Denton

    My daughter, Katelyn, was diagnosed early 2010 with sever OCD. With much work with cognitive behavior therapy , she got it under control and went to college an hour away. She lived there. She had no vehicle . Came home approx once a month. Kept in touch with Facebook, texting and some phone calls (not every day). This fall she is a senior with a major in psychology. Signed up for 2 online classes (dropped one before starting). Signed up to take test for grad school at end of July (so is studying for this). Started a job working with mentally & or physically handicapped. After 2 wk of training (started one wk after school was out) . Started this job part-time. Signed up for part-time at old part-time job of selling women’s shoes at Macy’s. Worked one 11to 7 shift at new job. And has been down hill from there. Had to quit new job – to much too soon. OCD is still attacking. Appt. in 1.5 wk to see about starting IOP for OCD. Iis it poss to be so busy you relaps?

    • K. Kendall

      I do not believe that it ever goes away but lies dormant. It’s relapse can be triggered by anything especially stress. It sounds like she has quite a bit of stress with all the things going on in her life. Additionally, OCD does not always stand alone. It may co-exist (be co-morbid) with other disorders such as bi-polar which induces mania and depression. Someone who is manic with OCD may think they can handle much more than they are actually capable of. When the mania falls into depression, the individual can be left devastated and incapable of any thing for a period of time. I know that CBT is the “gold standard” and is touted as practically mandatory. However, I truly believe that sometimes medication is absolutely necessary as well.

      • Cathy denton

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. She has mentioned bipolar ,but none of the doctors or therapist have mentioned it. She was in the process of going down on her Prozac . It had been 60 at one time and was down to 5 when this all started to fall apart . I am told UPMC OCD department is one of the best. She ant back up to 20mg Prozac then 30 and this last Tue. went up to 40. All the things she used to do to relax.are triggers now. Like horse back riding. It’s all changed up from 2010’s episode. And the small episode of 2013. Needs a new therapist though. Time and patience I guess she will hopefully come out stronger than ever. It’s hard on the family too. Have you heard good things about UPMC’s program?

  • Adrian levine

    Dear Maru,
    Thank you so much for this article. I too found that quiz on my Facebook feed and was angered by it. Thank you in your efforts to educate. I also feel the need to educate. I tried to email Quizfreak, the creators of the ” How OCD are you? ” quiz but they never responded. Today, I found Obsessive Crafter Disorder T-shirt offer on my Facebook feed. I responded with an email and posted to try to deter people from ordering but unless people really understand OCD they think it’s a joke. They responded back with a form email forwarding my email probably into some abyss of junk. Anyway, I will continue my crusade and I hope you will too. Thank you so much.


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