When I got my first roommate, I was beyond unhappy. He was loud, never followed my rules and neglected to pay attention to the duct tape line I carefully placed on the carpet between our halves of the bedroom. My co-tenant happened to be my eight-year-old older brother, but even he learned at a young age that there is order to everything I do and I can’t help that.
Now as an almost 20-year-old, I’m set to transfer to a new school, in an unfamiliar city, with just a couple months to spare between myself and adulthood. As I wait for the months ahead, the thought of having to form new routines and share a house with random people — who may or may not be messy — scares me to no avail.
Aside from the stereotypical ‘I color code everything and keep my room spotless’ thoughts that are expected from someone like myself, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a lot more than straightened picture frames and hand sanitizer galore. There are plenty of aspects to the condition that the media doesn’t let most in on, which has its perks in some ways. Afterall, most people assume that you’re deranged if you hear voices that aren’t physically present, though in my defense, that only happens on the bad days.
On my not-so-bad days, my tamer OCD behaviors include checking my rearview mirror about three times per second whilst driving, counting the number of exit routes in any given building and tilting miscellaneous objects around until they are at my desired degree of rotation.
Point being that there is an endless list of OCD types. Some people, like myself, struggle with counting, symmetry and checking habits. Others face conflict when it comes to contamination or hoarding. More taboo, yet still common, subtypes include obsessive idealization about self harm, homicidality or disturbing sexual images. Although each subtype differs in content, all share a common bond — intrusive thoughts.
In a nutshell, an intrusive thought is an uncontrollable and unwanted thought that tends to cause distress. Internal questions such as, ‘what will happen if I drive off the road right now?’ or ‘what would happen if I put this fork into an electrical socket?’ are prime examples of intrusive thoughts. While they are quite common given many have had one from time to time, people with OCD think like this constantly. Most people living with OCD believe that if they don’t act on these strange impulses, something bad will happen. From this, comes the first half of the disorder’s name — obsession.
As a result, many with OCD live in a state of extreme anxiety and paranoia. To relieve it, they’ll develop habits that make them feel at ease. As I mentioned previously, I partake in excessive eye checking. Otherwise, to be frank, I’ve gotten good at hiding my habits because most of them are mental.
Objectively speaking, mental habits look different depending on the person. One person may cope by counting down from five over and over again, while another may analyze every conversation they have. Personally, I practice avoidance or keeping away from certain activities that are triggering. I also tend to ruminate, also known as overthinking. Thus, the second half of the disorder was born — compulsivity.
To sum up, screaming about how OCD you are because you like to be organized, is a slap in the face to those who believe their family will die if they don’t flip the light switch on and off 10 times every time. This disorder feeds off of extremities and we don’t get the blessing to pick and choose when ‘we’re feeling so OCD.’
To some, these so-called quirks may not be a big deal, but to me this is my life. It’s tiresome defending every action that my brain does automatically. Ergo, as a person living with a neurodivergent brain, finding roommates who don’t question my methods is crucial.
In addition to the privilege of having to explain every ritual, there’s the pleasure of facing new obsessions and compulsions in response to high-stress situations. If my brain thinks it has it hard now, just wait.
Lastly, the negative stigma associated with OCD makes it hard to communicate with others when there’s already a multitude of misconceptions surrounding the condition. At the end of the day, it’s college and nobody wants a roommate who’s seen as strict or overwhelmingly organized.
Despite everything, my excitement trumps the hesitation. Growth comes from discomfort or whatever they say. Here’s to the next two years.
Sophia Sipe is Editor-In-Chief for The Express. Follow her @sophiasipe.