My Brain is Not the Issue Here
As the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak has progressed into a pandemic, people have had a lot of feelings about OCD. There have been any number of newspaper articles on this, as well as statements by government officials and comments by individuals on social media. Why? What possible link could there be between a respiratory illness and an anxiety disorder? The answer, as is annoyingly often the case with popular discussions of OCD, is hand washing.
Some people have written articles about how hard it is to have OCD right now, what a major impact a pandemic is having on OCD sufferers. And it is. For people who suffer from certain specific variations of OCD.
Hand washing, along with excessive concern over cleanliness and germs, are OCD symptoms associated with one kind of OCD, contamination OCD. And in fact, not everyone with contamination OCD necessarily compulsively washes their hands. That subset of the condition is bigger than one symptom, just as OCD itself is more than one manifestation of the disorder.
Other people, inexplicably, have decided that OCD is the solution to life’s problems. The minister of health of New Zealand. An OCD specialist based at Stanford. Both *recommend* OCD as a response to COVID-19, claiming that OCD compulsions around hand washing and distancing yourselves from others are what is needed to combat the current outbreak.
I have read all the guidance provided by major public health organisations like the WHO and the CDC. And you know, none of them tell people to develop a disabling anxiety condition that might compulsively force you to stay away from others and wash your hands repeatedly. The public health advice is to wash your hands in specific situations, once, for 20 seconds each time. That is not OCD.
The second group of people, those *recommending* OCD are worse, but, honestly, I am tired of both kinds of people. I am tired of people claiming my chronic anxiety disorder is a magical cure for COVID-19. And I am also tired of people rubber-necking the pain of people with OCD.
When the outbreak started, highlighting that it would be hard on people with contamination OCD in particular was a legitimate point. But that point has been made. And made again. And again. And again. What, now, is the point of writing such an article? What will people do after they have read it? Will they do something to support people with anxiety conditions? Or is it just voyeurism, an opportunity for people who do not have OCD can cry about how sad they imagine our lives must be, then go right back to what they were doing before?
Journalists, I do not need yet another pity party about OCD. I send back your invitation, unopened.
There are articles that should be written right now about COVID-19 and OCD. Because alongside the well-publicised cases of mental health professionals and government ministers making bizarre claims about the “benefits” of OCD during the present crisis, there are also the usual jerks, who on any day of the week would proclaim themselves “sooo OCD” for tidying their closet once a year. Except now they have been told to wash their hands, and they have heard that OCD means washing your hands. So there is a wave of comments, on every social media platform out there, of all the ignorant people misusing OCD to mean they kept their distance from people and washed their hands once in a while. And that’s also been great to read.
Why not write that article, journalists? Why not discuss how ignorance of a major mental health condition has been further fuelled by the present crisis? Why not take people to task for claiming that an anxiety condition would help people survive a pandemic? Why not ask OCD sufferers how other people’s oblivious comments are affecting them? Why not discuss how conflating public health advice to follow specific guidelines regarding hygiene and physical distancing with the symptoms of an anxiety condition is irresponsible, especially during a global pandemic? Why is no one writing about how ignorance of OCD hurts both sufferers of OCD and everyone trying to cope with the COVID-19 crisis?
Any number of people want to write about how our brains are a problem, and isn’t that sad. No one seems to want to write about how ableist comments on our condition are a problem, not just for us, but for everyone.
My brain is not the issue here.
Now go wash your hands like the WHO told you to.
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Historian of science, medicine, and global connections in the early modern world