Experts across the country are warning that America is in the throes of a new mental health epidemic. Over the past decade, psychologists have reported record numbers of those who suffer from being, like, suuuuper OCD – and the figures are only getting worse.
“Super OCD” is not to be confused with textbook obsessive compulsive disorder, which can be characterized by unwanted compulsive rituals and disturbing intrusive thoughts that detract from one’s quality of life. Rather, those who are super OCD report experiencing symptoms that include adherence to conventions of basic human hygiene and really liking their pencils to be sharp.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Amy Smith, whose harrowing journey to acceptance began when she took an online quiz that one time which gauged her reaction to disturbing images like crooked pictures and floor tiles that don’t match up.
“When I see something that is uneven, it kind of bugs me. Almost no one else feels this way; I am very unique,” Smith confessed. “I’m able to forget about the uneven thing as soon as I look away, but for those few seconds the mild displeasure is overwhelming.”
Jane Lee first suspected she was super OCD after she spent a leisurely afternoon alphabetizing her collection of cookbooks. Her fears were confirmed when a co-worker wore mismatched socks to the office and she felt compelled to look away.
“I’ll be out with friends and everything is going fine, and then something will happen – someone will drop a slice or pizza or spill wine down my shirt, so I’ll say ‘better clean that up.’ And everyone will just go silent,” Lee said. “It’s like the elephant in the room.”
Lee experienced the stigma associated with the illness firsthand when her cousin Jen, who has conventional obsessive compulsive disorder, suggested that Lee was not, in fact, super OCD.
“For some people mental illness means debilitating panic attacks and uncontrollable, repetitive actions, and for others it means preferring your jackets face the same way in your closet,” Lee said. “It’s a spectrum.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Frank Black studies the disorder and deems himself a pioneer in the field. According to Black, super OCD is still considered a fringe issue, with many health professionals unwilling to classify it as “something that exists.”
“Some of my colleagues would define mental illness as that which ‘interferes with people’s lives,’ but I think that’s a narrow-minded way of looking at things,” he said. “I had this one patient who would sometimes double-check that he’d locked his car. The seconds it took for him to do that are seconds he’ll never get back.”
Black has dedicated his career to developing treatment strategies for patients like Amy and Jane, and he hopes other brave sufferers will continue to come out of their immaculate closets and seek the therapy they need.
“If I can help even one person hang their blue sweaters next to their red sweaters, I know I’ll have done my job.”
Holly studies TV writing and producing in Toronto and tweets sporadically about cheese and other things (but mostly cheese.)