My grey squirrel

There is a part of my life that I try to keep hidden. It is destructive, dominant, the place where my darkest thoughts lie and my rational thought process cannot penetrate. Sometimes it remains quiet and unobtrusive, but at other times it pushes to my central focus and dominates my mind. I don’t walk happily alongside it; numerous psychiatrists and medications have tried to help me out-sprint it, but it always catches up in the end.

To those less aware of the the language of mental illness, my… what should I call it? A black dog is depression; I’m going to go with squirrel. A grey squirrel; some bastard that came and took over the native landscape and from which there is no escape.

To the ill-informed, my grey squirrel… it’s kinda funny. It’s shorthand. It’s a way of saying: “hey, I can sometimes be a bit picky about the way I do things!” It’s an attention grab, a way of highlighting idiosyncrasies, a moment of self-mockery that actually makes other people the butt of the joke.

Somewhat obviously, I am talking about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. I was diagnosed when I was 19; I literally don’t know how to be an adult without this illness.

I doubt I need to tell anyone reading this that OCD is not a personality quirk; it’s not a joke; it’s not something you can shrug off. I also doubt I need to tell anyone suffering from OCD what a punch in the face it is to hear people talking about it as if it is just that.

The problems this present-day attitude to OCD causes are numerous. For a start, if it’s such a lighthearted personality quirk, can’t I just… you know… get over it? Everyone is a little bit OCD about things! Try talking to someone who genuinely thinks like this and try to explain why you’ve had no sleep as your mind wouldn’t shut up, or how you have to cancel plans as you’ve got a nasty side effect from a new medication. They don’t get it. They’re not doing it deliberately, but they can’t ever really support you; they’ve been trained to see this illness as something else.

The language that people use and the conclusions they draw can be so hurtful when you’re trying to deal with this illness. I even have close friends who have said they’re “a little bit OCD” in front of me, and every single time it feels like they’ve jabbed a salt-covered finger into a gaping wound.

OCD is horrific. A few years back the WHO named it the eighth most quality-of-life damaging illness– and not mental illnesses, any illness. It robs your time, your energy, your freedom to do what you want when you want. I don’t need something else, perpetuated by a clueless media who seize on any buzz word that’s going, making a single second of my life any harder. My brain makes me feel bad enough, pretty sure the little chemical malfunction in my brain can take it from here, guys!

It’s odd how this is the one thing I have never managed to handle. I am largely out of treatment options for my OCD; the medical term is “treatment refractory”. Somehow, I’ve come to terms with that. I’ve even managed to come to terms with my OCD, in as much I accept it is going to continue to exist. Yet when someone scoffs at the suffering of up to 2% of the population… that I just can’t seem to process.


AJ Kelly