America’s Confusion Over OCD

A new friend from East Africa offers a new perspective on obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Mood music for this post: “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction:

A reader of this blog recently friended me on Facebook and, Thursday, pinged me using the FB chat feature. He’s from Uganda in East Africa. He has OCD.

The conversation was mostly him asking me questions about my own treatment for the disorder, how understood it is in American culture and so on.

In Uganda, he said, not many people are aware of the disorder. This makes it difficult to get the proper treatment and carry on in public.

The media and healthcare system there is still very rudimentary, he told me. It’d be hard to explain to an herbal doctor or “traditional healer” what OCD is. So those who have severe OVD suffer in silence.

He was very curious to know what the perception is in this country.

In the course of the conversation, something occurred to me — something I’ve always known but never really thought about.

In America, OCD is so well-known that just about everyone with a Type-A personality will tell you they have it. People will say they’re having an OCD moment at the drop of a hat. Usually if they’ve dropped their own hat and pick it up without counting to four or some of the other things real OCD cases are famous for.

Americans in particular are more hyper-aware of OCD because American culture by its very nature is obsessive and compulsive. We see things on TV that we MUST have, and don’t stop thinking about it until we have it. Maybe it’s a new pair of boots or a handbag. You see it and must have it, then you catch yourself, giggle and say your having an OCD moment.

Or, you get caught up in a period of heavy work activity. A project is due and you have the blinders on so you can tune out the rest of the world and get the work done. You shrug and say it’s an OCD moment.

In both cases, it’s not an OCD moment. It’s just you doing what you’ve been taught to do in a capitalist society.

Don’t mistake this for an anti-American rant. I love my country. It’s just that when compared to poorer, third-world nations, we have so much that we often take our understanding of things for granted. That includes understanding the difference between having a mental disorder and just getting caught up in the hyperactive nature of society.

I do the same things, and — even though I am a clinical OCD case — I often have trouble telling the difference between one of my genuine OCD moments and when I’m just getting caught up in material things.

Americans are complex beings. That’s our Blessing and our curse.

It’s a small lesson. But I’m thankful that this blog connects me with people from other parts of the world who see things differently.


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