Why Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Is Not 'Cute' Or 'Quirky' (Feat. Neil Hilborn)

Have you ever seen a slightly crooked photo frame on the wall and felt compelled to adjust it? You might think to yourself, “My god, that’s driving my O.C.D crazy.” We’ve all been there. But unless you’ve been medically diagnosed, then this is why you should think twice before claiming to be a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.)  

Perfectionism is a very valid cause for anxious emotions. However, it is not the same thing as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D). All too often, O.C.D is being appropriated in everyday cases of fussiness. O.C.D has become synonymous with words like “clean” or “organised” which are both qualities that most would presume are good. O.C.D, however, is no blessing.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a debilitating mental health condition, whereby recurring and unwanted thoughts or images (obsessions) provoke an urgent need to act out compulsive behaviours. For example, an obsession might be repetitively thinking or worrying about germs. As a result, an associated compulsive behaviour might be frequent hand washing and cleaning.

Someone who knows all too well the severity of OCD is Neil Hilborn - the creator behind a viral video which highlights the true impact that OCD can have on people’s everyday lives. Notching up well over 46-million views, the poet delivers a gut-wrenching account of a past romance that failed due to his OCD.  

Speaking to Amplify, Neil said that his video has been a major wakeup call for people who hadn’t fathomed the enormity of OCD.

“A lot of people talk to me at shows, or I get comments online of people saying ‘Man, I thought I had OCD just because I need my pencils arranged in a certain way’ or whatever small thing that doesn’t really impact their life that much. But people have reacted saying ‘Oh, I get it, it’s not really a disorder unless it genuinely impacts your ability to function’.”

Neil, however, doesn’t blame people for their lack of understanding about the issue.

“I never try to take it personally because I don’t think there’s any malice. A lot of people see portrayals of OCD in the media as something that’s quirky, or maybe romantic. I think that the reality of that – especially OCD, but anxiety disorders in general – is that they take up so much of your attention and so much of your time” he said.

“So if I can help anybody to take a look at their own tendencies and think ‘You know what, maybe this isn’t OCD, maybe this is just a quirk and maybe it’s just a part of who I am’ maybe people will be a little more accepting and a little bit more open to people who have really serious and severe disorders that make it difficult for them to function on a day-to-day basis.”

See below for the full transcript from our interview with Neil Hilborn. 

Do you think you’re helping to quash the stigma surrounding mental health?

 Absolutely. That’s one thing that I’ve always tried to do with my work and the one thing that I’m trying to do with my career. But I think one of the biggest things that I’ve noticed since that OCD poem has blown up is that a lot of people talk to me at shows, or I get comments online of people saying ‘Man, I thought I had OCD just because I need my pencils arranged in a certain way’ or whatever small thing that doesn’t really impact their life that much. But people have reacted saying ‘Oh, I get it, it’s not really a disorder unless it genuinely impacts your ability to function.’ On the flip side of that, I’ve really noticed that a lot of people have talked to me and say ‘Hey, I have OCD or bipolar disorder’ – pick a mental illness – and they’ve said ‘I never really knew how to talk about it, or I never thought that it was okay to talk about it myself. But then I saw you doing your poem and you were just so genuine and authentic with the way you were telling your story.’ People say that they feel really empowered by my poem to go out and tell their own stories and really start talking about their mental health issues.

Do you think the term OCD gets overused?

It definitely is overused. I never try to take it personally because I don’t think there’s any malice. I think it’s mostly just a lack of understanding. A lot of people see portrayals of OCD in the media as something that’s quirky, or maybe romantic. I think that the reality of that – especially OCD, but anxiety disorders in general – is that they take up so much of your attention and so much of your time. So if I can help anybody to take a look at their own tendencies and think ‘You know what, maybe this isn’t OCD, maybe this is just a quirk and maybe it’s just a part of who I am’ maybe people will be a little more accepting and a little bit more open to people who have really serious and severe disorders that make it difficult for them to function on a day-to-day basis.

 Do you think the piece would have had the same impact if it was just written, or do you think the spoken-word performance had the most impact?

I think that poem really needed to be performed to really come across. It’s funny, I think of that poem a lot more as a monologue than I do as a poem. So much of spoken-word poetry is an interesting cross between poetry and theatre. That OCD poem is published in my book, Our Numbered Days’, but it never even occurred to me that it could be written or that people would be interested in reading it instead of watching it. But my editors made it look great on the page and I thought they did a really incredible job with it. So I think there’s something to be gained from reading it on the page, but I think primarily it’s meant to be watched. It’s meant to be viewed.

Most of Amplify’s audience would consider themselves to be creative types & a lot of would probably be aspiring writers. What’s your advice to people who want a career in writing? 

Anybody who wants to be a professional artist, especially a professional writer, you have to really prepare yourself for a whole lot of rejection and a whole lot of failure. Say you have a poem and you’re submitting it to a literary magazine, you might submit that poem to 50 literary magazines and it’ll get rejected by 48. So I think so much of the task of being a professional artist is really believing in your own work and that what you’re doing is valuable and that even if a whole bunch of other people aren’t into it, that rejection is not a reflection on you – it’s a reflection on maybe just that piece, or how the reviewer is feeling that day. So probably the most important thing for anybody aspiring to be a professional writer is to not take yourself too seriously and just be able to let rejection and criticism flow right by you.  
 

If you'd like more information on OCD, head to ReachOut
If this raises any concerns for yourself, please contact your GP or Lifeline 13 11 14.