What Not to Say: To People With OCD

I know you’ve seen this picture before.  It was too perfect for this post, I couldn’t resist.

What not to say to people you know have OCD or other clinical anxiety diagnoses:

“You worry too much”  (No shit, Sherlock.  You breathe too much.)

“Mellow out, it’s not that big a deal”  (Maybe to you it isn’t, to us it’s a punishable offense)

“Stop obsessing about… (whatever)”  (That’s what we DO)

“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill”  (If I could make a mole out of a mountain I would totally stop making a mountain out of a molehill.)

“You’re probably deficient in vitamins.”   (There is no possible way to answer this appropriately)

“All you need to do is stop FOCUSING so much on… (whatever you’re focusing on)”   (If I could paste a picture of Richard Armitage on the inside of my frontal lobe I would most certainly do it asap.)

“Your fears are irrational.”  (I had no idea.  Now I can just stop having them.)

“If you expose yourself to your fears repeatedly you’ll desensitize yourself to them.”  (Okay.  So if I’m afraid of hobo spiders I should go get me some a them babies and scatter them around my house and I’ll either be dead in a fortnight or cured of my fear of them?  That’s got a twisted brilliance to it… looking for some a them babies stat!)

“There’s nothing wrong with you- you’re totally normal!”  (Dude, if you think I’m normal it’s time for you to get your own psyche eval)

“You can’t have OCD.  You don’t count shit all day long and you don’t do anything weird”  (50% of my energy is exerted in making sure you don’t SEE the weird things I do)

I reserve the right to add to or change this list any time I want, subject to new revelations and idiotic comments.  Those who have said these things to a person with OCD or other Anxiety without KNOWING that person had such issues is wholly exempt from the full scope of my irritation which is quite formidable.




  1. Ann says:

    What a great, sad, true list.

    How about, “Just settle down”, for people with ADHD? If I had a nickle for each time I had heard that as a kid…

  2. I can certainly understand why each of those comments would be totally infuriating. Thankfully I can say that none of them have ever left my mouth in that context.. or any other, cause belittling someone else’s distress is never ok.

    I do understand how it happens though. So what the heck do you say to someone in that circumstance? People, females particularly, often feel they must say something and even me who is likely to closely keep my own council is often kicked back at because I can’t think of anything to say so don’t say anything at all.

    Kind Regards

  3. angelina says:

    Belinda- that is a very fair question. Partly this post is just to make fun of both my own issues and how big they seem to me and how small they seem to people who don’t have them and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. When people who don’t already know I have generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and OCD make comments like “Wow, you worry too much!” I give them a huge free pass because even though I might be a little irritated because I hear that A LOT I think it’s a fair observation for someone who doesn’t know to make. I try to remain always patient and not get offended easily with people who don’t know. It’s the people who know I have clinical anxiety who still make comments like this that actually piss me off and try my patience. The vitamin thing? That came from a therapist! A therapist was trying to tell me that maybe all my anxiety was just a B12 deficiency. That is such an incredibly stupid suggestion for a professional to make who’s dealing with a patient who’s already been diagnosed by a professional psychologist to make, and, if I may be allowed to say so: dangerous.

    There are a lot of people who, once they hear you’ve got a diagnosed mental illness, are very eager (for their own comfort, I imagine) to come up with alternative hypothesis for why you have anxiety and then offer solutions. They’re trying to be helpful and I think they want to believe that all mental issues can be fixed by something simple like a daily run or eating raw food or taking supplements. The thing is, some of those things may HELP but nothing cures mental illness. I think what’s irritating to a person like me who knows and accepts my diagnosis and works hard at managing it are people who don’t accept it. It’s like they’re denying that you have a problem and it puts all the responsibility for your malfunctioning brain right back into your own hands. And THAT is dangerous and untrue. Science has proven, to my satisfaction, that being chronically depressed isn’t something you bring on yourself. You can make it worse, of course, with poor choices and no management skills.

    It’s such a big subject. But I would say that when you don’t know if someone has a special issue it’s okay to speculate or ask or comment. I think the tact and consideration are more important when someone has already told you they do what they do because of some issue that isn’t in their control.

    But just bear in mind that I do exaggerate and make fun of things. The italics are what I’m often thinking when I hear comments like these but I would never really say them or direct them at someone I knew didn’t actually know what I am really dealing with. That wouldn’t be kind of me or fair. But from my inside perspective it’s pretty funny what people say when they have no idea, and then what they will STILL say when they do.

  4. jadeintheforest says:

    I haven’t read your writing in a long time & have missed it, lady.

    I am happy to report that this post made me Laugh Out Loud. Mostly because it’s true. I have generalized anxiety and I am so so so tired of hearing people saying “You worry too much” and other such -ism’s. Grah! If I had a nickel for every ridiculous comment like that I wouldn’t be sitting in an office right now.

  5. angelina says:

    Hi Jade!! I wondered where you went. You don’t have a url for me to visit and check up on you-(if you do, time to fess it up). I’ve missed your camaraderie. I always love hearing from my anxiety tribe. (And don’t you have a partner with ADHD too? Or am I thinking of someone else now?) I remember the first time I addressed the comment “You worry too much” with the response “I know dude. I have generalized anxiety.” The guy who said it stopped making comments about my “worry wort” tendencies and I have to say it was nice. He had made so many observations on that previously.

    Ann- I was thinking I was going to have to do one about ADHD!!!! Cause I hear people comment to Max like that and it’s pretty funny. But also frustrating. Max doesn’t have hyperactivity to the level that people with ADHD do (ADD only) but him being riled up and fidgety is a way of life. Poor kid has all the ADD and the anxiety too!

  6. angelina says:

    Didn’t you know that if you think too much your head will explode? They were all just trying to avoid the grey matter spray. Haha. Seriously though, may have to add that one to the list because people used to tell me that too. And they still do.

  7. Allison says:

    Ah yes…such simple solutions, if only we’d thought of them ourselves! 😉

    My sig other has very kind and well-meaning parents, who have the luxury of self-employment and a leisurely lifestyle out in the boondocks of the desert. For the first several years after my introduction to the family, I was pretty much “that girl who needs to relax”. Sure, I was only in school, holding down a couple jobs, and contending with the uncertainty and self-doubt of my early 20’s – but what on earth did I have to worry about? Throw in some cyclical depression and a bit of the ol’ OCD circular worries, and to them I must have been ready for a padded room.

    They are still quick to assume that I am operating at maximum-stress-worry levels at all times, and their advice to take it easy is usually what stresses me out more than anything I might currently be juggling. I’ve learned not to take it personally…but I am wary of the day when I actually have something catastrophic and overwhelming to sort out, and they float through just to say it’s all groovy if I just let go…

    Oh – and as for thinking too much – DEFINITELY possible. Still looking for that off-switch in my brain on occasion…

  8. angelina says:

    Now that’s very annoying of your inlaws!! Family and inlaws have no excuse to harangue you on things they ought to know you can’t easily help, or help at all. I have the exact same reputation you do amongst everyone I know. I know for a fact that the only off-switch to my brain is beer and television combined. The beer mellows the edge and the shows distract my brain to the point where it stops whatever it’s doing and it’s bliss. However, this isn’t foolproof. Some shows end up stimulating my brain to fresh frantic activity. It’s exhausting having a brain that never ever stops buzzing, isn’t it?

  9. Hello Angelina,

    Many thanks for posting this amusingly entertaining and articulate Blog 🙂
    Regularly, throughout most of my life, I have been told, “You think too much”, while thinking ..lol! that ‘too much’ is a relative phrase; for those that don’t think at all, any level of thinking would appear to be too much.

    Over the decades I mainly thought of myself as an anally retentive, detail-oriented perfectionist. Now, at the age of 43, I come to learn that the psychiatrists & physicians of the world have decided that being so ‘afflicted’ is actually a personality disorder titled OCD requiring immediate treatment using drugs. P.S. I have similar concerns about ADHD and the drugging of inquisitive / energetic children.

    I have self-medicated for quite some time now with beer / red wine and movies and/or books.

    While I really like my quick wit and intellectually curiosity about all things, I find it a mentally exhausting and disfunctional way to live; never ending research – resulting in 20-tab browser windows – and speculation replaces actually completing projects, which then pile up and cause anxiety and the need to research the anxiety … lol 🙁

    Any advice on how to tame the mind-beast without meds? Any way to keep the pros of OCD while minimising the cons?

    Warmest regards from the also easily distracted one with an inquisitive mine,
    P.S. A friend of mine came up with a new name for a common disorder, i.e., ADDOLSS = ADD “Oh. Look! Something Shiny!” Made me laugh so I thought to share 🙂

  10. angelina says:

    In my case my quality of life is hugely improved by combining meds with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and good self care. However, if you don’t want to take meds I think you could relieve some of your anxiety with just the CBT and good self care. The CBT trains you how to recognize your anxiety triggers and come up with solutions. There’s no mumbo-jumbo about it – it’s practical and the more you practice it the better the results. You can either learn it through a workbook on your own or you can find a therapist who specializes in it and have them guide you. That kind of therapy is short term – and you don’t sit around talking about your past unless it is pertinent to finding a solution to your anxiety in the present. Check it out and see what you think. One thing my therapist had me do is to figure out what the most calming activity is and do it once a day. something that calms your mind down – for me it’s deadheading roses and also cutting flowers from my garden and arranging them in vases. I used to be really stressed by unfinished projects too but I don’t get stressed by them that much any more.

    Best of luck to you!!

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