ADHD/OCD: They are not letters of the alphabet…

I’m feeling a little twitchy today, so while in a mood, I’m going to get something off my chest.

Just as parents, siblings, family and friends of children with mental challenges abhor the word ‘retarded’ used as a derisive adjective, I take an exception with people throwing Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) around without really knowing what these mean. They are not minor annoyances, they are serious thought disorders that can totally disrupt your life.

ADD/ADHD is real and can be debilitating in the extreme. It’s not simply a matter of having a short attention span, or being easily distracted… it is so much more than that.

It’s not being able to focus on routine tasks, not being able to complete anything that requires your full attention, it’s feeling out of control and not knowing why.

Homework/housework/any task can’t be done because you have a need to always be moving, you literally cannot sit still. You have to read and reread page after page because you can’t absorb the information, or you get off task by a noise, or other thoughts, and have to start over again.

ADHD is not being able to turn off all the external stimulus around you. You are bombarded by sights, sounds, smells, everything… there is no ignoring these factors, you are compelled to pay heed to each of them, all at once. And when you can’t, you cease to be able to do the task at hand. You can’t concentrate on one thing, because you have to concentrate on everything.

OCD is NOT just a desire for order. It is not simply wanting to put the cans of food in your pantry in alphabetic order.

It’s putting the cans in ABC order and if one is out of line, thinking you will die, knowing you will die. It’s going back into your pantry a dozen times a day to make sure the cans are still in order, it’s not leaving your house because you believe ‘someone’ will come into your home while you’re gone and arrange your cans and knowing you will die.

OCD is a force out of your control, it is not something you want to do, it’s something you HAVE to do.

At the extreme, OCD can completely take over your life. You are held hostage by your rituals, by the ‘voices’ telling you what to do, by the overwhelming need to clean, touch, arrange, collect… it is not something you can turn off whenever you want or feel mildly guilty if you don’t put away your laundry as soon as you fold it.

I do not suffer from either of these thought disorders, but I dearly love someone who does. I would not wish them on my worst enemy. Each of these, by themselves, has wreaked havoc on our family, together they have brought us to the brink of collapse.

Please, find another way to describe a lack of focus or your desire for neatness… unless you are truly dealing with ADHD or OCD, you really have no idea.

*Reposted as part of Pour Your Heart Out at Things I Can’t Say. Originally published June 8, 2010 at IMSO.

16 thoughts on “ADHD/OCD: They are not letters of the alphabet…

  1. You make a great point – though thankfully there are some for whom the disorders are irritating and distracting but not truly impacting their lives (although most won’t get diagnosed with anything unless it does disturb their lives and instead just be informed they have “tendencies” toward X or Y). I hadn’t thought of the disrepect part of it, to be honest. I know I’m in the minority for whom OCD is a tendency, and I work hard to keep it that way. The worst isn’t that YOU will die if you do something wrong but that someone you care for will or that you’ll be responsible for a huge tradegy involving strangers.

    Well written, and you know my heart bleeds for you..


  2. You know – last week I actually used the straightening items in my pantry as part of my Pour Your Heart Out talking about my OCD. While I didn’t go into massive details – I didn’t feel further need to. Not being able to sleep bc my pantry is messed up (when in my right mind I know it is just fine) and having to get up and fix it – knowing that I have to be up in two hours regardless – yeah that is a massive disruption.

    OCD keeps me awake at night. I can’t sleep unless things are done in a certain way.

    Don’t forget levels of OCD are different for different people. There are also MANY different kinds of OCD. And ADHD/ADD Yes – they are life altering issues.

    Unless you are living with it – I don’t think you realize how life altering it can be – at all different levels.


  3. What a great post. I can attest to how hard it is to live with someone with ADHD, someone you love. The fact that they can’t help the things they do don’t necessarily make them easy to deal with. It can be utterly exhausting, frustrating, overwhelming….and just imagine how it feels for the person who actually has ADHD?
    Medications help but they are not miracle pills. It’s such a tough situation.


  4. I can’t find it right now, but a friend of mine wrote a terrific post about mental illness as insult.

    No one in my house jokes or talks loosley about my anxiety/ocd. Mental illness is like cancer and no one jokes around about that.

    thanks for the post


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