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OCD isn’t a pretty title for perfectionism

It is not uncommon for people to refer to perfectionism as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. What people don’t realize is the fact that OCD is not necessarily perfectionism, but a much more complex disorder. The Sidekick editorial page editor Aliza Abidi explains how these terms are rather far from being synonyms. Sohalia Reddy.
Sohalia Reddy
It is not uncommon for people to refer to perfectionism as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. What people don’t realize is the fact that OCD is not necessarily perfectionism, but a much more complex disorder. The Sidekick editorial page editor Aliza Abidi explains how these terms are rather far from being synonyms. Sohalia Reddy.

He put ketchup on his burger. 

He did it slowly and carefully, stopping every few seconds to ensure that the lines were straight. I watch him out of curiosity along with the rest of the lunch table, his focus and commitment contiguous. 

“Oh my god, You’re so focused. Do you have OCD or something?” someone at the table quipped.

The fork digging into my ravioli wavered. Low chuckles surrounded me, but my heart dropped and my throat became dry. I closed my eyes and told myself to move on. 

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They didn’t mean harm.

The desire to complete daily tasks to their most satisfactory form is defined as perfectionism. Having the compulsion to repeat an action, in multiple areas of one’s daily life is diagnosed as Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) –  the need for extreme perfectionism in everyday actions and the compulsion for control and structure. However, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the compulsion to do the same action repeatedly, solely focusing on one aspect in one’s life. 

Notice how it does not fit the labels of the definitions it is commonly correlated to. 

The factor distinguishing OCD is  people’s daily lives are disrupted by only a specific behavior or aspect, thoughts that interrupt their cognition about a single part of themselves. It is not a personality disorder, like OCPD, nor is it wanting to re-do an action but an eternal cycle of repetitive need

Unfortunately, it has become a ‘fancy’ adjective people casually add to everyday conversations without understanding the implications it carries. Having perfect handwriting is not OCD. Dressing neatly is not OCD. Double-checking your homework is not OCD, and it is ignorant and exploitative to call it so and create a false label. 

OCD to me is the feeling of breathlessness and confusion. It is something I faced because I could not move on in my day without doing a specific action perfectly, a force that I fought within myself.

Dealing with these conditions meant that I second guessed every thought I had, no longer trusting myself. Not because I continuously strive for perfection – my handwriting is illegible – but because my mind felt like it was being infiltrated and I could not distinguish my voluntary and involuntary reasoning. 

The label of perfectionism being continuously correlated to OCD feels like my experiences are invalid and unworthy, making my struggles parallel to wanting a neat lifestyle. 

I am not implying perfectionism doesn’t lead to harm or it is not something causing struggle in daily lives but it is not a synonym for OCD. If a person who struggles with obsessions, simply dismisses it as perfectionism, they may never gain the help or treatment they need. 

This overgeneralization of mental health issues is broader than just the daily applications of perfectionism and OCD. Depression is not just sadness, anxiety is not just panic. It is the continuation of these factors and the disruption it creates in one’s daily life that defines it as a disorder.

We have a right to talk about the mental disorders that interrupt our daily life. Everyone should have space to speak comfortably about emotional struggles that they have but a mental disorder is not a label, not a description that is thrown around, an extreme condition mocked by daily situations.  

Don’t underestimate the struggle you or someone else may be going through merely because the label of disorders is now characterized as common. We live in a time where mental health awareness circulates through social media, therefore it is our responsibility to be aware of what these illnesses are and how they can be applied. 

It is not funny to hear someone characterize an action as OCD for humorous purposes, just like saying “I’m going to kill myself” with sarcasm doesn’t remove from its ignorance and harmful consequences to bystanders.

Mental disorders do not exist for you to brush off, nor is it an extreme label for out-of-context behaviors. My OCD is not something that makes me a perfectionist. It is emotional dissonance and your lack of acknowledgement is negatively redefining the meaning behind its diagnosis.

Follow Aliza (@aliza_abidi) and @CHSCampusNews on X.




This story was originally published on Coppell Student Media on November 6, 2023.