Take a look at the picture to the right. I got that picture off Twitter. Someone posted it, commenting that it looked like his desk at work. And then he added the #OCD hashtag. The message was clear. Having a painstakingly neat desk is a sign of OCD. Twitter and other social media is rife with these types of comments… And they’re all wrong.

OCD is not, and has never been, about being a neat freak. Unfortunately that concept was bantered around, on social media, in private conversations, and then gravitated to jokes and memes that are copied and copied all over the Internet. References to OCD being about neat freaks can be found in modern literature too.

Having a desk drawer like the one in the picture has nothing to do with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and everything to do with being anal retentive. By definition, someone who is anal retentive is a person who is excessively orderly and fussy. These are the people who spend hours cleaning and organizing cupboards, junk drawers, basements and garages. Anal retentives organize Christmas decorations perfectly. Cupboards are all neatly organized, with the labels on cans and boxes all facing out. It’s anal retentiveness, not OCD.

OCD is  a serious mental disorder that affects about two per cent of the population. It consists of unwanted and unwelcome intrusive thoughts and images that cause great distress and lead to repetitive acts, behaviors and rituals called compulsions. People with OCD suffer, hence they call themselves sufferers.

Anal retentives feel proud and a sense of accomplishment when they clean and organize something. They stand back and admire their work, pat themselves on the back. People with OCD do not. OCD sufferers would like nothing more than be able to stop their compulsions. They take no pleasure in performing their repetitive compulsions.

Is it possible for someone with OCD to have a compulsion to keep things neat, straight and organized? The answer is yes, though it would be a small number of the OCD population. In that case, however, the sufferer would not be able to organize something once, perfectly, then leave it alone. No. The sufferer would get everything perfect, which would reduce the anxiety they feel from their intrusive thoughts, but soon enough the thoughts would come back and the sufferer would have to reorganize again. And again, and again. It would be a relentless hell that the sufferer would feel he could not escape.