When my deafness and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) collide

In July 2020, I was handed another diagnosis to process. Years of fending off intense intrusive thoughts on my own, the pressure from lockdown became a bit too much to bear. With the encouragement of my parents, I approached my GP and was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was also prescribed sertraline.

Before I write any more, it’s probably worth stressing that OCD is not the same as perfectionism, and as such, everyone is not ‘a little OCD’. As a result of poor media representations, often depicting those with the condition as rigorous cleaners or individuals who prefer things neatly aligned, people neglect the side of OCD which concerns the intrusive thoughts. For me, said thoughts often try to convince me that I’m the worst person imaginable, so trust me when I say that OCD is far from cute, or a fun adjective to describe your perfectionist mindset.

With that being said, there’s always a period with a new diagnosis where you are left to consider how it would intersect with other aspects of your life. When I was first told I would benefit from hearing aids in my early teenage years, many questions soon flooded my mind. How would I use the technology in education? How it would work with my glasses, which already take up a lot of my ear space?

Admittedly, prior to writing this article, I hadn’t necessarily considered the ways in which my deafness and OCD could cross over. It isn’t that the two conditions don’t intersect, or that their joint impact is insignificant – more that I hadn’t acknowledged it much in the past.

‘Deaf anxiety’ is a phrase I’ve seen pop up in the deaf community from time to time. Campaigner Artie McWilliams is credited with coming up with the term in 2017. “If I miss something, people will look at me and go, ‘Why doesn’t he respond,’” he says in a YouTube video. “In those moments I know that I’m overthinking it, and I know that I’m being paranoid, but I can’t shut it off.”

The more I think about it, the more I realise I sometimes experience ‘deaf anxiety’ myself. I’m still teaching myself to unlearn the ‘sorry’ that comes before asking a hearing person to make their communication more accessible and deaf friendly. On occasion, I would fear that my requests for someone to repeat themselves are inconvenient or annoying. It’s easy to think that you’re bothering someone by asking them to do the bare minimum in terms of access, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Then again, with my ‘deaf anxiety’ already worrying about my potentially being a nuisance, it’s easy for my OCD to latch onto that and remind me that I’m awful for something as minor as telling a hearing person to speak more clearly.

Over time, I’m coming to learn that the way to tackle it is to avoid apologising for being deaf, when the majority of the time, I am far from sorry about identifying as mildly deaf – in fact, it’s quite the opposite!

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