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'Work in Progress' Episode 4 reminds us of difference between what OCD is and what people think it looks like

Abby not only has to navigate 'public restrooms as a gender non-conforming queer d*ke,' but is forced to open about her OCD by an annoying coworker.
A still from 'Work in Progress' Episode 4. (Showtime)
A still from 'Work in Progress' Episode 4. (Showtime)

As always, Showtime’s queer-centric comedy ‘Work in Progress’ manages to touch upon a topic that most people may happily laugh off, and treats it with the kind of empathy it deserves: obsessive-compulsive disorder, and how most neurotypicals think this disorder works.

Episode 4 deals with Abby McEnany who navigates “public restrooms as a gender non-conforming queer d*ke”. She is forced to open up about her obsessive-compulsive disorder by a colleague who compares her obsessive hand-washing (that sometimes leaves her bleeding) with checking if she had closed the door a couple of times more than usual. 

The National Institute of Mental Health defines OCD as “a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.”

While the definition is pretty self-explanatory, perhaps, a lot of people fail to understand how this disorder manifests and what it actually looks like — as opposed to what a generally “neat-freak” person imagines it looks like. To understand OCD in all its severity, one of the best possible examples is to watch poet Neil Hilborn perform his 2013 viral poem. 

In this poem — titled ‘OCD’ — Hilborn explains through the tics of his obsessive-compulsive disorder, the woman he loved and how much he loved her. It goes like, “... But when I saw her, the only thing I could think about was the hairpin curve of her lips/Or the eyelash on her cheek/the eyelash on her cheek/the eyelash on her cheek/I knew I had to talk to her/I asked her out six times in thirty seconds/She said yes after the third one, but none of them felt right, so I had to keep going.”

Hilborn’s verse paints a heartwarming-yet-painful image of what it is to live with this.

But most neurotypical folk, as they always do, trivialize this painful condition by likening it to them keeping their desks clean, organizing their folders well on their computers, and liberally using hand-sanitizers.

“People often use the words 'obsession' and 'compulsion' loosely, but the mental health community are specific in how they define OCD," says Larry Needleman, PhD, a psychiatrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Needleman explains to that for it to be classified as a disorder, one must have obsessions (repetitive, intrusive, unwanted thoughts or images), compulsions (repetitive physical or mental acts), or a combination of both. “The behavior — typically acted out to prevent or neutralize some unfounded or irrational fear — must also cause significant distress, be time-consuming, and/or interfere with important areas of your life, such as your relationships, work, or health,” he added. 

Yes, people have mental tics. No, they are not always symptomatic of OCD. As long as people continue to misunderstand this, they will keep trivializing this debilitating condition. And as long as that happens, people like Abby would have to keep suffering their insensitivity. 

‘Work In Progress’ Season 1 airs every Sunday, 11 pm, only on Showtime.