Recognising OCD for what it is – a disability.

Often when we think of disabilities, what comes to mind often is visible disabilities, not invisible disabilities that people often hide. In the media machine, we have a “type” of disability that comes to mind. Certain words, images and conversations happen when surrounding the lives of those who are disabled.

A black man has his mouth open and hands covering his head in anguish, he is in a dark room and barely lit.

I am 6ft 3, black, and a man. On the outside, most people would NEVER associate me with any disability. Yet on Saturday 4th June, I was finally diagnosed with ‘Pure 0’, OCD. (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a disability that is very much hidden and those with OCD hide their physical compulsions.

“Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious anxiety-related condition that affects 1.2% of the population, which is around three-quarters of a million people here in the UK”, as outlined by: the charity OCD UK.

“People with OCD experience intensely negative, repetitive and intrusive thoughts, combined with a chronic feeling of doubt or danger (obsessions). In order to quell the thought or quieten the anxiety, they will often repeat an action, again and again (compulsions).” as explained by OCD action.

A person can end up waiting for an average of 10–15 years between symptoms developing and seeking help. It is no laughing matter. According to University and College Union, “OCD is considered a disability under the Equality Act if it has an adverse and substantial long-term effect (lasting over twelve months) on a person’s normal day-to-day activity.”  

My OCD is “Harm OCD”, which refers to obsessive and repetitive thoughts of hurting myself and others. It tormented me and I hid these thoughts in fear I would be seen as crazy. By speaking openly and writing my story I hope it disrupts the media narrative surrounding OCD, which we are all victims of at times. OCD affects the daily lives of individuals and is severely debilitating and affects my everyday life.

“I consider OCD to be a disability. It’s affected every aspect of my day-to-day life since I was a small child of primary school age and continues to be extremely challenging. According to the Equality Act 2010, I would be classed as having a disability because of how the disorder affects me. So why is it that even though it’s recognised as a disability in the eyes of UK law, it’s still seen as okay to crack jokes about OCD or sell ‘OCD-themed products’ on the sites of major online retailers? It’s really not okay.”

Sabrina, 27, OCD advocate
OCD advocate Shaun Flores full body modelling photoshoot.

In a previous article for Models of Diversity, I wrote about “Being a model with an invisible illness” where I explore the reality of having a hidden illness in an industry where the foundation is built upon the very way you look. I may look fine, however many times I am still struggling. It has only recently when researching under the law have I realised OCD is recognised as a disability.

Even to this day when I tell people I have OCD, they ask “Isn’t that the cleaning thing?”, or “Don’t look there it is not clean.” I am on a mission to really educate people about OCD.

Inclusive Actor & Model Agency London | Zebedee Talent UK are an agency changing the game for people with disabilities, representation massively matters as it brings people out from the darkness they hide in and into the light where they deserve to live. I aim to represent disabilities in various spheres of society.

Disability can be seen as a dirty word and used as a pejorative to shame people. Disability is neither, it demonstrates a reality that we live within, but are not trapped or solely defined by.

“A mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity. With OCD it really is broad as there are so who just can’t get out of bed or do things because of it. Others continuously have a mental battle every single day and although they are able to do things it takes a massive toll on their mental capacity which can be something that goes on for decades due to it not being given the recognition that it deserves.”

Monique, an OCD survivor

The Future of OCD

Never in life did I expect two words to come out of my life, I have a disability via a mental illness, Neither define me they are chapters in my book. I have to turn the pages every day to see what the next page holds.

Some famous people with OCD: J.Cole, Kelly Rowland, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, and Leonardo Dicaprio. This just reinforces we can work with a disability.

I now am a volunteer advocate for Orchard OCD, the only UK-based charity that is researching faster and better treatment for those with OCD.

Whilst on paper I am disabled, I work this hard to make it look easy, I am slowly recovering from OCD. What has aided me in preventing my disability to drown me has been writing and helping others. It has empowered me to see others being enabled by my words. More people need to realise OCD can be disabling in countless facets, but you will be enabled in other ways that OCD can not take away from you.

I even found out in 2000, when looking at my records I was diagnosed potentially with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), my mum denies this formally. I will be further looking into it.

A disability is not the end of your life, it is your newfound superpower. A label does not define you, it is a chapter in your book, not the entire book.  Before my several OCD breakdowns and then my diagnosis, truthfully I took life for granted, I merely existed, and now I have decided to live. I love to help others, and by being of service to my community I have been able to rise up and ensure others no longer suffer in silence. We all deserve a voice regardless of what our disabilities are.  Your disability will give you newfound abilities, remember that.

Some of my previous work can be found here: Treat my OCD, Kindred Magazine, The Book Of Man, The Model Cloud Magazine, Beyond Equality, and Orchard OCD.
I was also featured on TheOCD stories podcast and Happiful MagazinePodcast.
Portfolio: theshaunflores Linktree
Social Media: (@theshaunflores)

Shaun Flores
Shaun Flores

Shaun Flores is an OCD advocate, model and influencer, aiming to have the right influence on the world. focusing on mental health, well-being, and lifestyle.

He is also a public speaker with two TEDx Talks,  TEDx 2022 & TEDx 2018. A third TEDx Talk remains in his periphery to help raise awareness of OCD, and in turn, raise funds for a mental illness which remains severely underfunded and under-researched.

He also is a volunteer advocate for Orchard OCD, the only UK-based charity that is researching faster and better treatment for those with OCD.

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