While reviews and summaries of Turtles All the Way Down often describe Aza Holmes as suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, Aza herself does not use that term in the novel. According to Aza, she has “some anxiety problems.” “Anxiety problems” is different from “obsessive compulsive disorder.” The former is broader, which makes it less limiting and thus somewhat harder to stigmatize.
Aza’s imprecise name for her disorder gives her a type of freedom. In a way, it lets her define what she’s suffering from and the influence it has on her. As Aza states,
I would argue it isn’t irrational to be concerned about the fact that you are a skin-encased bacterial colony.
Here, Green could be suggesting that mental illness doesn’t automatically deprive a person of their reason. A person can suffer from mental issues and remain lucid. Remember, the novel is told in Aza’s voice. It’s hard to argue that Aza does not have a sharp, insightful, and humorous perspective.
At the same time, it’d be clumsy to dismiss the debilitating impact that Aza’s “anxiety problems” create. In the hospital after the car crash, the extent of Aza’s mental illness becomes evident when she pleads with her anxious thoughts,
Please let me go. I’ll do anything. I’ll stand down. You can have this body. I don’t want it anymore.
Then again, it’s important to note that such moments don’t define her. While they’re a basic part of her identity, they’re not the only part. Responding to Edgar Allan Poe’s lofty sentiments on mental illness, Aza quips, “I find mental disorders to be vastly overrated.” Think about why Green had Aza says this. Maybe he was trying to convey the message that mental disorders present enough problems as they are: they don’t need to be dramatized or romanticized.