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It’s All In My Head: My Journey with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Content Warning: OCD, intrusive thoughts, physical/sexual harm

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness where a person experiences a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted intrusive thoughts that bring the person intense distress, and they will often engage in compulsive behaviors to alleviate this distress or attempt to get rid of the thoughts. 

Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts every once in a while. We’ve all been driving and imagined swerving directly into traffic, or held a sharp knife and imagined stabbing someone. Someone without OCD will have a thought like this and think, “Huh, that was weird.” Maybe they’ll even laugh it off, and then they’ll go about their day. Someone with OCD, however, will experience severe anxiety about having a thought like this. Their brain will latch onto it and refuse to let go.

OCD is heavily stigmatized, but it is also misrepresented in popular culture (no, Monica from “Friends” does not have OCD). These false representations of what obsessions and intrusive thoughts are are not only incorrect, they are dangerous. 36% of OCD patients have experienced suicidal thoughts, and 11% have attempted suicide as a result of their disorder. OCD is often treated as a joke, but it is extremely serious.

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I first started experiencing intrusive thoughts when I was in 8th grade. These thoughts were vulgar, upsetting, and involved seeing myself hurting the people around me. I was terrified. I didn’t know why these thoughts were there, but I figured that deep down, it must mean that I wanted to hurt people. Why else would I fantasize about it every day?

I became quiet, irritable, and withdrawn. I would come home from school each day and lay in my room with the lights off to watch Netflix because I didn’t feel like I deserved to do other things. I was clearly a terrible person who thought about physically and sexually hurting others. These thoughts brought me so much fear, anxiety, and guilt. My family and friends noticed that I wasn’t doing well, but I couldn’t tell them the reason why. I couldn’t bear for anyone to know how much of a monster I was.

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I began to engage in compulsions around this time. When most people think of compulsions in OCD, they think of excessive hand washing, flicking the light switch on and off, tapping your fingers, and things like that. My compulsions were different – they only happened in my head.

Almost religiously, I repeated things to myself. Quotes, song lyrics, phrases I heard people around me say, anything that I could latch onto instead of latching onto the intrusive thought. The most common repetition was the last thing I ate. I don’t know where it started, but sometime when I was 14 or 15, I began repeating the last item of food I ate over and over until I ate something else. Even as I write this, I’m thinking “apple slices” over and over. I guess these repetitions were intended to serve as a distraction for my OCD, but they became something I relied on so heavily. I feel like if I stop repeating things, something bad will happen. I have to keep doing this to prevent that.

A person without OCD can look at this behavior from a logical perspective and understand that me repeating these things to myself has absolutely no impact on the world. It won’t prevent something bad from happening – it won’t prevent me from hurting people. But it’s all that I felt like I could control. I thought that at any moment, something inside me would snap, and I’d hurt someone. I kept myself on a tight leash, and these compulsions were just one way of experiencing the illusion of control.

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When I learned what an intrusive thought was on Tumblr as a teenager, I started sobbing instantly. I couldn’t believe that what I had hated about myself for years was just a mental illness. I didn’t secretly want these terrible things to happen – I was fixated on them because they were my deepest fears.

I still didn’t tell anyone about what I was experiencing. The few times I tried to open up to friends, they would respond, “Oh I get those too! I think about eating Tide Pods or licking soap in the shower.” I would instantly shut up hearing their versions of intrusive thoughts because if that was what they thought they were, they would never understand what I was going through. They’d think I was a bad person, which was exactly what I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t.

A few weeks ago, I read the book “Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought” by Lily Bailey, and I don’t think I’ve ever connected with a book the way I did with this one. I cried several times while reading it because I couldn’t believe that someone else experienced compulsions the way that I did. My illness doesn’t present itself in the typical way, but that doesn’t make it any less real and debilitating.

I struggle with OCD on a daily basis, but I have hope that recovery is possible. I’m getting better at accepting my intrusive thoughts instead of fighting against them. I’m able to talk about my condition with family and close friends, something I never thought I’d be able to do. I’m in therapy and on medication that helps ease the symptoms. I’m so glad that I have the resources to get better, but many people with OCD don’t, and others are too ashamed to seek help. I implore everyone to learn more about conditions like OCD so that we can work to destigmatize mental illness. Below are some resources that helped me on my journey with this disorder.

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  1. Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought” by Lily Bailey

2. “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green

3. “Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts” by Sally M. Winston and Martin N. Seif
4. “The OCD & Anxiety Podcast

Jordyn Stapleton has been a National Lifestyle Writer for Her Campus since February 2023. She covers a variety of topics in her articles, but is most passionate about writing about mental health and social justice issues. Jordyn graduated from CU Boulder in December 2022 with Bachelor’s degrees in music and psychology with a minor in gender studies and a certificate in public health. Jordyn was involved in Her Campus during college, serving as an Editorial Assistant and later Editor-in-Chief for the CU Boulder chapter. She has also worked as a freelance stringer for the Associated Press. Jordyn is currently taking a gap year and working at a local business in Boulder, with hopes of attending graduate school in fall 2024. Jordyn enjoys reading, bullet journalling, and listening to (preferably Taylor Swift) music in her free time. If she isn’t brainstorming her next article, you can usually find her exploring coffee shops or hiking trails around Boulder with her friends.