When I was in fifth grade, I began imagining my parents’ deaths. Whether it was in a car accident, a raging fire or just peacefully in the middle of the night, I couldn’t get the thoughts out of my head no matter how hard I tried. In fact, even typing those sentences makes me a little anxious.
I thought I was crazy, demented, maybe even possessed. I felt hopeless and distraught, and the only solution to make me feel better was to start compulsively checking random things in my room.
In order to get ready in time for school, I would have to wake up around 5 in the morning. I would have to pray multiple times throughout my daily routine, and if I messed up I would have to start over.
I would have to rearrange the stuffed animals sitting on my bed perfectly. I would have to turn the lights on and off a specific number of times. It was an endless cycle of check, stress, and repeat.
It wasn’t until my mother bought me the book, Kissing Doorknobs when I realized I had OCD. After reading about Tara’s struggles in the story that were just like mine, I felt a tiny bit relieved. Turns out I wasn’t crazy, I just had a chemical imbalance (thanks, brain) that caused me to contemplate my deepest fears over and over.
If you don’t know what OCD is, it is a mental disorder that causes disturbing intrusive thoughts (these are the obsessions). Because people do not want these thoughts in their heads, they engage in repetitive “rituals” (the compulsive part) to bring them some relief.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects roughly 1% of the population. That’s it. So, I get really frustrated when I hear people constantly laughing about how “OCD” they are when they actually are not.
Feeling the need to wash your hands isn’t OCD, that’s just common sense. Everybody wants to avoid getting sick. But, I’m pretty sure those self-declared “clean freaks” aren’t washing their hands because if they don’t they’re afraid that they’ll contaminate and kill their whole family.
For me, personally, I wouldn’t even consider myself a “germaphobe.” OCD can manifest itself in multiple different ways. While some OCD sufferers do exhibit strong fears of germs, others can become fearful of certain numbers, colors, harm to themselves or a loved one dying.
Also, the compulsions that come with OCD include many different actions other than hand-washing, such as praying, counting, hoarding or tapping. Each individual sufferer of OCD experiences the disorder differently, which is why it can be so difficult to truly understand the illness.
Along with that, wanting things organized does not mean you have OCD, either. Again, this is a very common trait for people to have. And I’m sure for most of you, not organizing your desk won’t induce a panic attack because you won’t be worrying about dying just because you didn’t rearrange your pencils.
Another common misconception that people have about OCD is that it is very obvious. For me, this could not be further from the truth. I purposely go out of my way to hide my compulsions from people, because I don’t want to explain to people that I have to log in and out of my computer five times or else my parents will die.
In summary, OCD is not a “quirky” personality trait. It is a real disease that actually affects people every day.
And while we’re on the subject, telling me to “relax” will not help the chemical imbalance in my brain. Don’t you think I would’ve tried to do that by now if that was the case?
OCD, along with many other mental illnesses, is still very stigmatized and misunderstood. However, that can change when people stop using it in the wrong way and, instead, remain mindful of the struggles that real sufferers of the disorder face.