The Truth About OCD

When it comes to mental health, OCD is one of the most overlooked and misjudged disorders. The fact that OCD gets thrown around every time someone is a little anal about something shows how uneducated we are about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Yes, being a neat or clean freak is a common sign of OCD, but OCD is so much more than that.

I think one of the reasons people don’t know the reality of OCD is because it is rarely represented in the media. There are countless TV shows covering topics such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders, etc. but there have only been two instances I’ve seen OCD represented on TV. 

I was so happy when watching the first episode of Euphoria because OCD was brought to light. It gave a perfect example of Rue when she was little, she was looking up at the light panels and counting them. Her mother interrupted her to ask what she was doing and she started hysterical crying because her mom threw off track before she could finish counting, so she would have to start all over again.

I am no fan of Lena Dunham, but she depicted OCD on Girls in a very important way. She showed how intrusive and intense it really is. Her character, Hannah, was not able to leave her apartment without touching everything eight times. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorders have many different layers. But one thing you need to know about the process of OCD is that it is like giving bread to a flock of seagulls, the more you give, the more they come. 

My first sign of OCD was when I would get physically uncomfortable when things didn’t go my way. I’m not talking about going to the restaurant I didn’t pick for my birthday, I’m talking about small everyday life things. For example, every night before bed, I couldn't fall asleep without making sure all of my shoes were lined up perfectly. If I was laying in bed and all of a sudden the thought popped into my head; I couldn't stop thinking about it and I started feeling physically uncomfortable. My chest would get tight, my heart would start racing and my legs would start shaking. I knew the only way I would feel better at the moment was to turn on the lights, get out of bed, and precisely line up my shoes to my liking. 

Now, is making sure your shoes are lined up perfectly a real-life problem? No. Is it something that can wait for tomorrow? Yes. Is it something that I NEED to do in order to sleep? No. When it comes to OCD, logic has no role. Sure, you know that the things you feel like you have to do, don’t make sense in real life, but that doesn’t help.

I remember one summer at sleepaway camp one of the kids I was working with ended up getting the stomach bug and was in the nurse for a week. I was so paranoid that I was constantly washing my hands and using hand sanitizer. I ended up washing my hands so much and so intensely that they started bleeding. The only thing that made me feel a tiny bit better was asking my friend over five times in a row if she thought my hands were clean enough. I would ask her once, she would say yes, and I would ask her again to make sure she heard me and make sure she said yes, and then one additional time to make sure she said yes, over and over again. I now know this is something called reassurance, a way people with OCD try to deal with their discomfort at the moment.

If someone with OCD has a disturbing thought, it is impossible for them to just sit with it and move on. There were so many times where the smallest of things I was never able to let go of during my childhood were really the beginning stages of my OCD without me knowing it. 

I was in a constant battle with my mind. I could be sitting on the couch, but an entire circus was going on in my head. Do you know how hard that is? To be battling your own mind? What side do you listen to? Why are you divided? Why do you feel like this? I felt trapped in my own head, a prisoner in my own body. If I cracked my left pinky toe three times, I had to crack my right pinky toe three times, or else, I would feel physically uncomfortable. Before I got out of the shower, I had to twist the shower handle back and forth three times. I had to touch my head six times at 8 pm every night, once for each member of my family. It was exhausting just being in my own head. My OCD was with me 24 hours a day.

Once high school came, my irrational behaviors got ten times worse. I was scared of my own mind. Why am I thinking like this? What’s wrong with me?

When I was a sophomore in high school I started running on the treadmill. Every day, I did four miles on the treadmill. I would run two miles and walk two miles, and multiple days a week I would do this twice a day, meaning some days I would do a total of eight miles. This was excessive behavior. I didn’t allow myself to skip one day. I was growing out of my jeans every week and ended up weighing less than 100 pounds. While I thought this may have been an eating disorder, I now know that my EXCESSIVE exercising was really a compulsion to minimize stress. I was so obsessed with my work out schedule that even when I did anything else, it was all I could think about. In everything I did, even when I didn’t see it, my OCD was always there.

The worst part of my OCD is definitely Pure O. For those of you who are unfamiliar, summarizes Pure O perfectly, “obsessions that often manifest as intrusive, unwanted thoughts, impulses or “mental images” of committing an act they consider to be harmful, violent, immoral, inappropriate, or sacrilegious. For individuals with Pure Obsessional OCD, these thoughts can be frightening and torturous precisely because they are so antithetical to their values and beliefs.” 

For example, there would be times when I would be using a knife to cut my sandwich, and I just thought  “What if I just stabbed my arm with this knife?” WTF. Where did that come from? I don’t want to do that, why did I think that? What is my mind doing to me? It got to the point where I had to put away the knife and walk away from the cutting board in order to calm down.

I thought I was crazy. I swore to myself that I would never tell anyone how many thoughts like this popped up in my head because they would think I’m insane and lock me up in a mental hospital. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I would be driving on the highway alone and thought would pop up into my head, “what if I just swerved into that car and crashed?” I knew I didn’t want to do it, but then why did I think that? And that’s the question that always got me stuck and going in circles. If I didn’t want to do it, why did I think about it? Now, I know the answer is my OCD. 

I felt like I couldn't trust myself. I would be sitting in a school assembly and think, a guy with a gun is going to come in right now, and not be able to focus on anything else for the rest of the assembly. Every little noise I heard would make my body twitch with fear. What was that? OMG, it’s about to happen. An endless, miserable cycle. 

I convinced myself that if I didn’t walk up and down the stairs nine times during the middle of the night my family would die in a car crash. I told myself that I couldn't eat before I picked up and put down the fork seven times. If I did it six times, but not seven, I would have to do it just one more time. If I didn’t close the right window five times, not only would my chest get tight and my mind would start racing, but something bad would happen to me and my family. I would see a disturbing image on Twitter, and every so often it would pop into my brain when I was purposely trying not to think about it. I couldn't control my own mind. 

There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t take care of myself. I couldn’t do anything but panic and be stuck in my own head. An entire world was going on around me but I was only focused on opening and closing the door seven times. I was only focused on how bad I felt and was asking myself why I felt this way. 

What I am most thankful for is exposure therapy. Exposure therapy allowed me to imagine my worst nightmare and actually do it in real life, to show me that in reality, everything is actually okay. At the start of exposure therapy, if I only touched my water bottle three times when I was supposed to touch it four or else my house would burn down, I would be begging for my therapist to allow me to touch it once more and break down crying. By the end of exposure therapy, I laid down with a brick on my chest without a care in the world.

My body and mind were paralyzed with my OCD, and I am so thankful that I was able to learn about it and control it to a point where my OCD will not stop me from living life. In order to get better and live life normally I had to re-teach my brain to sit with my thoughts and feel uncomfortable instead of doing a compulsion I felt like I HAD to do because I knew that in the long run, it would help me. It took me a long time to get where I am today and I am so thankful for therapy and medication. Sure, nowadays I'll catch myself counting my steps excessively when I’m walking my dog, but compared to what I’ve experienced, that’s nothing.

If you feel scared and feel that you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. Stop allowing yourself to feel this way every day. You deserve better, you deserve inner peace and happiness. Trust me, it gets better.