I intend to write this article in a more lackadaisical format and tone than I have previously written about my mental health struggles. Quite frankly, there’s been nothing fun about the stress and anxiety that has accompanied me along my journey to accept and maintain my obsessive-compulsive disorder. Notice how I don’t use words like, “cure” or “overcome” in describing my goal. The truth is, there is a chance that I never fully reach a point of nothingness in terms of this sh*tty disorder. That is exactly why I am giving myself the time and space to write this article. This is my story, which may differ, emulate or parallel the experiences of others who struggle with OCD. If you want to read more seriously and in more detail about my struggle with OCD and anxiety, this article or this article may suit you better. Otherwise, these are some of the compulsions that I partook in before ever realizing that I had OCD. Compulsions are repetitive actions (either mental or physical) that one performs in order to remedy intrusive thoughts that plague their mind. And yes, by the end of this list, you’ll be asking yourself how I never knew I was struggling with OCD. It beats me, too.
- Tracing a star in my head as I thought of words and phrases
Whew, off to a great and confusing start. I don’t remember how old I was when I started performing this compulsion, but I do recall it being a thing. I would count each syllable in a word or phrase and move to each point in the star as I sounded it out in my head. Looking back, I don’t remember having intrusive thoughts aligned with this compulsion. Whether or not this was the first one I experienced, it is one of the first ones I remember. Compulsions don’t always paint themselves as physical actions. Sometimes, the repetition and pattern-making in one’s head is a compulsion in itself.
- Reading sentences over and over
Whether they were in books, on paper assignments or in online articles didn’t matter. Sometimes I would have to read a sentence what felt like 10 times before moving onto the next, simply because it didn’t feel right and good the previous times. This made reading and writing quite difficult, which was a fantastic addition to any initial stress brought on by school. Not only did I have to do my homework (are you kidding?), but I had to spend ridiculous amounts of time going back and reading things. This compulsion, I can only guess, birthed my next.
- Erasing (or deleting) and re-writing words
As I carried on through high school and the early years of college, I found myself struggling to write complete assignments or articles — even articles for the platform you’re reading this on right now — without frustration and difficulty. If I had any sort of negative thoughts while writing or typing a word, I would find myself compelled to erase the entire thing and start over, no matter how far into it I had gotten or how much I liked the phrasing. Most of the time, I would feel compelled to erase entire sentences. At the start of my junior year of college, I picked up journaling as a way of coping with everyday stressors. Finally, I had found an outlet where I could let all of my frustrations, confusion and feelings out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before OCD swept in and stole this passion from me. Soon, I couldn’t even write a sentence in my journal without feeling anxious and like I would cause bad things to happen by writing. Fun fact: This anxiety became the base of my therapy sessions, and my therapist worked with me for months to get me back to a point that I could write regularly and semi-anxiety-freely in my journal.
- Knocking on wood
This compulsion, as silly as it sounds, has been the most difficult one to overcome yet. Somewhere and at some point, OCD convinced me that I could prevent bad things from happening to my loved ones by knocking on wood. I know it sounds kind of funny and overly ominous. As I type this out, I recognize the drama in it. But there is nothing funny or juvenile about the anxiety and stress that this compulsion brought me. Imagine thinking that the lives of everyone you loved were dependent on your ability to follow your OCD’s instructions. Of course you’re going to do what it says, but it also is going to take a large toll on you. This one sucked. In order to “save” my family and friends, I would have to knock on my bedside table, dresser, the hardwood floors — whatever wood I could find — in patterns of four. Sometimes it was just four. Sometimes it was 16. OCD likes to keep you on your toes like that.
OCD sucks. Evidently, I have been struggling for years without a diagnosis or any clue what was going on in this brain of mine. If the troubles I described in this article struck a chord with you, know that there are plenty of resources, from counseling services, to books, to support groups, whose sole purposes are to help ease the pain that obsessive-compulsive disorder causes. Though I can look back at some of these compulsions and chuckle at the ridiculousness today, I remember feeling like the anxiety and obsession over them were like balloons filled with hot air that constantly increased in size. There was no room for anything in my head but the thoughts and the confusion and fear that came with them. What I can say with certainty is that I wouldn’t be this far in terms of managing the disorder without the help of therapists, doctors and many trusted friends and family members who have offered an ear. Oh, and I guess I can add my own perseverance and efforts to that list as well.