OCD Is So Much More Than Being Neat

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People explain what it feels like to have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). These quotes prove OCD is so much more than being neat.

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19 Signs You Grew Up With OCD

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Sometimes it starts as small, seemingly harmless habits. Counting. Tapping. Double checking. And while it’s easy to dismiss some of these early signs as “quirks” or just being neat or careful (think: “I’m so OCD”) — those who grew up with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) know how quickly these “habits” can take over their lives. They’re not quirks, they’re traps, and sometimes it takes years before a person with OCD receives the help they need.

To learn about these early signs of obsessive thoughts and compulsions, we asked people in our mental health community to share one “sign” they grew up with OCD.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “I had to write and re-write my name on assignments in school until it ‘looked right.’ I remember the compulsive nature of that ritual and I remember getting made fun of for it. That, and playing make believe games with my friends. If it was wrong, I would get upset and we would have to start over. Playtime is supposed to be an escape for children, but often for me, it was a source of anxiety. I only realize this now, but I’m sure when I was a kid I just thought it was ‘normal.’” — Sarah S.

2. “I couldn’t touch anything pink for most of my life, probably up until about three or four years ago. My earliest memory however was I would touch my fingers to my thumbs individually, each finger had to be pressed to my thumb with the same exact amount of pressure and for the same amount of time. I would mess up a lot and would panic, trying to fix it making sure I evened out my mistakes.” — Stephanie F.

3. “I started off with a fear of germs. When I was 10 years old, I had to wash my hands every time I touched something. I actually only got diagnosed three years ago at 28, but looking back I’ve struggled for a long time.” — Kerry R.

4. “Often times in class, I’d find myself focusing on the amount of syllables the teacher used in her sentence rather than what she actually said. It became the only thing that mattered. I’d repeat the sentence in my head and count with my teeth the syllables. I still occasionally do it, but I’ve learned to use it as an advantage rather than a distraction.” — Carleigh W.

5. “Hoarding was always an issue for me — my parents always thought I was being silly or selfish for not donating items or throwing things like random pieces of paper or bottle tops away. In actuality, the thought of throwing anything away sent me into a panic, and I was terrified that harm would come to me and someone would hurt me. I never understood why I had these thoughts until my diagnoses years later.” — Jessica L.

6. “Always being cautious and overly concerned about safety. To the point where I was unable to enjoy a lot of things that should have been fun, because I was too worried about the worst possible scenario. As a little kid, I never understood why no one else was as worried or concerned as I was. I didn’t realize how irrational my fears were, and I genuinely​ thought they had a high chance of coming true. And I would extensively think about and plan what I would do should something ‘bad’ happen.” — Gessie P.

7. “I would have to step on specific tiles at the grocery store with my mom so nothing bad would happen. I would count number of times I did something before leaving.” — Carsen R.

8. “I was about 11 when I started getting signs of OCD. I used to walk to wherever I was going, but if I didn’t feel I took my steps properly, I would have to retake them otherwise I convinced myself that my dad was going to die if I didn’t take them again. I also used to have to remind my dad over and over the time I finished school just to be ‘sure’ he wouldn’t forget.” — Becky N.

9. “I remember I used to write down on a notebook the word ‘no’ every time I got an intrusive thought as my own way of rejecting the intrusive thoughts. So, I ended up filling many notebooks with the word ‘no’ since I used to get hundreds of intrusive thoughts per day. At that time, I was 15 years old, and I didn’t have an idea I have OCD until five years ago.” — Fanyy F.

10. “I had to click my tongue and snap my fingers for a certain amount of time or else I thought my mother or people around me would die. I never knew what it was till now and I’m 24.”  — Jessica M.

11. “The very earliest started in preschool. I remember thinking my drinking water could be contaminated by pee. I only wanted to drink ice-cold water. When I was about 7, I developed a fear of something unknown slicing into parts of my body, so I had to protect the insides of my elbows and the backs of my knees by pressing into them with my hands or feet. I was 10 when I started having intrusive thoughts about harming my pets. I thought I’d grow up to be a murderer.” — Emily D.

12. “I did not like people to borrow, touch or play with my toys or things. Not in a throw a fit, spoiled child way. I was meticulous about how I kept my room as well. This started very young. I also was obsessively worried. I know now that those were tell tale signs that there was much more going on than my family realized.” — Tiffany B.

13. “There are certain numbers and words that I don’t like — I’ve never been able to explain why, but I felt like they were inherently bad numbers or words and using them or having them would cause something bad. I would avoid businesses or friends that had a “bad” phone number or street address. I selected my home based on the number and street name sounding right.” — Christa C.

14. “I used to take the ‘step on a crack, break your mother’s back’ seriously. I would always make sure I didn’t step on a crack and if I did, I’d have to go back and step on it with the other foot to make it ‘even’ and cancel out the initial one. Done it as far as I can remember. Earliest memory about 7 years old walking to school.” — Julissa S.

15. “I always had to be ‘good.’ I believed that if I were to do anything wrong, even by accident, something bad would happen to someone I care about. Unfortunately, I still have this mindset.” — Desiree N.

16. “I repeated words in my head. It’s like they would get stuck in my head, like when a song gets stuck in your head, but it would be a single word I’d have to repeat over and over.” — Katie H.

17. “The earliest sign I remember was that I constantly had this need to tell on myself if I did something wrong or if I thought a bad thought. I was around 3 or 4.” — Mark M.

18. “I think the first sign was when I was in primary school when I’d worry I was copying other people’s work when I wasn’t.” — Vicky R.

19. “When I ate, I had to make sure that there was the same amount of food on each side of my mouth before I could chew it up and swallow. When I would look at a clock and saw the time change, it would freak me out. I would have to tap on something or mess with my fingers until I felt OK again. When writing, if simply didn’t look right, I would erase it many times and write it over and over until it looked right to me. I’m sure there are many more that I cannot think of right now. But I still deal with those two things on occasions.” — Hannah B.



19 Signs You Grew Up With OCD
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The Fight With OCD You Can’t See Just by Looking at Me

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What if you couldn’t rationalize your greatest fear? What if you couldn’t escape your own thoughts? What if an internet search turned into a breakdown, an endless tunnel that drags you into a deeper and deeper panic? That’s how OCD can make you feel.

I have a fear of blood and all the diseases I can get. I can tell you any fact you’d want to know about HIV and your risk of infection. I passed a needle next to a dumpster while I was hiking yesterday, and the rest of the day was a downward spiral. I had to check for needle holes in my shoes. Then, I checked my feet for any sign of being pricked at least five times.

You couldn’t tell by looking at me. You probably couldn’t even tell if you observed me. I’m good at hiding my oddities. You can’t see my daily battle. I struggle silently.

I’ve had a psychiatrist ask me why I was in therapy since I take antidepressants every day and they help. I’ve had therapists tell me I need to rationalize my fears and try not to worry so much. My antidepressant does the trick. It means I can have a day where I don’t double or triple check my steps for things I could have stepped on. I feel balanced and normal on antidepressants.

Sometimes, it’s scary that I can’t be myself by myself, that I need help to balance my brain. It helps though, and it means I don’t have to only hide my fears from others. I can hide my fears from myself.

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To Anyone Living With Intrusive Thoughts

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I’ve been living with intrusive thoughts since I was 7 or 8 years old. They didn’t take over my life until I was 15 or 16, and even then, I didn’t seek out treatment until I was 19. Why did I wait so long? Because of the stigma behind the intrusive thoughts that can come with living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Even when I first sought treatment from a psychiatrist and a therapist, I didn’t immediately disclose the content of my thoughts. I was disgusted with the images and words that blared through my brain on a daily basis — the constant doubting and questioning.

I’m writing this to tell anyone out there dealing with intrusive thoughts, please don’t be ashamed to tell your doctor or therapist what the thoughts are. I learned during exposure therapy that saying the thoughts out loud in many ways can diffuse their power. It’s often the secrecy that breeds the anxiety.

I can say aloud now that I’ve had intrusive thoughts of tragedies occurring, of harming others, of obsessing over my identity, of sexual images. I used to think if I admitted these things, it would say something about me. That because I have had these thoughts, I must be a bad person, right? Wrong.

I once read somewhere that everyone in the general population experiences the occasional disturbing thought. The only difference between people with OCD and those without is that we with the illness can get stuck on the thought — making it appear with more intensity and frequency. We often get stuck and obsess, while many neurotypical individuals may have a fleeting disturbing thought and quickly move on, not thinking anything of it.

It can be hard to live with intrusive OCD thoughts. It can be hard to live your life without engaging in compulsions to try to ward them off (when the reality is the compulsions often only make things worse) and by just learning to accept the existence of the thoughts. But I’m trying every day.

To anyone who is dealing with intrusive thoughts, OCD and/or anxiety, please don’t be afraid to tell your doctor or therapist what your thoughts are. The sooner you reveal your thoughts, the better you’ll feel. Remember, the thoughts do not speak to who you are — they’re simply a part of your disorder.

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When You Struggle to Find ‘Normal’ in Life With OCD

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Why can’t I be “normal?” This is either a passing thought in my day to day, or a bi-weekly meltdown when life seems too unfair. Every day, just before bed, I take an antidepressant. It’s been almost three months since I’ve started gradually increasing the dose as I go along. I was hoping I would pop this magic pill, and I would feel normal.

What is normal? I wouldn’t know, and it’s all pretty relative anyways. Yet, I keep striving for the magical land of normalcy.

I segment my life into bad days and good days. Good days are when I can walk from my car into my apartment and don’t turn around five times to check the ground for hypodermic needles that will stab me and give me AIDS.

Bad days are the opposite. Today was a bad day. I parked my car, pulled up the emergency break, turned off the headlights, got out and locked the car. I walked a few steps away. Then, there it is. I’m urged back to my car because… What if I didn’t turn off the headlights? Check again. What if I didn’t pull up the emergency brake? Check again. Lock my car twice, a third time just to be safe. Then, the five minute walk up the road to my apartment.

I dread it. With each step, I feel the stress and anxiety in the pit of my stomach that I could have stepped on that needle. A hard pebble, a stick, check once, then check again just to be safe. That fleeting thought again, “Why can’t I be normal?

Bad days are tough, but I’m thankful for those good days when I don’t feel the urge to check. It’s like little bits of sunshine poking through a cloudy day. Damn right, it sounds cliche, but it’s true.

Do I feel like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a blessing in disguise? That my quirks make me a better person? No, not really. I do know most people are struggling with something, and we all have a different battle. Even those who appear to have everything going for them could be struggling on the inside.

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Chrissie Hodges - OCD Advocacy and 2017 Resolutions

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Talking OCD Advocacy and 2017 resolutions LIVE with Chrissie Hodges!

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