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What It's Like to Grow up with OCD

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

Sometimes I forget to smile, because I’m washing. Everything must be clean. Sometimes I forget to smile, because I have fear. Everything must be double-checked. Sometimes I forget to smile, because I have doubt. Everything must be perfect. Sometimes I forget to smile, because I am counting. Everything must be orderly. Sometimes I forget to smile, because I am arranging. Everything must be symmetrical. Sometimes I forget to smile, because I am hoarding. Everything must be kept.

Why is everything associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) negative? Can’t you gain knowledge or grow within your mental strains? Your family, your friends, your teachers — the world tells you that which is circulating in your brain must be stopped. This discomfort of your brain chemistry from people who surround you makes it harder for you to ever achieve a healthy state of mind. No comfort, no smile.

Brush your teeth in circular motions only. Touch your shoes after you try to kick them off nonchalantly. Flicker the light switch five times. Check under your bed five times. Flicker the light switch five times. Raise the volume to seven notches — not six, not eight. Don’t forget to smile. Avoid stepping on anything when climbing into bed. Oh, you messed up. Go back to the door, and start again. Avoid stepping on anything when climbing into bed. Make sure the tag is at the end of the bed. Don’t forget to smile. Walk into school, don’t step on any of the cracks in the sidewalk. Go to your seat, get out your pencil. Then put it back in your bag. Get it out. Back in. Get it out. Keep it out. Cross your right foot over your left foot. Never left on top. Never. Don’t forget to smile.

I discovered I had OCD my freshmen year of high school, when I first studied what OCD was. I thought back to my childhood and realized I had this disorder since elementary school. I didn’t admit it to myself until sophomore year of high school when I was medically diagnosed. I didn’t tell a soul outside of my family until junior year of high school. As I’m typing this right now, I am going slow because each time I spell a word wrong I delete the entire line, instead of just fixing the one letter that is incorrect. “L-e-t-t-r” it just happened. One second, let me erase that.

OK, I’m back.

Living with any type of mental illness can be terrifying, and for me, the most nightmare-enduring factor was the threat of someone finding out. When people did start finding out, they didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms. They treated me like there was something horribly wrong with me. They watched my every move, including when I wasn’t smiling. Oh, the concern they had for me when I wasn’t smiling! I was “the OCD girl.” With that as your title, it’s hard to achieve mental bliss. No bliss, no smile.

There are obscure, abstract thoughts constantly bouncing in my brain. When I’m trying to study; bouncing. When I’m at a party; bouncing. When I’m with family; bouncing. The bouncing of words, words that make no sense. Words that don’t belong in my brain. Words strung together by more nonsense words. While these words break out in combat with my brain, I have to manage to smile. And sometimes, I forget.

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 Thinkstock photo via Koldunov

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I Miss Who I Was Without OCD

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She’s long gone. The girl I once was. I can still see her, but I can’t touch her. I look on at her through a glass wall between us — the effortless, hilarious, persevering, beautiful girl who once took ownership over life unlike anyone else. I miss her.

You can’t see it. Unless you catch the glistening of my damp hands. Or you see the furrow of my brow, steady, focusing on one thing in the distance for an unknown period of time. You can’t see my anxiety, my severe obsessive-compulsive disorder or my silent, paralyzing panics, but they are always with me, looming over me as a soaked, wool blanket hanging on my shoulders.

 

Every room I walk into is a room full of red lasers, and I have to find a way to get to the other side without touching any of them. Each laser is the deep, paralyzing need to perform a compulsion with every step I take. Some days the lasers are less bright — depending on how bright the seemingly common anxieties are. Other days, I can feel the red lasers in front of me before I even open my eyes. The desire to perform compulsions the instant I wake — the obsessions even follow me into my dreams. I used to sleep to leave my obsessive world — but I can no longer escape. What you might consider just another hurdle in life — I see as my ending. I see a hurdle and want to give up. I don’t have the energy anymore.

I hate that I unknowingly allow my severe OCD and anxiety to get in between myself and every hurdle. I wonder what I would have accomplished in this world? If the triggered car accident had never happened? Would I have lived a “normal” life?

I’ll never know. So I keep going. I keep looking ahead, hoping my next hour will come with less weight. I keep fighting. I keep writing. This is my world and I won’t just accept it. So to the girl I once was — I may have OCD, but OCD does not have me.

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Thinkstock photo via Victor_Tongdee

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What You Call Minuscule, I Call Critical: A Daily OCD Ritual

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

I placed my raggedy Birkenstocks at the end of my bed, perfectly aligning them at a 90-degree angle in relation to my mirror.

I wanted to go to bed but I had to wash the day’s grease off my oily teenage skin.

I splashed my face with cool water five times, applied Proactive Acne Wash,
Which don’t be fooled, this demon of a cleanser doesn’t work nearly as well as the peppy radio ads make it seem like.

Following the sting of the rinse, I splashed my face five more times,
Looked into the mirror
To see my face filled with a smirk.

Satisfaction.

Thank god, I could go to bed now.

Exited the bathroom closing the door and then opening it to create a small sliver of light shining through to my bedroom.

The clock was at 1:27 a.m. so I had to halt my celebration for sleeping until it struck 1:30 to flicker off the lights,
Then on again.

Off.

Then on.

Repeated this measly task 13 more times.

Finishing this light switch extravaganza I ran to my bed.

person with green light and blue light painting blur

Of course, I needed to be tucked away in my seafoam green comforter before 1:31 a.m.

I was perfectly sunk into my covers and ready for that night’s dreams to take over my mind,
Then there was a tickle on my face.

It was the tag of the comforter.

It clearly belongs at the bottom of the bed.

It’s fine.

I’m too exhausted to waste my energy tampering with the comforter,
So I closed my eyes again.

Not for long.

I couldn’t let dreams take over my mind,
when all that was spinning around in my head was that I had to move that damn tag to the end of the bed.

No.

No.

It’s fine.

I’m going to bed.

“You have to move the tag or you will have the worst day of your entire existence tomorrow.”

No, I won’t.

I moved the tag.

I closed my eyes,
praying to reminisce about good times in my past,
or make up impractical scenarios about my future,
Anything to discard images of constant shuffling around objects to make them perfect.

Only perfect to me.

Why did I do this?

It wasn’t necessary.

Well necessary if I wanted to have a good day,
If I didn’t want to fail exams,
If I didn’t want to get embarrassed in class,
If I wanted my family members to survive,
If I wanted to survive.

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The Evidence of My Disorder You Can See on My Hands

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Lying on my bed, staring at the plain wall.

It stares back at me.

My gaze falls hesitantly on my raw, pink fingers. I hate myself. Why do I let myself destroy myself like this? Haven’t I gone over this thousands upon thousands of times in my mind? Haven’t I also tried countless coping methods — play-doh, rubber bands to snap my wrists, scented oils, band-aids, gloves? What’s wrong with me, and how could this be happening to me?

Dermatophagia, out of all the things I may be struggling with, is to me the most puzzling affliction I have to deal with. Out of generalized anxiety, clinical depression, possible borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it is also the torment I’ve been dealing with — or at least floundering in – -the longest. I can’t remember a single day of my entire life when I wasn’t biting something. My lips, the inside of my mouth, my fingernails. When there were no fingernails left to turn to, I would automatically move to whatever was closest — the skin surrounding the nails. At first, it didn’t seem to be much more than just a bad habit. I would sometimes scold myself for this behavior, not realizing just how terrible it was, believing the worst was the impact it had on my teeth and my dental work that I had had done ever since elementary school.

Around the time that I left the comfort of my home environment for middle school, though, things took a sharp turn for the worst. Again, I had no idea just how much worse. Overtime, it grew from a terrible habit to an obsession. As I progressed through high school and into college, it became — and has become — a full blown addiction. Sometimes (and unfortunately still to this day) I would walk into class, hiding my hands and/or crossing my arms because of the gnawing during the lunch hour and during prior classes. Sometimes I would sit down in my desk, smearing blood all into my notebook or over my clothes because I hadn’t even noticed I was bleeding. Sometimes I could barely use a writing utensil, because my hands were all wrapped up in paper towels hastily grabbed from the bathroom because I was too embarrassed to keep bothering the office workers for bandages.

This continued for years, mostly without detection except when a teacher noticed as I was handing in a paper. I didn’t even have a good response; I just told him I had been under a lot of stress. Contrary to my hopes that my problem would begin to work itself out as time crawled on and “as I matured,” it just got worse. Driving with people was my worst nightmare because I felt that every time I turned the steering wheel it was as if I was screaming to my passengers, “Look at me! This is what I’ve become!” It even became slightly dangerous as I did all possible things I could to avoid detection. For instance, if I had to try to carry a heavy object I wouldn’t grab it by the handle, I would grab underneath so that my fingers weren’t visible. At least if they were smashed in an accident, nobody would be able to tell the difference. In the end, I’m sure many people did notice. I’m also sure that few truly understand the struggle. Just as an alcoholic is compelled to drink, often against his will, I also feel completely helpless when standing up to my condition. Except the main difference is the bottle is always in my hand; the bottle is my hand.

The one time I made a valiant effort to stop, I ended up experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms that you might expect to find in starting or stopping a prescribed medication. For the entire time, I couldn’t move without severe fatigue and I couldn’t stay awake for more than about four hours at a time. I somehow survived about 72 hours before I relapsed again. That was the first time I had experienced life without the guilty “blood on my hands”… and it genuinely felt awful. When I fell back again on that third day, it was worse than I had experienced in months. I never tried again after that. After all, what is even the point — it has become, it seems, an additional process of my body. I do it, hating every second of it, but still finding a terrible relief in it, whether or not I’m thinking about it. Consciously, subconsciously, it’s all the same, and they all end the exact same.

The entire reason I’m even writing about this right now is because I’ve been going through another one of these episodes. Coming fresh off of a mission trip during spring break that probably should have instead been spent in the peace of home, I’ve experienced the perfect storm of lack of sleep and alone time, extreme periods of busyness and boredom, anxiety, and hunger. And whenever it looks, no pun intended, that it’s getting better, the peak of the roller coaster hits — and then plunges down again. Some days I count: why I do, I don’t know. One, two, three fingers bleeding right now… four, five, six, seven fingers torn apart within the last few hours…

I showed my fingers the other day to someone I was talking to about depression. He was telling me how there were days where he was so angry, he would punch things — walls, lockers, doors — anything that could cause a painful response. His knuckles often bled after such outbursts. I was more than happy to be able to empathize — I showed him my fingers, which, ironically were doing better than usual. He gasped in horror as he observed the different shades of black, red, pink and dark blue. He probably didn’t know such a thing was possible. I can definitely say though, it is possible. For me, it’s all I know.

I’m addicted to the pain, my psychiatrist says. It’s ultimately no different than cutting. The problem is, it impacts everything in your life. You can’t write properly, you can’t use your hands properly whether in physical work or otherwise, professional and social interactions are terrifying because of the realistic fear that if someone tries to touch your hand they will find out. You can’t really hide it. Band-aids have become my pocket buddies, hoodies became my favorite sweatshirts for resting my hands out of sight, winter the best time of year because of the excuse to wear gloves, and any red clothing the ideal for hiding evidence. I constantly ask myself, what should I do? What can I even do?

The first step for me and for many is, I suppose, to consult a therapist/doctor. I am even noticing other problems beginning to develop, such as a sugar addiction that isn’t replacing my finger biting; it’s aggravating it. Out of all my counseling experiences, this is the only thing I conscientiously withhold information about. It just feels too shameful for me — what kind of monster would do this. Besides, am I actually trying that hard to win? It’s such a bizarre thing to be struggling with that it often seems to me that, to everybody else, I’m not trying hard enough. But no — sometimes I’m trying too hard. Sometimes I’m worrying more about what others might think than what others do think: Compassion. It’s a treatable malady. I’m a person with a monstrous problem, not a monster with a personal problem. Maybe if I focus on the path I have cut out for me instead on all the thorny bushes surrounding it, I can reach my destination in one piece of mind and body.

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How I Discovered I Had Postpartum OCD

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

I am a woman. A scientist. A wife. A mother. A friend. When most people describe me, it is as a capable and busy woman. Happy. Funny, even. They’d tell you I love my kids. I am a relaxed mother – hell, I’m a relaxed, accepting person. I adapt. I’m effective, efficient. And I am all those things in some measure or another. But there is a Hyde to my relaxed, go with the flow Jekyll. I struggle every day with a disorder that is largely misunderstood as a personality quirk, often minimized, and is routinely the butt of jokes, throwaway comments and dumb internet quizzes. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I had never been diagnosed or even suspected I had anything other than a “weird brain” I should keep to myself until things got serious in my second pregnancy. I found pregnancy was much more difficult the second time around, and health issues meant I was constantly monitored by both myself and health professionals. At 20 weeks, we were told my son may have a cardiac abnormality, which put me into months of anxious preparation, only to be then (thankfully) told on follow-up scans that nothing was wrong. It was then, I think, I felt a change. After that, I didn’t feel sad anymore — what did I have to feel sad about? But I felt like I was in a hole, looking up at the world as it passed me by. I brushed it off. I had too much to do.

When my son was born, I felt like it was the kids and me against the world. My children were my life, more than ever before. My universe began and ended in their eyes. My love for them was so deep and so intense that sitting and thinking about it would make me feel like I was choking on it.

I can tell you the first news story that piqued the interest of my OCD. A boy, the same age as my daughter, disappeared one day. It was all over the news. He was never found. There were never any leads. He was playing hide-and-seek in his backyard with his family. He ducked to hide around the corner, and when they looked for him, he was gone. I read that story with horror. I scoured every word of every article I could find, the same picture of the lost boy used in every one and imprinting on my brain. I tried to find what happened — how it could have been prevented. “I can’t lose them,” I would think. “I won’t lose them.” Every time my daughter disappeared around a corner, I would break into a cold sweat, and run after her. “I can’t stop watching her. She might disappear.”

Fed by the never-ending stream of the 24-hour news cycle, I consumed every detail of every gruesome article, determined not to have these fates befall my children. I became insatiable, seeking out these stories and researching them to the nth degree, all while knowing how much it was damaging me.

That’s when the thoughts began.

I have always had an extremely vivid, clear memory — it has been my ally all my life — but it turned on me. It started pulling up details of these horrible stories I had internalized. I would get these thoughts, these intrusive thoughts — images so horrible, so revolting I would feel instantly nauseous. Images so clear they were more like memories than musings, more like déjà vu than dreams. Images so intense they were debilitating. Images so real they took over my reality.

My children; my perfect, beautiful, wonderful children. I watched them die at least a hundred different, hideous ways. My fear had manifested in my head. I had to convince myself these things weren’t real. I would often have panic attacks when an image surfaced.

At some point, I decided the only way to avoid these fates was through hyper-vigilance. I began checking. I checked windows, I checked doors, I checked power outlets and stoves. I checked beds. I’d pull beds away from walls in case they fell. I’d check and check and check and check. I checked that chests were rising and falling at night. But once was never enough. My brain had betrayed me, and so I stopped trusting it. And so I’d check again. As I checked, my panic would subside. The images would pale, if but for a minute.

I stopped sleeping. Occasionally, I would pass out from exhaustion, but this lack of control made my brain rage, and coupled with mounting anxiety and lack of sleep, I was struggling to get through life. I remember thinking that if I was dead, I could at least rest, but buried that thought because I couldn’t leave my kids. I would have panic attacks daily. As my return to work date loomed, I felt like screaming. I knew something was wrong, but at the end of the day, I rationalized, I wasn’t sad, and I was so attached to my kids that surely postpartum depression couldn’t be a problem. Stressed? Yeah. Tired? You bet. But sad? Unattached? Not in a million years.

I had hidden my illness well. If you don’t sleep, it’s easy to be organized, to look put-together. But eventually, I admitted I was failing. I went to the doctor.

On the way, I had an internal conversation. I was overreacting, I told myself. I was a bad mum. They were going to take my kids. I was stupid and weak. I was ungrateful for my wonderful life.

I walked into the doctor’s office. I told her my story, nearly hysterical as I verbalized my struggle for the first time. She listened. She asked me to do a test which showed I had very severe anxiety. I had a preliminary diagnosis. The GP suggested I may even have postpartum OCD – a condition I had never heard of. She referred me to a psychologist and told me it was not my fault, and everything was going to be OK. I still left in tears.
The first few sessions with the psychologist were the most mentally draining hours of my life. I kept a diary to isolate triggers, tried techniques, had a plan. Hyde, who had been simmering my whole life and who had decided to finally raise his head in my most vulnerable time, was named – obsessive-compulsive disorder. I began to manage my OCD. My panic attacks lessened. I began to sleep again. I began to live again.

Today, my OCD ebbs and flows — it goes through some periods of being well-managed without assistance; other times, like now, I need more help and need medication to manage it. OCD is a widely misunderstood disorder that causes those who experience it a lot of shame (often because they recognize their own actions are nonsensical). At the time of writing this, I myself had told about 10 people total. My hope is by putting this out there, someone will feel less ashamed, and maybe go and get help. Because truly, help does exist.

Click here to learn more about postpartum OCD.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Martinan

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The Most Distressing Part of My Harm OCD

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

A thick pall of darkness enveloped the scene, the only light being that of the flames all around me. The bonfire rose into the sky, while I stood at it’s center, my body arched backwards. A silent scream escaped my lips as my body turned a charcoal black. Like an accused witch of the Renaissance era, I burned alive.

That was the vision I saw in the latest episode of my personal Harm OCD. A rarer type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that is focused more upon obsessions than compulsions, the obsessions come in the form of thoughts, visions and urges to hurt oneself, or others. I have struggled with this disorder my entire life, but only recently was diagnosed officially with it.

For some people, the obsessions are a frequent phenomena. For myself, it comes when I am stressed, traumatizing me further. These are not imaginary instances. My brain truly believes what it is experiencing is real. The obsession stayed at the fore of my mind for 20 to 30 minutes, while I ran around, highly distressed, trying to find someone to help me. Fortunately, I was in a psych ward at the time, so nurses were never too far away.

The very nature of my Harm OCD is to take the polar opposite of my nature and turn it against me, which is why some people with Harm OCD are gentle, compassionate souls in reality. I am not in any way a violent person. I, through Harm OCD, have witnessed some horrendous acts and urges of immense violence within my mind, but I believe I am one of the last people who would ever commit such acts in reality. This makes the disorder all the more distressing.

There — to my knowledge — are no medications designed to specifically help people with Harm OCD. I take a medication to calm me down after the obsession has hit, though I must initially bear the full force of the experience, itself. I have been told Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is useful in reframing my perspective of the obsession, to remind myself it was just an element of my disorder, not something I would every truly carry out.

Explaining my experience to my family was extremely difficult. Only this week have I been able to tell my mother about my Harm OCD, after at least 35 years of experiencing it. My psychiatrist only picked up on it when an earlier episode traumatized me and I reached out for help. It makes perfect sense that people would be afraid to tell others about it, but it’s so important we do. We need not battle this alone. This is not a disorder I would wish upon anyone. Often it makes me feel like a monster. There are other people out there who share the diagnosis, however, and I am writing this to show I am one of them.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via vicspacewalker. 

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