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The OCD Symptom I Was Afraid to Tell Anyone About


I’ve known I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for over a decade now. I wasn’t officially diagnosed until high school, and that diagnosis was reconfirmed again in college. But I can identify some of those behaviors starting all the way back in elementary school. My OCD really started to interfere with my life in junior high. So it would seem strange that my husband of nearly four years, who I dated for four and a half years before that, only found out about everything my OCD entails a few months ago.

The reason why is because I didn’t know either.

In high school, a psychiatrist confirmed I had OCD because I told her about all of my compulsions: hand washing, turning the lights on and off, preferring everything I did to be in multiples of seven… After that, my parents sent me to a therapist, but mostly because things at home were rough and I wanted someone to talk to about those issues, so I didn’t mention my OCD much during the sessions. Then in college, I decided to take advantage of the free mental health services that were offered as part of my tuition. It took me a while to get in, because there were plenty of other students seeking help as well. When I finally got an appointment, there were only a few weeks of the semester left, which meant I would have to wait until fall to start up my sessions again.

But I went to a few appointments, one of them being my initial evaluation, where, again, the doctor confirmed I did have OCD, based on all the compulsions I told her about. After that, I had a couple more sessions with the doctor, where we focused some of our time on ways I could cope with my OCD. But the last week that the clinic was open for the semester, I forgot about my appointment and missed it completely. I was so embarrassed and upset at myself for taking up a session slot that someone else could have used I never called the clinic, and never scheduled another session for the rest of my college career.

Even after speaking with so many doctors about my mental health issues, there was still one part of my OCD I was unaware of: intrusive thoughts. All of my compulsions were more than enough to diagnose me with OCD, so no professional I had met with ever asked if I had thoughts that bothered me. But the thoughts were there. They had been there since I was a child, and I had never shared them with anyone, including my husband, for fear that I would be utterly rejected and disowned. Some of the worst thoughts were that someday I might physically hurt my spouse, my family or worst of all, a child.

Thinking back, a lot of these worries probably stemmed from the talks that my father had with me. Like a good dad would, he made sure to tell me that if someone ever made me uncomfortable, or touched or talked to me in a way I didn’t like, that I could always tell my parents, even if it was a family member who hurt me. The problem was, he had these talks with me almost weekly. It instilled a sense of fear in me that anyone, anyone, could turn into someone who would assault children, even me. I now realize my own father struggles with at least some symptoms of OCD, and especially the intrusive thoughts, which is why he felt such a need to constantly remind of the dangers of the world. His behavior played a part in pushing my worries across the line from a healthy awareness of what was going on around me, to a consistent nagging that something could go wrong at any minute, and that one day I might be part of the problem. I avoided (and still do) watching any shows, or reading any news, that reported stories about people who hurt children.

In high school, while I enjoyed babysitting, I dreaded changing diapers or giving baths. What if, even without any intention of doing so, I did something that made the child uncomfortable? These thoughts made me afraid to have my own children. What if someday I ended up like the monstrous family members my father warned me about?

Fast forward to last December. While scrolling through Facebook, I stumbled upon a shared story that came from this very site. After reading through that first article on The Mighty, I read another, and another, until I decided to see what stories people had shared about their OCD. I came across a story where someone described her greatest worries: the constant nagging that one day she would hurt someone she loved, or even a child. I read through the article, tears welling up in my eyes. Afterwards I started doing more research, discovering that doctors recognized this as a common symptom of OCD, and that being afraid of hurting a child was indicative that someone had no inclination or desire to do so. I began sobbing uncontrollably. Twenty years of self-hatred and worry were pouring out of my eyes, providing relief from the isolation I had been feeling. I was crying with joy, finally feeling like I had permission to let out what I had bottled up inside since childhood.

At the time of this epiphany, I was out of town, staying in a hotel for a work conference. My husband was on his way to meet me there. We were planning to go out for a nice dinner and relax in the hotel before he got on a plane in the morning for his own job. While he was on the road, I called him; I couldn’t wait. I think part of me also wanted to give him a chance to turn around in case what I was about to tell really was as horrifying as my own mind told me it was. When he picked up the phone, I immediately began to sob again, the kind of sobbing that doesn’t allow you to breathe, let alone talk.

When I finally gained a thread of composure, I said I needed to tell him something, something I’d never told anyone else. I told him I would understand if he wanted to leave me after our conversation, and apologized for hiding it from him for so long. My husband knew I had OCD; my compulsions and anxiety made that pretty obvious. And so far, he had been an absolutely wonderful partner in helping me navigate this disorder. He didn’t get angry when I turned the lights on and off seven times, or when I rewrote words over and over again. But he also rubbed my back when I told him I needed some help to stop myself from washing my hands for the 10th time before bed. And on difficult days when it felt like I couldn’t get anything “just right,” he cleaned the bathroom or swept the floor without complaining so I wouldn’t have to spend extra time dealing with my compulsions while completing those tasks. Everything in our marriage and courtship told me that my husband supported me, that he would always love me. But I still had a terrible fear that this would be the final straw. This is where he would draw the line.

But out came the words. I poured out the thoughts that had bothered me for nearly two decades. I told him about my worries, about how my greatest fear was that I would one day hurt a child. I apologized for being so closed off about the reasons I was nervous to have children, and for keeping this from him for so many years. I told him about the article I read, and about how I learned that at least I wasn’t alone, that at least doctors had a name for what I had been feeling. Through my sobbing and apologizing, I waited for his response. Finally, he said, “Of course I don’t hate you. I don’t want to leave. I love you.” He told me that more than anything he felt sorry that I had to live with these fears and thoughts, and he was happy that at least I didn’t feel alone anymore.

He stayed on the phone with me until he got to my hotel room, then let me collapse in his arms when he opened the door. He held me as I continued to sob and apologize, running his fingers through my hair and continuing to love me and my tear-stained face. He reassured me that I’m a caring, compassionate person who loves kids so much that I would never hurt them. He reminded of how much joy it brought me to see students and younger siblings succeed, and how sick to my stomach I became when anyone even brought up the topic of hurting a child. He agreed to read through blog posts and doctors’ articles about this newfound piece of my OCD symptoms. He offered to still take me to dinner for seafood, one of my favorite meals, but insisted that if I just needed time to relax and stay inside that he would be present there too.

Since last December, I’ve found the courage to tell some of my other family and friends, as well as a therapist, about these intrusive thoughts. And though I’m always nervous about their reaction, every time my fears are calmed, at least temporarily, by their reassurance that I’m not alone, and that they know my great fear of hurting others is one of the very reasons they know I never would.

However, these thoughts still nag at me. I often find myself wondering, But what if I’m different? I know they say these thoughts are a common symptom of OCD. But what if that’s not what’s going on? What if I really do grow up to be a terrible person? So the fear is still there, but I have found tremendous freedom in simply being able to talk to my husband about it, to say my thoughts aloud, and to know that others understand what I’m going through.

Even now, I’m nervous about submitting this story. What is the world going to think of me? But without somebody else pushing through fears to share her story, I never would have found the courage and relief that overwhelmed me last December, so I only hope my story does the same thing for someone else. Telling my husband the truth about my OCD didn’t cure it. But I don’t feel like I have to live in isolation anymore. And for that, I am so, so, thankful.

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Why Having an Organized Planner Isn't the Same as Having OCD


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.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and it’s finally my last class of the day. I sit down, pull out my planner and check for the 86,000th time that I have written down all my homework assignments and updated my to do list for school. A sweet classmate, who I’ve had like three half conversations with, looks over and says, “Oh my God, no wonder you’re doing so well in this class, you’re like super organized. I’m totally OCD about my planner too.”

My head feels like it’s spinning, and all I can think in my most sarcastic and condescending voice is, “Oh, you’re totally OCD, huh? You have horrible thoughts and images bouncing around, giving you more and more anxiety? You get up 37,000 times in the middle of the night because you ‘know’ you didn’t lock the door, or that somehow someone is going to get in and steal your purse? Which leads to … how will you get it back? Oh God, what if they take my keys and my jeep? Oh God, I have work tomorrow. I have class on Thursday, how am I going to get there? Is my insurance going to cover this? That’s it, I need to check. OK look, it’s still sitting there just like it always is, stop freaking out. OK, OK, OK I have to relax, I’ll just take my purse in my bedroom and lock the door. OK, I have my water, my iPad, my purse, and my Macbook is locked. Lock the door, jump in bed quickly. Relax, you have to get up soon.”

But all I can muster is, “Yeah, OCD — it’s the worst.”

She prattles on for a while but I’m not listening; I’m angry, I’m hurt, I’m embarrassed — not just for me but for her.

You’re in college,” I think. “How can you be so insensitive? How can you not see how insensitive that is? Do you ever care?”

Our professor is talking now, something about a quiz. “Oh man, snap out of it! A quiz is coming up on Thursday, or next week. Shit, I don’t know when. Ugh, please tell me it’s 3:15 p.m. and I can haul my butt to my jeep and go home.”

I look at the clock, but it’s only 2:10 p.m. “Great, a full hour left… ugh.”

I’d love to tell you this was a one-time event, but I’d also like to tell you that world hunger doesn’t exist, that cancer has been cured, that the economy is booming and you’re secretly a millionaire… but none of that is true. This has happened to me so many times, not always the same conversation, but it’s the same concept — someone trying to be “cool” or “hip” or some weird millennial version of sympathetic. I’m not sure what it is, but I know it hurts. It hurts a lot.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is more than being hyper organized. It more than liking everything to be clean and neat and in its place. OCD is horrific images and awful thoughts which make you feel horrible for thinking them — the feeling you get when you do something wrong and you know you’re about to be caught. It’s scrubbing your counter, hoping against hope that it will make you feel better for the horrible images and thoughts you’ve had today. It’s having an anxiety attack after watching any TV show or movie about some catastrophic end of the world. It’s being worried about all the “conspiracy theories” about the end of the world. Man, it’s exhausting, it’s awful, feeling like you have no control, never ceasing, on constant repeat.

So, my sweet classmate, is that what you go through? No, I doubt it. I shouldn’t assume I know, but hearing people say stuff like “I’m so OCD” it’s getting old and hurtful. I didn’t bother me for a long, long time. Heck, for years I said it… a lot. I got teased about it from my sweet well-meaning friends. I never thought it was hurtful until my OCD got worse. It wasn’t just cleaning when I was upset. It was being so “stressed out” by my daughter’s toys all over the room, a clear sign of a wonderfully delightful evening of adorable stories, hilarious songs and plenty of roleplaying. It’s when I freaked out on my son — who was 6 years old at the time — because there were breadcrumbs in the tub of butter. Yes, seriously, but at the time I had no idea it was my anxiety showing because I was overstressed and my OCD was completely out of control. It would be another four years before anything was “officially” diagnosed. I think deep down I always knew.

I want … no, I need people to understand the difference., because for me it’s about understanding. It’s about understanding we are all fighting an unseen battle. It’s about understanding that supporting our fellow humans can only serve to support us. This conversation needs to be had and it’s long overdue, and while I’m overjoyed it’s happening a lot … I worry it’s not enough. The stigma surrounding mental health can be overwhelming. Other times it’s embarrassing and recently it seems “cool” — like it’s cool to have to struggle.

Nobody should want to struggle; no one should want to feel out of control. There is so much negativity out there, and I would love nothing more than to scoop my kids and all my loved ones up and put us all in a happy little bubble. But that’s no more realistic than believing what my brain tells me is going to happen if I don’t tap my right thumbnail on my water bottle as I trot down the stairs leaving class. What we need is understanding, because just like Yoda told us, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

I truly believe that empathy leads to understanding. Understanding leads to compassion. Compassion leads to helping. Helping leads to healing.” Every small kindness shown will be continued to be shown to another.

So, next time you see someone with a beautiful, organized, color-coded planner… maybe just comment on the pretty colors?

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Contributor's son wearing blue gloves in local Target, resting his head on his arms upset

Why I Couldn't Be Prouder of My Son in His Battle With OCD


My life was set in full motion 18 years ago on a dark and stormy night (yes, seriously) in Charleston, South Carolina. If I knew then what I know now, I’d like to say I would have handled those 18 years a little less cautiously — a little less like I expected disaster around every corner. I’d like to believe I would have cried less and laughed more, but the truth is the only thing I probably would have done differently was to listen to my mother when she said everything would be OK. That my son, Jake, would be OK.

Around 5 years old, Jacob began to exhibit behaviors that went a little bit beyond the “kids are just odd” stage. He made unusual noises and had strange repetitive motions that occupied small bits of his time. On any given day, you might find him watching cartoons while he stretched his mouth as wide as he could, often putting his fist in his mouth. This would continue for minutes at a time to the point of tears – both his and mine.

At the age of six he was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, and so began my job as a researcher and Jake’s unfortunate stint as a human guinea pig. So many nights I’d lie in bed, feeling myself being pinned down with the weight of Jake’s condition and the certain difficulties ahead of him.

“What if?” became my mantra. “What if Jake never has friends? What if he never falls in love? What if he grows up to be a lonely person?” Mind you, Jake was only 6 years old at the time, but my thoughts were on constant fast-forward.

And just as soon as I began to think I was learning to deal with this aspect of Jake’s life, he began to show signs of anxiety and depression. He was 7 years old. I remember putting him to bed one night, a tight ball forming in my throat when his soulful eyes locked onto mine and he told me he wished he was dead.

As his anxiety worsened, so did his Tourette’s. As if that wasn’t enough, Jake was the recipient of a tag-along condition – obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Jake was formally diagnosed at the age of 8 and put on medication to ease the symptoms. The days were long and filled with tension.

We witnessed the ignorance of many as they stared, called names and ridiculed Jake right in front of us. It hurt. And I spent a great deal of my time enraged at the stupidity and blatant idiocy of humanity at its worst.

But we pushed forward. We encouraged Jake. We assured him that despite his battles, life would get better. We held him as he cried out of frustration and exhaustion from carrying out his rituals. When his OCD was off the charts and he wore three pairs of surgical gloves to simply get through his day, we handled him with care and gave him the space he needed.

And it got really rough for a while. Although his tics had pretty much disappeared, his OCD stepped it up and hit him hard. He couldn’t hug me. He couldn’t pet our dogs. He couldn’t eat his food without gloves on and a fork to pick up everything, even pizza.

bathroom bin filled with pairs of blue gloves from a single day

He began to give up. He lost hope and fell down a deep, dark hole. But life went on. As he fought his OCD battles, he got stronger. He’d had enough, so he went for broke and applied for a job. And got the job. And found ways to manage his OCD rather than letting it manage him. He still struggled but small victories, like being able to eat potato chips again, motivated him to fight even harder.

Despite the struggles, or maybe because of them, Jake remains one of the strongest people I know. His persistence and belief in himself finally paid off. My Jake, the boy who fought invisible bullies no child should ever have to fight, the boy who wondered why he was even alive, the boy who thought for sure he was destined for failure, got accepted into Georgia Southern University for Fall 2016.

As it turned out, Jake’s time at GSU was cut short due to severe social anxiety. He came home completely defeated and shattered by what he perceived to be his failure. We saw it differently. What we saw was a young man who tried, who faced his fears and put forth his greatest effort. There is no failure in trying. There is no defeat in things not working out exactly how you thought they would. There is only acceptance and forward motion.

After months of dwelling in his own mind, clouded by disappointment and despair, Jake is finally finding himself again. I believe Jake’s spirit animal must be the phoenix, given his constant regeneration.

Warner and I, along with Nick, his brother, couldn’t be any prouder. We have witnessed his fierce will, his strength and his weakness. But we never, ever doubted that the world has great things in store for him.

This kid’s always made me cry — sometimes from laughing so hard I can’t breathe, many times as my heart shattered for him. This time, it’s because it’s been a long road to hope for sure, but every day it’s getting better and better for my beautiful boy.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

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Images via contributor.

Answer sheet and pencil for education test

When Someone Described Standardized Tests as 'Crack for OCD Kids'


Testing. Testing. A, B, C, D.

Do you remember those standardized test sheets from grade school and the SATs? The ones with the answer bubbles? As an attempt at humor, someone recently described them as “crack for OCD kids.” My heart sank. I wanted to say something, anything to extinguish the stigma. But I didn’t. I thought I couldn’t. I hope one day I feel confident enough to share my obsessive-compulsive disorder story with those closest to me. But how do you tell a loved one that your experience looked more like this?

“Number 2 pencil?”

I think so. That’s just a regular pencil right? I should check.

Raise my hand. “Yes, that pencil will work just fine dear.”

Phew.

But wait. What if she didn’t get a good look at it? What if mine is different?

Look at my classmate’s just to be sure. Our pencils look the same.

OK.

First question.

A. The answer’s definitely A.

Read it again.

Yes, A.

First bubble.

Fill it in, but don’t make it too dark, or too light, and don’t go outside the lines.

Just a little more, right, around, the edges… too far!

Erase. But don’t smear.

Fill in the empty spaces.

A, right?

Read it again.

Yes, A.

Right?

Second question.

Read it again.

Again.

C?

Yes, C.

Second bubble.

Not too dark, not too light, fill it in all the way.

Perfect!

Wait. C, right?

Read it again.

No, B.

B.

Erase. Erase all the way. Don’t smear. Don’t tear the paper!

Second bubble again.

B? Read it again.

B. OK. B.

Fill it in all the way.

Third question.

I’m fortunate to have no personal knowledge of drug addiction. But if “crack for OCD kids” means it consumed my every thought and is something I wish I could have stopped doing but couldn’t, then maybe that description is more accurate than I thought… but it’s not humorous at all.

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friends smiling at each other in front of a big door

A Letter From Your Best Friend With OCD


To my best friend,

Thank you for being strong enough to take on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) with me. Although you yourself don’t have it, you deal with it because I deal with it, and that means so much to me. Since it began I’ve had people who have supported me and helped me through it, especially my mom, and now I have you, which is a big help. I feel safe talking to you about it. I feel comfortable telling you about all of the intrusive thoughts, the ruminating, the anxiety it causes. And you listen. You’ve never once made me feel inadequate or like I’m not trying hard enough. You’ve never told me I’m not trying hard enough. You’ve simply listened, understood, and talked me through it. You’ve had few questions to ask about it, but when you did ask, you always told me to only talk about it if I was completely OK with it. And with you, I was.

Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for allowing me to apologize when I’m being overcome by guilt and anxiety, for letting me vent for as long as I need to about it, and for being one of the greatest support systems I could have. That’s truly what someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder needs. Security, safety, understanding, and patience. And there are few people in the world who would truly be willing to be those things for someone.

Thank you for being strong enough to take on OCD, even if you don’t completely understand what’s going on in my head and emotions. And even if some of the obsessions are really embarrassing or frightening to me, thank you for not making me feel unsafe. Thank you for letting me express myself in ways I can’t express myself with anyone else, and thank you for just being your beautiful, amazing self. You don’t know how much that means to me.

— Your best friend

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Photo via Unsplash, by Aidan Meyer

Photograph of african american female model combined with pixelated illustration

To the One I Love, as I Battle My OCD


To the one I love, may you never experience this mental pain,

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) will always be a part of me. Most days I will win control, but some days it takes over. This invisible condition consumes my brain with irrational thoughts that I am just too embarrassed to say. These thoughts can even ruin my day-to-day. I know you think of me as so strong, but sometimes I feel like I can’t hold on. Sometimes I give in to the anxiety. It leaves me no choice. So I wash my hands five times, I check the door six or seven times, and before I go to sleep I pace back and forth about eight to nine times. You don’t know and I won’t let you see just how bad this anxiety consumes me. There are no scars, so you do not see the pain. You’ll only see the tears that flow from my brown eyes. I obsess about these thoughts from the moment I wake up until the moment I lay down and close my eyes, wrapped in your arms. I need you.

You ask questions that I don’t have the answers to. My anxiety laughs and mocks me as I struggle to answer. The anxious bug crawls around and whispers in my ear, “It’s just you and me, so let him be.” So I “let you be” as I sit in a room alone and lie on the bed crying out. So I fight and then try to take a stand. I get back up and go to work and fight as best I can. Often I get up nine times and end up falling down 10. So I need you again and again.

Everyone has left me or they just don’t understand. Please help me and give me a hand. Love me as best as you can. I do not need tough love. I would like the everything-will- be-OK-and-you-will- fight-this love. While OCD debilitates me, can you provide the love to resuscitate me? Can you help bring me back to this life and out of my head? I need you again and again and again.

Your smile can move the mountains upon mountains of anxiety in my head. Your calming voice can replace all the dismay and dread. I’ll take your hugs over any ritual any day of the week. Just know that sometimes and some days I feel weak. There are days I think about letting OCD take the wheel. Bear with me because on those days I am not really sure how to feel. I don’t want to feel like I’m “losing” this fight. Our future is what I hold on to with all my might. Our happy ending. Sometimes I wish you didn’t have to deal with this. Sometimes I feel that you deserve better than this.

I did not choose OCD. This anxious monster choose me. Fifteen years ago, it set its eyes on me and held on and would not let my mind be. For the most part, I hold on and I fight, but there will be times like today where I get knocked down. Sometimes the OCD takes the crown. In those moments, you might feel helpless as you see me fight an invisible, mental entity. Just know the times where I feel like I am drowning in a sea of thoughts, your kind and warm love is a life vest.

Sincerely,

Your Anxious Lover

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Thinkstock photo by Victor_Tongdee

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