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My OCD Doesn't Affect Me the Way You Might Think

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.

The clock on my television reads 8:49 a.m. I occasionally get up this early when it’s not a work day. Today it is because I am on a mission that would take most people a couple of hours tops. The clock changes to 8:50. That’s a good time. For as a long as I can remember, I have needed to begin tasks, any tasks, on time intervals my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) brain deems “right” or “good.” Oh, it’s 8:51, and the next good time won’t be until nine sharp. And so it begins.

I keep my ashtray, cigarettes and eyeglasses in the same area on my coffee table. My bare feet are crossed and my legs are stretched out on the table’s soft surface. Contrary to popular belief, a person who has OCD is capable of not being preoccupied with germs or color-coordinating their dishes. I am a prime example. I have a tidy house; maybe even an organized and clean house to some visitors. But let me tell you, my OCD is not preoccupied with germs or neatness. It thrives on the multitude of other obsessions and compulsions I complete and think about on a minute by minute basis. These range from ordering, to checking, to placing, to repeating, to patterning and sometimes intrusive thoughts. My favorite television show is playing in the background as I type. It soothes me, maintains me and calms me. I have seen every episode over 30 times easily. What can I say? I’ll take predictability anywhere I can get it. It’s light and easy watching, like one of those sound machines that play ocean waves crashing against the shore.

My dog snoozes next to me and I check whether her tiny chest is moving up and down. I am scared for her all of the time. I love her more than anything and I care for her very thoughtfully but I am always filled with worry. There is a laundry basket next to my right leg but I will not leave it unattended. Every slit and fold in the hard plastic scream to me that an accident is waiting to happen. I picture her tiny leg getting caught and me not being there to save her. I look at her innocent face and think, I am an awful person because she needs a bath. Despite the truth, I always fear I am a bad mom to my dog. The guilt is palpable.

It’s 9:01. I guess getting the laundry from the dryer will have to wait again. This continues for hours and hours in an endless wait for my brain to give me the go-ahead. I am waiting for some miracle to come from the parting clouds and give me a sign I can do the next task without fear. I imagine my OCD saying, “Amy, empty the dryer now! It’s safe! Run! Run!” The process of cleaning my condo began yesterday at 5 p.m. Once a task begins, I cannot disrupt the process. I can’t say how many more hours it will take, but I know that, in order to leave my home, it will all have to be done properly in the eyes of my OCD. My brain has two levels of success — things not done and things done 100 percent. It is never in-between. There is no pause button other than the cigarette breaks I take to daydream, free from my obsessions. I tell myself “This is so ridiculous” as my fingers search for my lighter.

I look to my balcony and am sharply reminded of my screen door that broke last night. I picture it blowing off the balcony, over the railing and falling on some poor passerby’s head. How would I live with myself? I attach it enough to ensure it will withstand the strongest of winds. I sit back down. I go to change the volume and feel proud of my decision to fight my compulsion. You see, for over two decades, I could not move down on numbers. If I didn’t strictly move upwards something terrible would happen. For example, if I was on channel 27 and needed to go to channel 26, I would click, click, click. I would go down to 26, then down to 25 and then up to 26. Voila! Welcome to my life. Fortunately, this is one of the few compulsions I have learned to control through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The second is no longer arranging my shampoo bottles around the ledge until it “feels right.” I just wish I could stop setting five alarms every night.

I wonder if my psychologist realizes I follow the exact same routine every time I go to an appointment. These are what I refer to as my quirks. In reality, it is my OCD. When I say routine, I mean my route, lane changes, parking spot, cigarette, phone adjustments, wallet, lipstick and check check check. Keys, interior lights off, headlights off, purse, keys, interior one more time and headlights one more time. When I walk away, I look back once more at lights and once more in purse for keys. This is because I never trust myself. Scratch that — I don’t trust what my OCD tells my brain. It tells me I imagined checking and if I don’t check just once more then it will result in catastrophe.

Driving is challenging as my irrational fears have complete control over me when I am behind the wheel. I constantly smoke to fuel the effort it takes me to do a mental inventory of every precaution required. Left turns — I could hit a pedestrian in my blind spot by accident. Passing animals that have been hit by traffic — I need to say a mantra or I am an uncaring person. Underground garage — cars, children and pets flying out of nowhere and me hurting them by accident because I’m not driving well enough. Drive thrus — they won’t have what I need or there will be a conflict. Parking — I need to make a mental note of a landmark so I don’t lose my car. Getting from my car to the door is a sprint — something bad happening is always on my heels. Thank the Lord for self-checkouts is all I have to say.

As for this moment, I am safe in my home. I am safe physically but I am in a mental fight of a lifetime. OCD is an absolutely exhausting mental illness. I could go on and on about the negative aspects, but at the end of the day, I think what matters the most to me is connecting to someone out there. I never knew what these symptoms were while I was growing up. I had only heard cavalier comments made about an individual being “so OCD” because they were organized or frequently washed their hands. Yes, those can absolutely be symptoms experienced by many, but society should not chalk up such a complicated illness to misconceptions swirling around our society. This minimizes everything that those living with OCD fight through. When I was diagnosed, everything became clear. I hope my story can help in some small way for anyone out there feeling as if they are losing their minds. You’re not, and you’re not alone. I personally find sharing concerns with those I trust, weekly CBT sessions, a medication plan and open communication with my family doctor are some of the healthy ways I have found to cope. I hope those of us struggling can more easily fight the good fight, trusting we are most definitely not alone.

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Thinkstock photo via tommaso79