I Used to Joke About OCD Until I Was Diagnosed
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.
“How many OCD kids does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but he’ll do it 1,000 times.”
“I’m CDO — it’s like OCD but in alphabetical order, like it should be.”
“Fix that crooked picture frame, it’s driving my OCD nuts.”
“I’m way too OCD to let my dishes sit in the sink overnight.”
Six months ago, I heard (and said) things like this all the time. In our culture, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is all too often a thing to joke about — something that defines “weirdos” who wash their hands all day, or a way to describe perfectionism. But I know now that obsessive-compulsive disorder is real, because I have it.
I was diagnosed not long ago with scrupulosity OCD. Basically, my brain interprets religious morals as strict “rules,” often blowing them way out of proportion and expecting a standard of perfection from myself.
When I inevitably fail to be my idea of perfect, my brain goes haywire and my anxiety is through the roof. Any performance less than flawless is unacceptable. I cope with the anxiety by avoiding things I can’t do perfectly, distracting from intrusive thoughts of failure, or working myself into the ground to be perfect. These are called compulsions or neutralizing behaviors — things I do to neutralize the threat of not being perfect. When I can’t neutralize, I have panic attacks. It’s exhausting to be in my head.
I am not the least bit afraid of germs, my bedroom room is always a disaster, and I have OCD.
OCD is not what most people think. There are different varieties. Contamination OCD isn’t just a dislike for germs. It is an obsession that can cause people to literally feel like bugs are crawling on their skin if they touch a doorknob. Imagine that feeling for a second… no wonder they wash all the time or just stay in their houses to avoid anywhere that their brain tells them is contaminated.
I’m just beginning to learn about my OCD and about other types too, but there are a few things I have learned and want everyone to know:
1. OCD usually doesn’t make any sense to people on the outside. So what if it’s got germs on it? Germs don’t kill people. So what you made a mistake? Just repent and move on. But that’s the thing; in our heads, it’s not “so what.” It’s real and the physical anxiety we feel is just how you might feel in a burning building. Our compulsions may be visible or not, but it feels like we have to do them to survive; they’re the only thing that keeps us from actually falling off our rockers.
2. People are not OCD; they have OCD. We don’t say things like, “she is cancer,” or “he is dementia.” It makes a huge difference when we can separate our diagnosis from who we are as human beings.
3. There is hope. There is! My first advice to anyone battling this nasty thing is to get educated (start here at the International OCD Foundation, IOCDF) and find a really good therapist or treatment program who uses exposure and response prevention therapy.
I spent a year and a half seeking treatment for anxiety before I realized that the anxiety was just an effect of OCD. As I face my fears every day, I’m reteaching my brain to save the dang anxiety for, like, actual catastrophes. I can finally invite friends over, go out dancing or spend time with family and enjoy it.
I’m taking my life back from OCD. You can too.
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Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash