What It's Really Like to Be 'Sooooo OCD'
There is an adjective showing up more and more in everyday vocabulary that really gets to me. In fact I will admit that when I hear it, I instantly feel a whole heap of emotions inside. My stomach gets instantly upset and I start to feel rage and hurt all at the same time. I like to think of myself as an easygoing person. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn’t be cruel on purpose, or trivialize something so horrible if they truly knew the truth. And so, more often than not, I brush these feelings aside quietly saying to myself, “don’t make this a big deal, Jessica. Don’t make this person feel uncomfortable. It’s not their fault, they just don’t know.”
Today, I once again saw someone on social media glorifying OCD. In fact they included in a list of preferred attributes for any potential applicants for a position they were advertising. I constantly hear people say they are “sooooooo OCD!” but for some reason this absolutely triggered me. Yes, triggered me. Triggered me to the point that I had to pull out all of the usual stops for when I am emotionally overloaded and anxious. Maybe it’s because I am not feeling well and I am extra sensitive or maybe it is because I know that true OCD is in fact, a debilitating illness which can actually stop someone from performing to their true potential and limit their ability to function — not only in the work place, but as a person in society. I don’t want anyone to think I am mad at the people who use OCD so flippantly — although their choice of adjective does make me mad. I know deep down they are not intentionally trying to be hurtful to people who do have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
However, I want people to realize OCD shouldn’t be a term to be thrown around lightly. This is why…
OCD has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and I was officially diagnosed at the age of 8 (I am turning 32 years old this year so that’s a lot of years being OCD). As a young child, I was extremely anxious and had to secretly do things in threes. Checking doors, switching lights on or off, washing hands… the list really never ends. The reason I did these in secret was because the psychiatrist I was in the care of at the time was a scary man to a small child and he told me quietly that he knew I didn’t like seeing him and all I had to do was “stop doing these silly behaviors” and I wouldn’t have to see him anymore. So eight years passed and my family thought I had been cured of these “obsessive behaviors.” Yes, I was still an anxious child, but they saw what they thought was significant improvement in my obsessions and compulsions. Little did they know, it was very much still part of me and was brewing to a boiling point.
When I was 16, my grandfather died. He essentially brought me up and this triggered my OCD significantly. You see the thing about OCD is not just compulsively doing something. It is the constant obsessions that bombard your brain. For me, there was a constant crowd of thoughts in my head and they were telling me horrible things. Horrible things that would happen if I didn’t do what they said I had to do. A typical night would involve a bedtime routine that took 40 minutes and that’s not including personal hygiene and the like. This was 40 minutes of checking and re-checking. Checking that my wardrobe door was a certain way, that the mat on the floor was sitting right, going down stairs to make sure the doors were locked, checking in on my grandmother multiple times to see that she was still breathing, checking that everything was in place on my dresser. Doing these things over and over. Sometimes this would take hours but on a good day, it never took less than 40 minutes no matter how tired I was. Once I was in bed, I would close my eyes and say my prayer. Every word had to be perfect. If I even considered that I may have even have thought a word incorrectly I would have to start again. If I opened my eyes, I would have to start all over again. My OCD told me the last thing I had to do at night was say my prayer perfectly or else horrible things would happen during the night. Many nights I hardly slept because I just couldn’t get my prayer right. I avoided staying at friends’ houses and dreaded bedtime because it was an utterly exhaustive process. But at the same time, I yearned for sleep because I was just so mentally and physically drained. My OCD wasn’t limited to the night, it was with me every waking moment of my life and sometimes it even entered my dream world.
Talking about my obsessions, compulsions and routines still continues to be incredibly triggering for me and my past night routine is something I have only recently been able to reflect on in detail without getting, what I call, “stuck on loop.” When I am stuck on loop, I think of something I use to do when my OCD was at its worst and I obsess that I am going to start that cycle again and usually introduce some other compulsive action to ease this anxiety.
Although my OCD is nowhere near as bad as what it used to be thanks to medication and countless hours of exposure and cognitive therapy, I still very much have OCD and OCD thoughts are still very much a part of my daily life. I still perform compulsions and I will never get rid of those intrusive thoughts. Some days I can’t eat because my stomach is such an anxious knot and some days I have to wear a certain pair of shoes because if I don’t, an enormous cloud of doom will follow me all day. Some days I can fight it and some days, I just can’t. I know my thoughts aren’t realistic.
For example, just last month I was obsessed with the fact I must have done something wrong and that was the reason Dolores O’ Riordan of the Cranberries had passed away. They are one of my favorite bands and I thought I must have not performed a ritual correctly and that’s why she died. The non-OCD part of my brain knows this is utter crap. It is not rational or sane. The OCD part doesn’t care. It just likes to tell me I am responsible somehow for all the things in the world that make me sad. I am glad to say these days the non-OCD part of my brain is pretty good at telling the intrusions that it’s not listening. I still go to exposure and cognitive therapy every one to two weeks, I take two tablets every morning otherwise the chemicals in my brain go haywire and I can’t function. My OCD has stemmed off into an endless list of coexisting disorders including depression, social anxiety, agoraphobia and germ phobia. I honestly wouldn’t wish OCD on my worst enemy. I am lucky to have been able to fight for the win against OCD many times, but it has been a horrible battle and one of the worst things I have ever had to experience.
So next time you want to say you are so OCD because your desk is perfect or your wardrobe is perfectly color-coordinated, stop and think just how lucky you are to have perfectionism as a personality trait that doesn’t overtake and ruin your life.
If you do think you are living with OCD, please get the advice of your general practitioner.
Unsplash photo via Allef Vinicius