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Why We Need to Talk Honestly About What OCD Looks Like

From a very young age I remember categorizing myself as a “worrier.” Sometimes it felt like as soon as something I was worried about passed or was solved, I moved straight to the next thing. I was never content nor did I ever have peace of mind.

Nowadays, I can see this as the very beginning of my battles with my mental health. Now that I know what depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is, it doesn’t really seem surprising to me that I struggle with them. It’s almost as though they are written into my very being.

Having said this though, I must emphasize that my experiences with mental illness have been (thankfully) quite mild compared to many others I know. However, I still want to share a slice of my story – specifically regarding OCD.

As someone who struggles with OCD, I am one of many who find themselves frustrated and even furious with how OCD is represented in the mainstream media. You all probably know the typical story – someone is obsessed with cleanliness or tidiness, they want things to be “just so” or they get very upset. We love to throw around phrases like, “My gosh, some people are just ‘so  OCD!’” In short, this is a misrepresentation of a disorder that can be debilitating for people who struggle with it – OCD can seriously deteriorate the quality of life for people. It is extremely different from just being very clean and tidy, or a little bit particular about how you like things to be.

I won’t go into details here, but if you would like to learn more about has really detailed information about the disorder, including the debunking of commonly believed myths surrounding it. Of course, this is just one of many resources to research the disorder, but I personally think it’s a good place to start!

It is my aim that through sharing my personal journey I can help people better understand OCD, and hopefully, help others struggling with the illness feel less alone.

My OCD began (at least, noticeably) when I was around 12 or 13. I had a bout of insomnia for the first time in my life and it made me very worried. After a sleepless night, I began asking myself things like, “What if I can’t sleep ever again?” And, “If I don’t sleep well, I won’t be able to function. Will I be able to keep a job, live a normal life, be happy?”

This may sound like a huge overreaction to not sleeping, and well… it was for me! Despite this though, my mind went there and that’s where it stayed.

With these questions swirling around and circling in my head, I began to form a very strict nighttime routine. Tidying and sorting things in the house, checking if all the doors were locked, the curtains had to be closed and tucked in just so. If I slept well one night I made a mental note of any slight differences my routine had – “I moved that candle a bit before bed last night, so I will do that again tonight.” As you can imagine, my routine gradually built up into many tasks I felt compelled to complete before bed. At one point, it would take about an hour to do everything to a satisfactory level.

My routine and fixations continued to grow – I began getting up to go to the toilet every hour that I was still awake at night to ensure I wouldn’t lose sleep over a full bladder. I began to tap things in threes as I walked up the stairs to bed, forcing doors shut and pulling at the handles.

If my routine was interrupted, or one of my family members unintentionally did something I had become convinced was “my task,” I would become irritated and snappy. I would have to do whatever it was over again.

I was shutting myself off from experiences – being invited to sleepovers would fill me with unbridled dread, any special events or parties that would possibly lead to a late night would strike me with fear. I would often beg my Mom to help me make up an excuse so I didn’t have to go.

I have never sought professional help for my OCD, but with much effort and the support of my family, I have been able to get a handle on my anxieties and compulsions. Learning that OCD is an actual thing that people struggle with (as opposed to it just being me “losing my mind”) helped me immensely too.

My OCD themes have shifted over the years. I have experienced intrusive thoughts, which include becoming convinced I am a bad person who will harm those I love (I even toyed with the idea of writing an apology letter to my parents for them to read after my inevitable incarceration). I have also become consumed by the idea the world isn’t real and all who surround me are robots. I have become overly focused on my breathing for days, unable to shift my focus, causing myself physical pain. Oh, and I have already been wrapped up in a very common OCD theme of today – I have thought I am a pedophile.

I can laugh about these obsessions now as I sit here in good mental health. I see how silly these ideas are for me to even entertain for a second, but at the time, they seemed so very real and threatening and I would do anything to relieve the anxiety even for a few minutes. This is OCD… it’s not just about wanting things clean and tidy.

Today I am in a much better place mentally, but I have no doubt I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life. However, I feel I am stronger for it.

With increasing the support and awareness of OCD, we can help those who are still in the midst of their struggles. We can let them know they are not alone.

Getty image by stsmhn