The Confusion of Social Relationships With Undiagnosed OCD
I was entirely unaware of my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but the worse it got, the more I worried I was severely mentally ill. Still, of all the things I thought might be “wrong” with me, OCD never came up. Yet, I was constantly obsessing over this feeling that something was off.
I knew I had depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and an ambiguous diagnosis of “borderline personality, but not borderline personality disorder,” which raised more questions than it answered. For years I tried different medications, lifestyle changes and therapies with limited success — my depression and anxiety were getting worse, I hated myself, I hated everyone else and it felt like my brain was about to break. Then, I was diagnosed with OCD and suddenly my life made sense.
As far as I can tell, I’ve always had OCD. It has been so deeply ingrained in my life that I just assumed all of my fears, obsessions, compulsions and extreme emotional responses were “normal.” But I struggled to understand how other people did it. How was everyone else able to live with this intense psychological burden?
I always felt like people were ganging up on me or bullying me because they would do or say things that would cause me extreme levels of distress. But whenever I tried to defend myself or seek an apology, it blew up in my face. Most of the time the other person would be painfully oblivious to how much hurt they had caused saying things like:
“Get over it.”
“Stop being so sensitive.”
Rarely I’d be given a very confused, insincere apology. Other times they would be incredibly hurt by my reaction, which confused me even more. This was their fault, I was just reacting appropriately. Or so I thought.
Multiple times a day someone would do something that truly upset me, and yet they never showed remorse. They just seemed to shrug it off — how could they cause me such intense pain and feel nothing? The worst part was no one ever took my side. When someone asked what happened, I could never explain it in a way that accounted for how upset I was, and the other person pleaded ignorance.
So, I became “the girl who cried hurt,” “the overreacter,” “the liar” and “the villain.”
I was “the bully.”
I was so confused, it felt like I was constantly being gaslit. It made me question my perception of reality more than once. No matter what I did or how I nice I was, people kept hurting me and getting away with it. Over time I became angry, bitter, resentful, vengeful and hostile, believing everyone was against me. My mom always said, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” As far as I knew, I had been doing that and I was still getting hurt. So, I changed tactic. If there was no justice, I would settle for retribution. I started fighting fire with fire, responding to pain with more pain. I had severe trust issues and no one was above scrutiny. Some people fought the battle long enough to jump from acquaintance to friend, but they were few and far between. It was no different with family. If anything, it was worse because I felt like they were supposed to love me unconditionally, but they were more indifferent to my pain than everyone else.
Except they weren’t. No one was.
The reality was I had undiagnosed OCD and people were, unbeknownst to any of us, hitting one of my many, many triggers. Maybe they had said something that didn’t sit with my “everything must be right, just and fair” perfectionist obsessions. Maybe they touched something I deemed contaminated and I needed to catalog everything they touched to prevent a world-ending plague. Maybe they said something with a certain infliction that caused an entirely unrelated, but incredibly traumatic memory to come crashing to the forefront of my mind.
But I could never explain how people upset me, because I didn’t understand what happened either. At the time, I would be overcome with such intense distress I thought surely no one could doubt I was under attack, it was plain as day. Yet, later I would struggle to put my finger on exactly what it was that upset me that much, even though I was still just as hurt by it and would ruminate on it for days, months and years to come.
So, this past year has been transformative. It has made me re-examine my entire life and every social interaction I’ve ever had. I’ve re-evaluated my relationships and how I interact with people.
It also led to some long-overdue apologies — from me. Because I’ve unknowingly traumatized the people who are close to me. Some have said it’s like being caged with a pit viper, tiptoeing around, trying not to provoke me because my bite is lethal.
It’s not my fault I have OCD, but it’s no one else’s fault either. I have done a lot of lashing out at people who have done nothing more than stumble into my OCD trigger minefield. Some relationships I will never repair, but those are the ones that had other more logical reasons for failing.
Overall, being diagnosed with OCD has made me a softer person. Not kinder, just less aggressive and more open. Don’t get me wrong, I still have trigger responses and lash out, but now I know why, so I try to repair the damage as soon as it’s done. It’s not ideal, but after 31 years of wildly rampant OCD, it’s going to take a while to desensitize myself. I’ve had to completely relearn how to interact with people and it’s not easy. I’m trying to hold myself accountable for the distress my OCD causes, but it means I have to be vulnerable, show the fear behind the fury and let people see the intense, ugly war raging in my mind so they know it’s not their fault — they were just caught in the crossfire.
Getty image by Grandfailure