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Learning About Myself Through My Journey With OCD

There are a lot of common misconceptions about obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

One is that to some people, it only seems to be about a fear of germs, or washing your hands repeatedly until your skin loses a layer or two. This clearly means you have OCD right? Another is that some need things to be neat and organized in order to feel sane. Ugh. I always need things to look nice. I have such OCD. Well, not necessarily.

From my knowledge, through years and countless hours of therapy and meetings with psychiatrists, OCD can be characterized not only by what your obsessions and compulsions are, but by the degree in which they affect your day-to-day life. Sometimes, it can make regular tasks and goals seem almost unachievable.

I’ve had doctors and therapists tell me that in order for you to be clinically diagnosed with OCD, the thoughts that consume you or the urges you have to double check everything over and over, would have to be so significant that they take away from your daily functioning. This can include: constantly running late; struggling with setting and accomplishing goals; or fearing every day that you left a work task incomplete, or worse, made a mistake. It may seem like these traits are simple flaws, but sometimes the people in your life who experience them could have underlying obsessions and compulsions.

Something else that is not often touched on in conversations about OCD is the source of the problem. Each case is unique to the individual. Some can be related to trauma. It is very personal. I did not learn this until spending multiple years in therapy. For example, I will spend a lot of time checking if faucets or lights are off, because I fear that my dad will get mad and yell at me, like he did when I was a little girl. Or, I will double check I put enough mascara on each eye, so my mom won’t bother me about it, like how she did when I was in elementary school. “You aren’t leaving the house unless your pants and shirt match!” she’d say.

OCD can make us regress and return to our younger selves and triggers, as if we are children again. For some it can be a result of trauma from childhood and parents, but for others it could be something completely different, like a car accident or natural disaster. Sometimes it can be one event, not necessarily a pattern you grew up with.

Let’s not forget about genetic components too. It can be a combination of many things. This is why it is so difficult to treat and why it takes a while to process. If you have a broken leg, you can clearly see it, and your doctor can assess what needs to be done for it to heal. OCD is more complex, for you cannot just take apart your brain and look at your neuron synapses firing. It is a sensitive process. One that needs to be chipped away at slowly, like a giant sculpture, so as to not break the entire slab of artwork during the beautiful detailing and fine tuning.

What can truly consume you are the thoughts. Obsessive thoughts are so addicting, but not like a substance. You are forced to be addicted. It is like walking down the street and getting gum stuck on your shoe. Even if you are able to detach from it, the gum is still there. You can easily leave it be, and let dirt get on it so the stickiness goes away, but then your shoe won’t be clean anymore, and you will spend way too much time and effort trying to pull and scrub it off.

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Of course, I am not an expert or a professional in this field, but I am an expert in my own psychological makeup. As someone diagnosed with OCD, I can comprehend the struggles of not being able to walk away from a bathroom faucet without checking 50 times if it’s running (nope, not an exaggeration). I can’t tell you how many times I looked back at my car today to see if all the doors were truly closed. I am aware of the amount of time it can take to completely move on from a conversation long after it is done, and the others have moved on. I feel the triggers brought on by a thought I cannot get over for days, or even for a week on occasion.

Have you ever had someone notice your compulsions and hear them say “Just let it go.” Or “It’s fine! Just move on.” Or even the sarcastic “Is it really off yet? Did you check enough times?! LOL!” Gosh, that’s annoying. It almost makes it take even longer for your to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on.

I do, however, also know the feeling of recovering and conquering. I have insight that my thoughts and feelings do have some strength and meaning in them. I am now able to utilize these traits or “flaws” that come with the disorder, and be comfortable in the unknown. This comes with doing some really hard work.

I want you to challenge yourself to be a little uncomfortable today. Whether it is to not check you turned off that light switch, or if you shut that door, because we both know, you truly did remember to. Recognize what that uneasiness feels like. Soon enough, your OCD will become your ally, and you can find inner peace, finally.

Unsplash image by Franciele Cunha