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How a Trip to the ER Ended With My OCD Diagnosis

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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 the International OCD Foundation’s website.

Weeks pass. I feel like I am always crying. I have no idea how my body can produce so many tears, but there are many. My body is on fire with every breath and the thoughts racing through my mind are sharp and scratchy like a needle skipping on a record. Repeat. Repeat. So much fear.

I admit to my husband this has gone far enough and I ask to go to the hospital. I have been to the hospital before. I know to expect to be there for hours. I bring a book. My phone. I get dropped off early in the morning. Shouldn’t be so busy now. Through the rotating doors and across the hall into the triage area.

I take a seat. I am waved into the room. I speak quietly and answer the questions as best I can, but try to avoid sounding as insane as I feel. I don’t give everything away. Vitals taken, I move on to registration and follow a yellow line taped on the floor to another waiting room.

The waiting room is small. Like an oversized closet someone has jammed yellow plastic seats into. There is a TV just outside the room on the wall and if you tilt your head just right, you can see CP24. So thankful that it is there. I love the news. Love the comfort of another voice taking over the thoughts in my head. With every crime, I can breathe easier knowing at least I didn’t have something to do with it.

At some point, my name is called and I walk through the emergency room into a chair to have my vitals taken once again and blood drawn. They take blood from my hands because the nurse in training can’t find the vein in my arm. I’m asked a series of questions. “Am I a harm to myself or others? Do I hear voices?” I have to repeat the words I spoke to the triage nurse.

I’m told they are going to call a doctor to come see me and it might take some time. I am directed to another larger waiting room. Larger TV on the wall as well. There are so many people in this waiting room, I am not sure where to sit. I want to shrink or become invisible. I am worried about bed bugs. I find a corner seat diagonal to the TV and wait. I can’t concentrate on my book or my phone. I don’t have any data to check Facebook. There is no WiFi in this part of the building. Just unfriendly yellow-smoked cinder block walls. Thankfully, there is a washroom across the hall I can escape to every now and again.

I’m not sure how long I am sitting there. Feels like hours and it could be, or it could be only minutes. I think of my husband at work, my daughter is now at daycare. I think of work and wonder how I am going to manage going back. I feel empty.

My name. Another move to a room. It’s down a hall this time. A treatment room. I sit on the hospital bed. Again, I have to repeat the same words about why I am there. Two additional people are brought in. They are so young. They seem to be only a few years older than my son. They look high school age but they are psychiatric residents.

They smile and ask the same questions, but in a different way. I answer as best I can. I hate the question about hearing voices. I hear lots of noise in my head, but it is my own voice, my thoughts berating me and telling me how awful I am and of all the bad things I have done, may do.

One of the students uses a cell phone to call their supervisor. Hanging up, they say I am lucky, she is already on her way. I came in on a good day. She hadn’t gone into her practice yet and she’ll be here soon enough.

The doctor arrives minutes later. A cell phone in one hand and an oversized handbag in the other. She looks about my age, maybe a little older. She speaks quickly, but in a reassuring and confident tone. I feel calmer listening to her speak right now than I have in what seems like my whole life.

She confers with the students and they all agree. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I have intrusive thoughts. Everyone has thoughts, even disturbing thoughts, but mine are repetitive and not voluntarily produced. She assures me we can work on this and studies have shown people with OCD are the least likely people to act on the thoughts in their head. The distress is trying to shut them out and engaging in the mental compulsions to shut the thoughts out.

My OCD is not like what you see in the media. My obsessions do not focus on germs or cleanliness. My compulsions don’t involve skipping cracks in the sidewalk.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), classifies obsessive-compulsive disorder as an anxiety disorder that includes the presence of obsessions, compulsions or both. Obsessions are defined as recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive, unwanted and that cause marked anxiety or distress. The individual then attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges or images, or to neutralize them with some thought or action (like by performing a compulsion).

These compulsions can be repetitive behaviors (handwashing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (praying, counting, repeating words silently) the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to the rules that must be applied rigidly and/or behaviors or mental acts that are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation. However, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent, or are clearly excessive.

My rituals are hidden (mostly). They are all in my head. The counting. The avoidance of knives. Of not wearing certain pieces of clothing or jewelry. I check the cards in my wallet every night and on occasion will check, check and recheck.

When my husband is around, I use him to help me fight my thoughts. I ask for reassurance (“are you sure I turned off the water?”) or I ensure he is the last one to leave the house so I don’t have to worry about what I may or may not have done.

“How long has this been going on?” I am asked. To the extent I am sitting on a hospital bed feeling like I am about to explode? Maybe a year. How long have I had symptoms? If I am honest, since childhood.

I remember unplugging the phone closet to my bed at night for fear I would call someone and say something inappropriate.

I would check, check and recheck my grandmother hadn’t accidentally turned the gas on our stove (she had walked by the stove once and turned a burner on).

I would avoid candles out of fear the house will burn down.

I would pat my pockets and look through my backpack continually to make sure I hadn’t forgotten something or lost something.

So many things.

The doctor hands me a prescription. I am to fill it, take a pill, once a day and we will meet next week.

A version of this article was originally published on Wattpad.

Getty image by jetcityimage

Originally published: July 24, 2021
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