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What Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Feels Like in My Brain

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At 7 years old, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. I obsessively washed my hands in fear of germs. I sat at the kitchen table for three hours trying to get my letter “e” to look just right. Every time my parents would leave the house, I was convinced they were never coming back.

I developed massive anxiety. It interfered with my schoolwork, my friendships, my happiness. My mom took me to see a therapist, and after a few months, it was as if I never had any problems at all. After that, my OCD laid pretty dormant for years.

It wasn’t until I was nearly 21 years old that the old habits resurfaced. Only this time, I didn’t get to be better in a few months and move on with my life. This time, I encountered problems that will most likely stick with me for the rest of my life.

I wanted to share a bit about what it’s like and what it feels like to have a brain with OCD.

Every single thing comes with a what if.
 One of the biggest challenges I face with OCD is the constant what-if game being played in my head. What if they leave me? What if I did something wrong and they hate me now? What if my cat dies because I forgot to feed her this morning? I know these thoughts are completely irrational and I would know if I had done something wrong; my cat won’t die if I forget to feed her once. But I continue to worry all the same.

Then there is the what-if game’s cousin: intrusive thoughts. My mind goes places I don’t want it to go without my permissionI do not actively think about all of the bad things that could happen, however, that is why these thoughts are called intrusive. They come from nowhere and present me with all of the worst possible options for what may happen.

The next part is my personal favorite: the obsessions. The what-if game and the intrusive thoughts come to me and cause me enough trouble in themselves. Adding the obsessions to the mix really just puts the icing on the cake. Once my brain finds a thought it likes, it latches on and won’t let it go. My brain operates without my control at this point. It decides without me which thought we get to obsess over and then keeps that thought on a loop.

Then come the compulsions. 
When I was young, they were hand-washing, erasing and re-writing the letter “e,” calling my mom on her cell phone until she answered and reassured me she was OK. Now my obsessions are all more related to the people I love and the way they think of me. My compulsions almost always include double, triple, or even quadruple texting someone I think may be upset with me for some reason I am unaware of. For others with different obsessions, the compulsions will be what seems like a reasonable reaction to their thoughts. The compulsions are our way, or my way at least, of making the thoughts stop if only for the moment.

But that’s the problem with OCD. The obsessions always come back or are replaced with new ones. It is endlessly frustrating to not have control over your own thoughts and impulses. It is hard to understand why I can’t control what’s going on in my brain. I mean, it’s my brain. But that’s how it is, and, for the time being, there isn’t much I can do about it.

This is my brain with OCD.

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Thinkstock photo by Fodor90

Originally published: February 7, 2017
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