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The Side of OCD I Don't See in the Media

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“Have you ever considered you might be OCD?” my therapist asked after about six months of seeing her.

I laughed. “No way. I don’t obsessively wash my hands.”

Little did I know, hand washing is just one of the ways that OCD can manifest, and I was indeed obsessive-compulsive in my behavior. It wasn’t honestly something I had ever even considered before, especially not in relation to my anxiety. I was just high strung, a worrier, an over planner, that was all.

For me, the representation of obsessive-compulsive disorder on TV and in movies always falls flat now. It’s more than Monk’s need for cleanliness, more than a character adjusting their pencils into a perfect line. OCD isn’t the picture the media paints. It can be a lot quieter and a lot deeper than the seen behavior.

For me, OCD is being unable to walk up or down a flight or stairs without having to count the number of steps it takes me. It’s pressing my car alarm button three times to make sure it locked. It means some mornings, halfway to work I turn around and go home to check the lock on the door. It means waking up at 2 a.m. to make sure I turned the oven off. It’s when I clean house, spending three hours readjusting my bookshelves by color or topic and not actually doing any of the big projects. It means dishes piling up in the sink makes me feel like my life is falling apart and the whole house is filled with bugs.

It means I procrastinate because the fear of not doing something right makes it feel impossible to start. It means I have written the beginning of this article four times already and I still feel that I have it all wrong. It means I get a thought of, “What if I shoved this person in front of a train?” And it plays in my head on repeat with full images no matter how many times I assure myself I would never do something like that.

Like many mental health issues, OCD isn’t the same for everyone. It comes in different shades and hues. For me, much of it is all internal. It’s not something most would notice. In fact, it’s so quiet that until this past year, I assumed everyone lived just like me, constantly worried, constantly operating with 387 tabs open in my brain.

Coming to terms with the fact that these thoughts aren’t something everyone deals with is still a struggle for me to understand. I’ve always lived and thought like this. I can’t even imagine a life without these constant intruders. My brain is a house with the door wide open and a variety of intruders that make themselves at home in the lobes.

Treating OCD is something of a challenge. It’s something I am still just beginning. Because now I’ve gotten so used to these thoughts it scares me to be without them. They have become so untwined with my own thoughts that I can’t separate one from the other. The intruders have lived in the house with me for so long, they feel like roommates, not unwanted strangers even if all they do is sow chaos.

I have never seen myself, my quirks and obsessions, represented in media. I can name no character that reads like my OCD and has made a big difference. It means even though I’ve been diagnosed, I still don’t feel like I can claim the letters as my own. I don’t fit the picture of OCD, but I still live in the confines of those letters.

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Thinkstock photo by nandy photos

Originally published: March 12, 2017
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