OCD Is More Than TV’s Tidy Obsession
Spoiler alert: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is so much more than being “tidy” or a “neat freak.”
Have I sanitized my hands until my skin started peeling?
Do I get anxious and have to line things up on my desk before I can finish any work?
But OCD is much more than popular media would lead you to believe. (I’m looking at you, Adrian Monk.*)
It’s hard for me to write about this topic due to internalized shame and stigma and because my OCD tells me something horrible will happen either to my family or me if I share the nitty-gritty details of my experience with the illness with the world. But, in the spirit of growth and exposure therapy, I’m writing about it anyway. (Wow, I’m getting sweaty. This is a lot more challenging than anticipated.)
I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 8, but I think my symptoms started when I was 6. I had always been a fearful and overly cautious child who worried about everything. Still, my rituals to calm myself down didn’t become apparent to others as compulsions until I was 8.
I remember the night I learned about OCD so vividly. It’s one of those flashpoints in my life that I can point to and say, “My life was never the same after that moment.”
I was talking to my parents about my day — I was in the third grade and stressed all the time. An odd thing kept happening that day that I didn’t think was indicative of a more significant issue, but I wanted to explain the situation to my parents just because it struck me as so bizarre.
I had a toy crab named George (I got him in Georgia. What else was I supposed to call him?). I had brought him into the school that day, and, for some reason, I felt obligated to drop him on the ground while walking around during and after recess after a certain number of steps. I hated anything dirty, but something inside me told me I had to keep dropping George on the filthy ground. I didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t, but I knew it would be bad. So, I continued to drop George after a certain number of steps. Whenever I picked him up, I had to kneel on one knee. I also had to alternate which knee was on the ground each time I picked him up. Even though I knew I was holding up my class line and could feel my teacher getting frustrated, I had to continue this ritual. I felt like a weight was pressing on my chest, and I needed to do the ritual to get rid of it.
After I told my parents about the situation with George, they gave each other that classic “something only the adults know about is going on” look, and my dad asked me to join him for a conversation about what he called “brain hiccups” (OCD). That’s when I learned all about the disorder and that it ran in my family. I saw my pediatrician a few weeks later. At that appointment, I received an official diagnosis, a small dose of medication, and referrals to a psychiatrist and psychologist.
In the years since the George incident, I’ve experienced a wide range of OCD symptoms. I’ve gone through periods of suicidal ideation from seeing no end to the pain OCD was causing me, but I’ve also gone through periods of remission. Now, I’m working through the magical thinking and rumination of OCD with my therapist. It’s hard work, but I’m doing it.
If you don’t live with OCD, I hope you learn more about this often stigmatized and misunderstood disorder. If you live with OCD, I hope you find validation in reading about other people’s experiences. I’m cheering you on!
*Honestly, I liked the show “Monk” back in the day. I watched an episode recently and still think it’s pretty good. It’s just not the representation we need.
I recommend the book “Fun Home” for better OCD representation, especially for what it looks like in kids.
This story originally appeared in The Mighty’s Mental Health Matters newsletter.
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Getty image by Jordi Salas