The Mighty Logo

The Best Piece of Advice My Therapist Gave Me About Living With OCD

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

The best advice I ever received about having OCD came from my psychiatrist of 18 years, a practical woman who, at the time, had dispensed advice and medication but no key to finding happiness while living with mental illness.

“You’re always going to be obsessing about something,” she said. “Choose something that you enjoy.”

The idea was revolutionary to me, as someone who had grown up believing every obsessive thought was bad. But with this new idea, the thoughts were only bad if they upset me, like the ones that said I couldn’t touch certain things or drink certain water or breathe certain air without consequences. But I could open my mind to a new kind of obsessive thought, one that I could stop getting angry at myself about, the kind that could help me pick my self-esteem off the ground and learn to believe there was good in my mind, and there was good in me.

I cycle through animals I like — cows, squirrels, turtles, dogs and goats. I have movies I could theorize about forever and songs I can listen to a dozen times in a row without getting the slightest bit bored. I grew confident in exploring my passions, and I began to share my joy.

But with the confidence came a problem. I had never been good at being quiet, but before, when people said I was “too much,” whether that meant talking too much about anything at all, I took it violently hard. I took it as a sign that I was a terrible person, a nuisance that no one would ever like, someone who would never be able to even pretend to be normal.

But with this new way of thinking came a new rebuttal to the old argument: I am “too much,” and I can use it in a good way. I can use my “too much” to write 110,000 words in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month, to create complicated cosplays for the characters who bring me joy, and to find that my best route to happiness is a comfy chair, a laptop stand and any one of “The Lord of the Rings” movies.

I am still called “too much” from time to time. Even as an adult, as a professional who seems to spend most of my waking time on my job, I apparently still find the time to drive people crazy by being too passionate, too filled with joy to keep it to myself. I brush it off on the outside, but inside, another doubt festers, wondering if I should be sacrificing happiness for normality. The doubts pile up until I start apologizing for my happiness, caught between wanting to please others and wanting to be true to myself. People wonder why I apologize so much, and I apologize for apologizing as I dream of finding people who can engage in a give-and-take with me, and who can share their passions freely with me as I share mine with them.

In the meantime, I watch my shows, I read my books, I write my stories, and I follow the freedom that my psychiatrist’s words granted to me so many years ago.

It’s been a journey to love my brain for being “too much.”

But it’s been the journey of my happiness, and something that I hope to continue for the rest of my life. And in the meantime, I draw strength from the words of Tyler Ford’s poem, “Too Much,” and I hope you will too. You can read it here.

Originally published: July 1, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home