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With OCD, the 'Whys' are More Important Than the 'Whats'

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

When people hear the term “OCD,” they may visualize individuals scrubbing their hands clean, using their elbows to turn faucets on and fretting over the placement and cleanliness of things. While this is true for many, it’s quite a restricting mold. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) manifests itself in many different ways for people. No one experiences the same struggles, nor do they face the same demons. It stretches far beyond germophobia and being orderly.

When people hear the term “OCD” they often do not visualize the internal battle, the root of the rituals and the fixations. They don’t visualize the torment that leads people to say things repeatedly, to write things repeatedly and to turn lights off and on repeatedly, in order to achieve a sense of relief from the responsibility of ensuring something is done “just right,” to quiet the anxiety of doom. I want to shed light, pull back the curtain, on this aspect of OCD. I want to reveal my own struggle.

The signs of OCD crept up when I was fairly young, not long before I was in the fourth grade. I had to say “I love you, you’re the best, be careful” to my parents and my sister every time they left the house. Every. Single. Time. There was a gnawing fear if I didn’t, then they would never come back. I felt responsible for their fates. My family thought it was an endearing trait of mine, a part of being an innocent child and took no mind to the ritualistic farewells. Neither did I, at first. The fear was easily overlooked. I tried to ignore how I felt for needing a certain amount of hair clips in my hair and for writing the date over and over again to gain a sense of security.

It wasn’t until I was a preteen when the anxieties began to worsen. I used to stay awake for hours at night, praying relentlessly because the words never felt right the first dozen times. I would make the sign of the Cross in the darkness of my bedroom, over and over again. God would take away my loved ones if I didn’t thank him accordingly or mistakenly left out a name in a prayer. God would punish me if I didn’t say grace properly at the dinner table, causing me to begin my meal minutes after anyone else.

I would come home from school and watch the same exact YouTube videos every day, in the same order or else something bad would happen. For quite some time, my days mimicked each other almost precisely. It just didn’t feel right. Was it normal to feel if I didn’t do the exact same thing, then I could bring misfortune upon myself and those whom I loved? It ate at me, day in and day out. I felt a deep shame when I asked my mom about this and her answer reflected the absurdity of it. So I never brought it up again.

The fear that something bad would happen blossomed into something much uglier. In class, I was always the last kid to finish writing notes because if the letters weren’t perfect or if the words weren’t read the right way from the projector, I would fail at something in the future. Somehow, my day would be compromised. So, my copybooks became full of scribbled out repeating lines. While getting ready, it got so frustrating to count “one, two” on one side of my head and “three, four,” back and forth and back and forth, on each side that I would smack myself in the head with my brush. But I couldn’t stop. I feared what would happen if I did. It had to be right. So many times I fought back tears and screams. Who was in control at this point? I felt propelled by something other than myself. I hid from the truth for so long, terrified of what it might look like.

Junior year, I found the answer after bringing myself to do the research. I remember crying once the reality had hit me, but I couldn’t be sure if it was from relief of knowing it wasn’t all just in my head or shame of having this disorder. This year, I was officially diagnosed by my psychiatrist. Having OCD, for me, is a lot like having a backseat driver, only they’re in the passenger seat and grabbing the wheel from me to make sure I do exactly as they say.

I am constantly anxious someone will wake up and walk out of my life or even be forced out of my life. So I do what I can to make sure it’s not my fault. I’m scared if my sister, Bethanie, and I don’t do our special handshake while saying goodbye, I’ll never see her again. I don’t wear clothes older than a year or a larger size than I wear now because I don’t want the past to make itself known again. I repeat, “seven, eight, nine,” twice, three times, until it feels right, when I start to drink something so I can have a good day. Today, it may take me almost 10 minutes to brush my teeth because it has to be done in a specific fashion. I touch my hair while styling it until it feels right. I scrub dishes and rinse them out until it feels right. I pump the soap dispenser until it feels right.

Today, I have been suffering from intrusive suicidal thoughts. I walk down the street and an image of walking into oncoming traffic yanks me from the song I’m listening to. I religiously and reflexively tell myself I’m going to end it. I have visions of cutting myself, of shooting myself, of overdosing, of jumping from a building, which cloud my mind when I am overwhelmed with anxiety that says I’m doing something wrong. I have these thoughts even when I am happy and enjoying the sun. I walk into a room and see objects that could harm me. I steer clear of them. Dark day dreams plague me with endless ways my loved ones may die. Sometimes the suicidal thoughts and urges to self-harm are so powerful that I’m scared I can’t keep myself safe. Sometimes they’re so powerful, I don’t want to be kept safe. I want my mind to feel right.

That is my battle, and like a fingerprint, it is unique for everyone who suffers from it. There are “good” days with OCD and there are worse days. Some days, I am able to do my routines without fail. Other days, old routines surface along with the new and the day is long. I am much more accepting of my disorder and taking small steps to cope with it.

That’s why I’m writing this because talking about it helps me. Reading stories from other perspectives helps me, too. So, I want to make others feel like they aren’t alone. I want them to know that I, and many others, are their ally in this war. I want to show the world a broader image of OCD, an image not focused on the physicality of it, to give a glimpse into why I do things and not what things I do.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 
Originally published: July 25, 2016
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