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The Question My Psychiatrist Didn’t Ask Me When He Diagnosed Me With OCD

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I have battled obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for as long as I can remember, but for many years I kept my struggle hidden. From a young age, my intrusive thoughts were strange and uncontrollable. Because my 10-year-old self thought having OCD just meant being really clean, I didn’t know what was causing these thoughts. I thought I was evil, that I was going to hell and that I just needed to try harder to control my thoughts. I hated myself because I didn’t understand what was wrong with me.

I was 16 when I stumbled upon a list of symptoms of “pure O” OCD on the internet. One of the common obsessions listed was blasphemous intrusive thoughts. Shock and extreme relief rushed through me as I read the descriptions of obsessions I’d been struggling with in silence for years.

Now there was a reason for my thoughts. They were not an indication I was a bad person or that I had failed in some area. They were simply a symptom of OCD. They still scared –and continue to scare – me, but at least now there was a name for the glitch in my brain.

I had my first appointment with a psychiatrist a few weeks ago. As I sat in his office, my body felt like it was on fire. My heart pounded in my throat, my fingers twisted in my lap and tears triggered by panic waited just behind my eyes. Telling a man I had only met five minutes ago about the thoughts I couldn’t control, the thoughts I had lived with for the majority of the past 17 years, was beyond scary for me. He asked me questions about how long I’d been dealing with my anxiety, what my obsessions were, if I had images pop into my head (intrusive thoughts) and if I had to perform certain actions to make the thoughts stop (compulsions). He seemed to ask everything except the one question I was expecting:

“Do you like to be organized?”

He did not ask me about the state of my room. He did not ask if my closet was color-coded. He did not ask if my pencils were arranged perfectly on my desk and if all my notebooks matched.

I couldn’t believe it.

Ten-year old me would probably have been shocked to hear I have OCD, because 10-year-old me was pretty sure you had to have a clean room to have OCD. Ten-year-old me would probably spend the rest of the day incessantly asking my parents if it was really true, if there was something really wrong with me — all the while not realizing that constantly asking for reassurance can be a compulsion of OCD. When 10-year-old me finally understood what OCD actually meant, she would be beyond relieved to hear her thoughts didn’t make her disgusting or evil.

Unfortunately, 10-year-old me didn’t get to hear this. She only heard the term OCD thrown around as a joke, so she spent the next six years believing she was worthless.

A lot of people don’t understand OCD comes in many forms. OCD can be washing your hands a hundred times a day, it can be constantly asking for reassurance, it can be silently praying in an effort to cancel out intrusive thoughts. And yes, some of those things can involve organization or cleanliness – but definitely not always.

Using OCD as a synonym for clean, anal or organized might seem harmless, but it is not. It keeps people from truly understanding the severity of the disorder and it keeps people like me from realizing what’s going on in their brain. If the misconception that OCD is a funny quirk hadn’t been planted in my mind as a young child, I might not have been so afraid of my thoughts.

Please, stop staying you’re “sooo OCD” just because your house is clean. It would be nice if it were that simple. But trust me, it’s not.

Originally published: October 17, 2016
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