***This post may contain triggers for some people suffering with OCD and Anxiety. It is the story of my personal experiences with OCD. Please exercise caution before proceeding at your own risk.***
DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed medical doctor. All information on this site should not be used as advice to diagnose, treat or cure any conditions. Always consult with your medical doctor for medical advice.
I have OCD.
A lot of people say that, but I really do. Some people even use it as an adjective – “I’m so OCD” – usually to indicate some fastidious cleaning habits. I suppose that’s sort of funny, but it screams ignorance. Because that’s not an accurate portrayal of a disordered thinking that can be so incredibly debilitating.
I was formally diagnosed with it about 6 years ago, but it wasn’t a huge shocker. I think I started to realize that I may have this thing called ‘OCD’ probably about 12 years or so ago. But the truth is, and it’s important to honor the truth, that it’s plagued me throughout my life; I just didn’t always recognize it or want to reveal the sobering reality and ugliness of it.
You see, OCD is like the puppeteer and the people it claims are its marionettes. Controlling behaviors, actions, thoughts, words and doings. If the puppeteer wants the marionette to move left, it does. If it wants it to say “I love you 16 times”, the marionette does. If it wants it do, say, or think anything – ANYTHING – at all, all that OCD has to do is adjust the marionette’s strings and it complies. The only thing, though, is that the strings that attach the puppet to its puppeteer are more like Teflon coated ropes. They seem impossible to break and appear to forever be in control.
The first memory I have of having an OCD thought was while riding in my parent’s vehicle – probably around the age of nine.
Perhaps I was younger, perhaps older. Nine is purely a guesstimate. But I remember excessively worrying if I truly ‘loved’ the people close to me. Now, of course, I did love these people and I still do, but the thought and anxiety of not knowing if I loved enough or truly enough or the right way or if I was bad and not able to love was overwhelming at times. So I needed to reassure myself, repeatedly, that I loved the people close to me. I would say “that I must love so-and-so because I wouldn’t want them to be in a car accident.” It was my way of reassuring myself that I could love and that I wasn’t bad. The thoughts were riddled with anxiety and I felt an intense compulsion to seek reassurance from these intrusive thoughts.
As I got older, my OCD thoughts continued to invade my joy and steal my peace.
I was always worried that I might be ‘bad’ or that I would go to hell. Somewhere along the line, I had it in my head that the right – I literally mean the right side versus the left side – not politics, but really the RIGHT SIDE of everything – was more Godly. So, I looked to the right. I leaned to the right. I put belongings on the right. I started and ended steps on the right foot. Everything….the right. Otherwise, I might go to hell. Because I might be bad.
This disordered thinking often seemed to worsen during times of heightened stress or anxiety. It was like a leech – attaching itself to ideas, and requiring my submission to it with obsessions and compulsions. But I didn’t tell anyone. It was my secret. My shameful, embarrassing secret. I finally told my now-ex-husband a bit about it. I mean, if you can’t trust your spouse, who can you trust? (More on that irony in another post!)
I had other intrusive thoughts that were really quite frightening. The thoughts that held no logic and some refer to as ‘magical thinking’. I would have a thought that would tell me that if I didn’t do such-and-such (and that such-and-such could be anything from a nose twitch to a certain shirt I must wear to having a compulsion to saying specific words in a sentence or at the end of the sentence) that something TERRIBLE would happen. And when I say TERRIBLE – it was REALLY TERRIBLE.
When I became a mother for the first time, I was so in love with this precious soul and loved him more than life itself. More than I could have ever imagined. It was beautiful. But I constantly worried, like so many mothers do, about something awful happening to my child. But it seemed different for me. The worry was dialed up in an intensely different form.
I would awake on a regular basis with a start of an unthinkable predicament that I could find my baby in, causing his death. But instead of chucking it up to typical new mother worries, the scene would replay in my mind over and over and over again.
The intrusive thoughts were random and didn’t make sense – no logic at all. “If I don’t put the onesie with the trains on him this morning, he’s going to get hit by a bus.” I was intelligent enough to recognize how warped the thought was – I mean, it was so illogical that it could almost seem comical. But there was nothing funny about it. The thought would haunt me. If I ignored it, I would obsess until I gave into the thought and became compelled to change his outfit into the onesie with trains.
Sometimes, it was just easier to give into the thought right away. I mean, why would I take the chance? It might not make sense, but why would I ever risk my baby’s life? And I applied that thinking to some of my Godly rituals and thinking – I would surmise that since God is some being we cannot see or hear in our earthly ways, that perhaps the intrusive thoughts were His directions for me. That if I trusted in Him enough, I wouldn’t question the insanity of them and just GIVE IN to the thoughts.
So, when I would make a wrong turn driving and experience a near – miss on the road, I would thank God 14 times. 14. And then I would thank Jesus 14 times. Why 14? I don’t know. I just know that I HAD to – I had a compulsion to – or something awful could happen. Perhaps the near – miss was God’s warning to me? I don’t know, but I wasn’t about to take any chances. Thank you – 14 times. Twice – God and then Jesus.
My OCD also attaches itself to germs.
Kind of NOT shocking, since it fits the pop culture stereotype of what defines OCD. But it’s strange. Certain areas and spaces only, while other areas would barely phase me. For example, my floors in my living area MUST be clean, germ-free, free of crumbs, lint, and debris of any kind. Otherwise, it must be detailed. No one, not even my 71-year-old father who struggles on his feet, can wear shoes in my house. This would make my heart hurt to see him struggle to untie and re-tie his shoes upon coming and going. But this is exactly how powerful the OCD puppeteer is.
Having someone wear their shoes on my living area floor is so anxiety provoking for me that it has reduced me to tears. I feel as though the house has been contaminated. And once it is, it is emergent to detail the area immediately. The same with food. Food must be eaten at the table. There is no ‘air eating’. Don’t know what ‘air eating’ is? Just like it sounds – eating mid-air – not at a table over a plate. Crumbs and debris inevitably travel when one ‘air eats’. And then the area is contaminated. Ugh. A vicious cycle of crazy making. I feel a slave to my de-contamination rituals. It’s embarrassing. And I feel powerless over it.
But here’s the thing. I’m glad I came out of the puppet closet to my then – husband. It was the first step in stopping the alienation. Secrets can be so toxic – especially the ones you keep from yourself. I had OCD. I still do. Telling someone made it less shameful and started the process of an honest inventory of its power. It took time; years even, before I took the next step. That next step would propel me from casually talking about something I was so embarrassed about to talking to an EXCELLENT therapist when my OCD got wrapped up and tangled in my Post Partum Depression after the birth of my second child.
Over time, I learned that I had a lot going on and met with different doctors all too willing to prescribe me medicine to treat my overwhelming anxiety. I would try the medicines, then do all I could to get off of them. I would try again and some more and stop. It wasn’t until I heard someone talking to a family member about OCD that I realized just how severe my own disordered thinking was. I needed to be more vocal about my struggles. Too many people struggle every day. I wasn’t being completely forthright about my OCD; instead only letting doctors focus on my general anxiety. And I wanted to get better. I wanted to for my family. I wanted to for myself. OCD is a nasty thief.
So, I became motivated.
I tried some de-sensitizing approaches, where you make yourself tolerate tiny pieces of not following the OCD’s commands. And it was hard, but I kept trying. I also decided it was time to learn more. And I learned a lot more and realized just how effective the proper pharmacological approach has the potential to be. That means the right medicine and the right dosages.
And I also started talking more about it. I talked to friends, family, doctors….lots of people. By doing so, I tried to ‘normalize’ something that had been such a shameful secret for so long. I was kind of ‘outing’ myself with all my chatter about it. But the talking was good. It gave me some control. I didn’t hide anymore and because of that, the hold the OCD had on me loosened.
And I’m getting somewhere with it. Not too long ago, I performed a stand up comedy set. I did the whole set on my OCD. I’ve never made fun of something so vicious, but I did get to a place where I could find the humor in my challenge. And by finding the humor, it gave me more control and the OCD less. I was starting to call the shots. I have a long way to go, but I’m making great strides.
Not too long ago, my son had his birthday party at our house.
I told everyone to leave their shoes on. People were shocked and some, visibly nervous, to wear their shoes in my house. I couldn’t believe I was doing it! It was so freeing! All day, I kept telling myself, I will clean tomorrow. And I did. But I allowed myself to enjoy the party and not have my anxiety ruin it for me.
Sure, I might have had a little extra wine in the name of supplemental medicating, but I handled the day without panicking. I was also able to delay my de-contamination routine until late morning the following day. Late morning – not immediately after guests leave, like I normally do (and that’s when there is only a couple of people over and they are NOT even wearing their shoes.) I didn’t even de-contaminate first thing the next morning.
It might not seem like much, but those are huge strides for me. To allow shoes was a huge step and to not clean immediately after guests left and wait until the next day – wow. It’s huge. Really huge strides for me. Yeah, I’ve got a way to go. But I was bursting with pride at how far I had come and how the puppeteer that is OCD was losing its stage – me.
So, what can I say?
I’m working on this one. But I’ve come such a long way. And I’ve learned a lot. AND I’M HAPPIER! I don’t feel imprisoned like I once did.
There’s no doubt that I still struggle, but I’m on the right path. I can let a lot more go and I don’t obsess about things the way I used to. I have been able to start telling myself that when people in my life behave in hurtful ways, that I don’t need to obsess. I can cry, but I can also begin to let go. Afterall, their behavior says more about them, not me. It steals my joy if I allow it to invade my soul.
The less I allow OCD to run the show, the more room I have to be ME and to free myself from this mental torture and prison.
The most important thing I did was to not give up. I kept going and I kept trying. Different doctors, different approaches, different conversations. I tried to remain as open as I could. Some things didn’t work, but some things DO WORK. If you suspect you have OCD, talk to your doctor. Talk to people. You are not alone. There IS help and there IS hope and there IS life out there. It’s time. It’s time to enjoy your life. YOUR life. It doesn’t have to belong to the OCD thief. And remember: never, EVER give up on yourself. You’re worth it.