You can expend precious energy chasing the holy grail of 100% certainty, or you can choose to settle for 95%, or 70%, or even 20% certainty.
When I was a graduate student, I worked for months to prove the main mathematical result in my dissertation. I struggled with this proof. I churned out pages of chicken scratch calculations. I manipulated equations in my head while I ate, showered, vacuumed, and exercised. I had math dreams.
Finally, I thought I’d nailed it. It was a large and hairy beast that sprawled over many pages. I showed it to my adviser and declared, “I’m 95% sure it’s correct.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Well, you’d better be 100% sure,” he replied.
That’s when I realized that he wasn’t planning to check it himself. He was just going to trust me. And then I started to worry. What if there was an error in my proof? What if the central result in my dissertation turned out to be wrong? Could they take away my PhD? And if I got a job based on work I’d done in my dissertation, could they fire me? Would my career be ruined?
I checked my proof carefully many times. But I still couldn’t be 100% sure it was right. I knew there could be a glitch in my logic that I simply wasn’t smart enough to pick up on, no matter how many times I checked. After all, how many times had I turned in math homework – confident that my answers were correct – only to find out later that there was a major flaw in one of my solutions? And the stakes were much higher here. I asked a classmate – someone a lot smarter than me – to check my proof, and he thought it was correct. But I knew it wasn’t his dissertation or his responsibility, so I couldn’t completely trust his assurances.
My disorder does not define me and it shouldn’t define you either.
If you are reading this looking for a miracle cure for your anxiety or OCD, you can stop now. This is not that kind of story. In fact, I’m pretty sure that kind of story doesn’t exist in reality. I should know. I spent the better part of the last three years searching for it. Instead, this is the story of my journey with OCD. And while every individual’s story is going to be unique, it is my hope that by sharing I can help someone feel less alone in their struggles.
It was sometime in mid-April 2014. I had just celebrated my 34th birthday. The last few years had brought an incredible amount of joy into my life with the birth of my first daughter, a successful career as a teacher recently earning his master’s degree, a healthy social life, a loving wife, a nice home, and many hobbies to occupy my free time. On the surface, I was living the life that that I had always dreamed of. However, there were also some significant stressors that impacted me during those years. My mother and sister both survived bouts with cancer, my wife lost her job and was out of work for a few months, we had a pregnancy end in miscarriage, and my cousin died by suicide after a long battle with OCD. Throughout all of these experiences, I kept moving forward, attempting to brush them off and never fully dealing with the emotions that came along with them. In particular, my cousin’s death affected me in ways that I never allowed anyone else to see. His OCD was something that I wasn’t aware of until his death. However, I was no stranger to OCD myself. On two separate occasions, after my wedding and the birth of our first daughter, I experienced bouts of intrusive thoughts significant enough to prompt me to research them and to determine that they might indicate a problem with obsessive compulsive disorder. Fortunately, in both those instances, the thoughts subsided without causing any real interference with my day to day to life.
…there is a lot of comfort and support to be gained from knowing that somehow we are all in the same ship.
I want to remain anonymous, because I have a story which is still difficult to tell. (I hope I can make myself clear as I am not a native speaker.) I am a 41 year-old male living in Europe, and have been dealing with OCD symptoms from a very young age (3rd grade). Like many others, I have come to know its different types (contamination, sexual orientation, pedophilia, harm, relationship) and all of them were and still are equally nasty to me. I have been lucky enough to receive professional help (since I was 22) and with medication I function reasonably well. What I want to write about here is an OCD variation I did not read about yet, on the web or in books, but one that has been bothering me since I was 16. It is an embarrassing type because it is focused on racism and antisemitism. In fact it is so embarrassing, that I almost feel compelled to stress here that I am not a racist or an anti-Semite (as I used to promise and swear to myself when I was younger).
I grew up in a progressive Christian family (I am non-religious now), and my parents always taught us to do the right thing and be there for others. They also showed this in their own behavior: Our family lived in Africa for a couple of years where my father was a tropical doctor, and my parents are still very active in helping refugees. As a kid I learned that racism and prejudice were not acceptable, and in school I learned about the Holocaust as the ultimate evil. And then, as a late adolescent, I started to get these unnerving thoughts. It is very difficult to put them in words, because they were vague and not very outspoken. But somehow they made me doubt the wrongness of antisemitism, and racism more generally, which I found shocking.
As an OCD sufferer myself, it’s only really gotten to this point of overly obsessive and compulsive behaviour in the past two years. I realised it was OCD last year, after constantly beating myself up about being obsessed with embarrassing things. I experienced very mild OCD when young, with “do this or that would happen”, but it faded and I never really took notice. It’s only when it took the form of disturbing and distressing thoughts did I realise something wasn’t right. Even though the thoughts didn’t instigate any compulsions at first, the compulsions eventually became a way of relieving the distress brought on by these thoughts. And as you know I’m sure, as soon as I thought I was over something, the OCD has already jumped to another part of my life. For one period I didn’t want to sit on the tube, the next period I couldn’t get out of bed because I couldn’t rid a thought. Often the thoughts are hard to shake because they make me doubt my beliefs. Which is the hardest part to overcome.
Over the past 2 weeks I discovered The OCD stories on the podcast app, and it’s changed my life. I can’t even list the positive messages here as there are so many. The guests who share their experiences – from onset to recovery – really have brought this way of life into perspective. For some time now, to get my mind away from thoughts and compulsions I have written poems at times that my mind would usually wander (the underground, buses, a queue etc). They’re really true to what I go through, and now I know what many OCD sufferers go through as well. Sometimes there’s a light, and then there’s a slump. But it’s all about focusing on long term recovery. While small steps to start with are hard, the most powerful thing is to know that beneath all the OCD malarkey I know who I am and what I believe in. It’s then up to me to use that power and stop the compulsions.
almost one year after beginning recovery, but I have learned to discard them and accept them for what they are—OCD.
Before my onset of OCD, I had suffered from debilitating depression and a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a common trend for a recent college graduate without a clear path. Covering up depression was something I had done for years, while my panic attacks followed a near-perfect circadian rhythm as I laid down to sleep, out of earshot from any potential listeners. Nobody knew about the depression and GAD, but when I got OCD, the effects were immediate and painfully obvious to everyone around me.
Two Christmases ago, I went on a trip with my best friend and her family. We were eating out at a wonderful Italian restaurant, gabbing and laughing with my second family. Suddenly I look across the table at my best friend, thought about how nice she looked, then suddenly the thought hit me: she looks beautiful. I must be a lesbian. I immediately dropped my fork and sat there paralyzed while all the blood drained from my face and my stomach began tying itself into knots.
These feelings simmered unrelentingly for the next six months while my OCD thickened everyday. Every detail, conversation, action and relationship in my life leading up to that point was examined endlessly through this new lens. Here are just a couple of the millions of intrusive thoughts that took over my life, dictating my every word and action.
I can’t step in my closet to pick out clothes because then I would officially be “in the closet” and therefore I am secretly gay.
OCD caused me to do many things:
OCD caused me to not wear blue, my favorite color; because blue is for boys and boys like girls, therefore I like girls.
OCD caused me to throw my clothes around my room because going into my closet was symbolic and meant that I was “in the closet”.
OCD caused me to not be able to not be able to walk around my house, cook in the kitchen or go to the bathroom out of fear of seeing my three girl roommates.
OCD caused me to never go to the gym or do any physical activity because this was a “butch” thing to do and meant that I was gay.
OCD caused me to take the long way home from school everyday because on the main route, there was a house where a “most likely gay couple” lived over 30 years ago (before I was even born).
But with the right help and support I know I can get better.
I was always been a different child, I obsessed over a lot of things that other kids wouldn’t. I believed that if I didn’t pray a certain amount of times, someone I loved would die. This was scary to deal with at such a young age. I would obsess over things and get worked up about things. Eventually my OCD grew, it manifested itself into everything in my life. As I started high school my OCD got unbearable. It took up my life I couldn’t function normally, I couldn’t even walk into a room without my mind telling me “don’t go in that room or someone will get hurt”. Things that I used to love became meaningless, I didn’t find joy from anything anymore.
I started going to therapy and soon started CBT. It was hard at first to open up to someone and let them know about my thoughts. I struggle with intrusive thoughts, these thoughts are so real to me sometimes I can’t tell what’s real and what’s in my mind. These thoughts revolve around harming people I love. I believed that once I had this thought it would come true. This is so scary for me because I take responsibility for everything. I started self harming because I felt worthless, like I needed to punish myself for being a bad person. I got sent away to a psychiatric hospital when I was 14, this was so scary. I didn’t like it at all, I felt alone and my self harm got worse after being in hospital. I ended up being discharged from hospital as they believed it wasn’t the right environment for me.
I continue to look for an edge, not a cure, for dealing with OCD.
I can recall doing drills in after school soccer practice during elementary school. During this time period, it was common for kids to wear tee shirts with college logos and names printed on them. My mind became engrossed with the number of syllables of each school. Over and over I would say these names to count and recount the number of syllables in each school. Schools with a particular even number of syllables were grouped together and labeled as good or acceptable. My mind seemed to thrive on this type of counting activity. Around this same time frame, I can remember being transfixed by the alphabet which hung over the chalk board in the front of my grade school class. Almost endlessly, I would look at the letters and make patterns and count the number of consonants between vowels. My mind did not know how to shift gears, I would fixate on my mental gymnastics and frequently not pay attention to other more appropriate class room activities. As I understand OCD, onset is usually in the late teens and early twenties. There is usually a lag between first engaging in repetitive mental gymnastics and having overt symptoms severe enough to qualify as full blown OCD. This time period can be considered the prodrome phase. I often wonder if proper early intervention would have prevented the continually spinning wheels of OCD I came to endure in later years.
Other events during this period of life seemed to help shape the form my OCD would take in future years. I recollect rifle shooting out in the desert near our home. I enjoyed shooting tin cans and bottles with a 22 caliber rifle. My aim was often true and I found the activity exhilarating. One Saturday, a small propeller plane flew over the area where we were target shooting. With a quick thought I wondered if I could hit the plane and bring it down. On one hand, it was a moving target and would be a challenging feat. On the other hand, I was morally revolted by how I could use a vehicle transporting humans for target practice. Was I lacking a conscious? The thought provoked extreme anxiety. How could I think of such a gruesome thing? What was wrong with me? I must be the most heinous person alive. In my religious upbringing, thoughts were nearly as important as actions.For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” – Proverbs. I really believed these teachings. Somehow I had become an irredeemable murderer. In later years, I would learn about the cognitive distortion of thought/action fusion but as a 12 year old I lacked this understanding. Murder was unforgivable. No need in asking for forgiveness. I was a lost soul. Many times I tried to push this thought away and force it from my mind. Yet, the more I engaged in thought suppression the worse my anxiety became.
You may feel like your life will never go back to normal & that you will be stuck like this forever, but there is hope even in the storm.
I have been struggling with OCD since I was 16. It started with a bad thought about the bible. I never had a thought like that before, and I was basically traumatized. It felt like the world was turned upside-down, & all I could think about was that bad thought I had. I always grew up in a Christian family. We didn’t always go to church, read the bible, & we are definitely not perfect, but my parents did the best they can to teach us about Jesus & to go to church, pray, & read the holy bible. I remember crying & praying to God for forgiveness in my room for hours. Even though I prayed & asked for forgiveness, I didn’t fell like I was forgiven. I began to obsess over the thought & the more I tried to avoid having the thoughts, the worse they became. I started to think that I was this bad person & I continually ask god for forgiveness. It only grew worse from there. I began to avoid cursing (in music & language), and going to church triggered the bad thoughts.
I’ve talked to my parents & my pastor about it, but I wasn’t completely honest with them about the nature of my thoughts. I was afraid that I would be judged, especially by my parents. I thought I was alone & I felt like as a Christian I wasn’t suppose to have bad thoughts about God & Jesus. I quickly became depressed, & it felt like everyday was constantly not trying to think those thoughts again. I started having thoughts about harming babies, & just thinking bad things towards family, friends, & even strangers. I was always the person who wanted to make people happy, & do good things to make this world a better place.
I will never quit and you should never quit either.
I have had OCD for as long as I can remember. My first memory is when I was 11. I watched a movie and became obsessed with being hurt sexually like the person in the movie. It was a unhealthy fear. I told my parents and they took me to a counselor, and they psychoanalyzed me. This did eventually go away. I became obsessed with my health in my teen years. I thought that I would die from some sickness even if I had no symptom of anything. It was ridiculous.
Then when I had my 1st baby at 19 years old was when I really met OCD like no other. I remember walking with my 4 month old baby and all of a sudden a thought came to me “What if you accidentally dropped the baby” and then it went to “what if you purposely dropped the baby”. These thoughts of harming my baby almost destroyed me. I knew that I would never hurt my child. I thought I must never tell anyone or I will loose my child. So I suffered in silence. This OCD fear did did loosen its grip eventually.
But OCD started to make me think that I was a lesbian. I knew that I wasnt but the thoughts were so strong. I recognized the feeling of fear was a similar feeling I had with the harm thoughts of my child. It still felt so real. This also did eventually lose its power and things were normal for a bit. Then I had a 3rd child and 5 days after he was born.. the harm thoughts came back with a vengeance. I became extremely depressed for I recognized the feeling and I was overcome with sadness. This was my first episode of a major depressive episode. It was awful. I lost a lot of weight. I finally was diagnosed by a psychiatrist with OCD. It made so much sense. I was relieved that I was not crazy. She put me on medication and it was helpful with the depression but not so much with the OCD.