Once upon a time in a land not far enough away, a girl was minding her business when alarm bells started ringing…
My OCD really, probably started in childhood, but for the sake of time, I’ll say it became “real” last September. I’d even consider it to be very mild in that my OCD episode lasted less than a week, and then it was gone. My first experience with OCD was hit and run OCD. I drove by a bicyclist, which is pretty common here in Western NC, and almost immediately, alarm bells started ringing. Not literally, but also sort of literally. I remember my brain telling me that I had to go back, that I had to make sure I didn’t hurt the guy, that I needed to check on him to make sure he was safe. Of course, I told my brain that was ridiculous and I refused to turn around. I mean, after all wouldn’t I know if I hit someone? My anxiety and the alarm bells just kept getting worse the further I drove. By the time I got home, my hands were shaking and I almost couldn’t breathe for the panic that was welling up inside of me. The logical part of my brain thought if I checked the passenger-side of my car, and I didn’t see anything like dents or scratches, then that meant I didn’t hurt anyone. So of course, I checked my car. And wouldn’t you know it, there was a scratch that I didn’t remember being there before. But really, how often does a person check their car for dents and scratches, especially on the passenger side? My brain went to anxiety overdrive. I remember walking into my house with what felt like a completely blank stare, because in my mind I had just hit someone and left the scene of an accident. How could I tell my husband what I had done? Or my parents or my friends? What would they think of me? Would they think I was a monster? What about the general public? In my small mountain town, the community crucifies (not literally) anyone who would dare harm a bicyclist. Would anyone believe me that I didn’t know I hit a person? I was so wracked with guilt, shame, and anxiety, that I made myself sick. I couldn’t eat anything, I couldn’t focus on my homework that was due that night, and I couldn’t sleep. I probably slept two hours. Every time I closed my eyes, I kept replaying the scenario over and over in my head. I was trying to find some proof that I didn’t hurt anyone. I kept telling myself I know I didn’t hurt anyone, but my brain kept asking me “Are you sure?” Of course, we can’t just click rewind on our lives to make sure we did or didn’t do something, so I gave in to it. I couldn’t be sure I didn’t hit the bicyclist. Although the anxiety subsided over the week, it was one of the scariest times in my life. I couldn’t understand why I was having anxiety and panic attacks, seemingly out of the blue. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know OCD was anything other than hand washing and/or counting. My husband and I had only been married for a couple of weeks when this happened, and I kept forgetting to take the “just married” sticker off my car. After this incident, I left that sticker on my car for a solid month, for fear that when the police inevitably showed up to throw me in jail, they might think it was suspicious that I removed something that could easily identify my car as the one in the accident. I checked local news sources every day to see if someone had reported a hit and run. I did this for about as long as I left the sticker on my car. I did eventually stop thinking about the hit and run that never was. Sometimes I can tell the story and be completely fine. Other times, my anxiety kicks and my OCD likes to ask “Are you really sure though?”.
My experience started when I was just a toddler, I had a massive stuffed animal collection and if anyone touched or moved it I would get a panic attack and begin to rage. I felt as if my world was going to end if they weren’t in a specific place, it progressed onto different topics as I got older. After my parents divorced I suffered from intrusive thoughts of me hurting myself. Not by suicide, but by smoking. My parents smoked around me all the time and I hated it, I had nightmares and thoughts of me smoking a cigarette and drinking alcohol which I also had an issue with.
I’d get thoughts of me stealing my mom’s cigarettes and smoking them. It was debilitating and terrible, after that came the thoughts of suicide and my own father wanting to hurt me. I’d text him and call him every night because I missed him after the divorce and I had to be sure I was okay and that he wouldn’t hurt me.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that if it feels like OCD, it IS OCD.
My name is Devin,
And I will never forget the day when it started and never relented. I was heading to class up at the university and had a strange, but distinct feeling of guilt for some reason. I thought to myself: “Ok… I don’t know why this is making me THIS bad, but whatever.” It persisted and persisted, and took all day to leave me.
As the years went on (that incident was about 7 yrs ago) I felt increasingly worse and worse about different things and never understood what was going on. In truth, it blindsided me and was a huge factor in me losing my faith at the time.
I had decided at the time that well if God was going to ‘make me’ feel this way, than forget Him. My loss of faith was more complicated than that, but this was a major factor in it. I constantly felt like if I wasn’t following each of the commandments right or perfectly, I was going to hell.
I would watch a show that had swear words or a questionable scene, and suddenly my mind would tell me I would be burning in an eternal pit of torment. I knew that maybe what I was watching wasn’t the best thing ever, but I didn’t understand why I was ‘made’ to feel so guilty about it!
To this day, I still feel horrible about doing things I shouldn’t, although now I know what’s going on in my mind, although it doesn’t make it any less horrible and tormenting. I am constantly checking Facebook posts to make sure I haven’t posted anything offensive, reviewing in my mind if I may have somehow offended someone. I am criticizing my wife when I feel like she does something I feel is dishonest and try to get her to repent of her ‘sins.’ After all, I want to save her too right?
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.