Pure O

Taming the beast: OCD, body dysmorphia, and depression

I’m writing this with the hope that, if we openly speak about that which we so often mention in hushed tones, we can begin the process of helping those who suffer in silence.

I am a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a boyfriend, and a writer. I am also a murderer, I’ve contaminated people with infectious diseases, I’ve seen my cat die in a horrific house fire, I’ve run over countless people with my car, I’ve committed the most heinous moral, ethical, and sexual sacrilege, and at my worst… I believe these accusations my mind has concocted against me. I’m writing this for myself. I’m writing this for every person affected in some way, directly or indirectly, by the beasts that are OCD, body dysmorphia, and depression. I’m writing this with the hope that, if we openly speak about that which we so often mention in hushed tones, we can begin the process of helping those who suffer in silence.

I’ve had what can only be considered the most trying year of my life. No, I didn’t endure some sort of traumatic loss of a loved one, I wasn’t on the front-line of a war, I still have a decent paying job, and my limbs are all intact. But sometimes everything is awash in gray. Existence loses its color. Purpose is indefinable. I’m merely a vessel that’s physically here but emotionally and spiritually dead. That short story I wanted to write and submit to hopefully kick-start my writing career? Absolutely no interest—I’m the most uncreative, talentless person to ever live. Driving the thirty or so minutes to go visit my parents? Maybe next weekend—I’m a terrible, lousy son. Cleaning the apartment? I just can’t be bothered—Man, I’m such a slob. Breathing? Christ, who thought a basic physiological function could be so hard—I’m so lazy. My boyfriend hasn’t texted because he’s busy? It’s no wonder—You’re an inadequate partner and he doesn’t really love you. You don’t even love yourself… Most of the time, at least. When did your self-worth train derail? Did it ever leave the station?

“You’re handsome.”

“Wow. You’re a good looking guy.”

“You’re one of the cutest guys here.”

“Your boyfriend is a lucky man.”

My embarrassing admission is that I’ve heard many of these things throughout my adult life. Embarrassing, not because I get red in the face and secretly love the adulation, but because throughout my twenties I’d always felt like a monster. Grievous. Hideous. Sometimes I still do, unfortunately. How could they say such things? Don’t they see me? My God, the lighting in this bathroom is terrible. Have I always had this many freckles? Is that a new wrinkle forming on my forehead? I lift weights almost every day, why do I still feel like a weak, puny mess? I hate my beard. You need a tan. Why did you cover yourself in tattoos? You’re worthless. It wasn’t until I reached thirty this year that I began the slow and often agonizing process of assessing my body dysmorphia which, as some of you may know, is a debilitating subset listed in the DSM-5’s section on Obsessive Compulsive Disorders.

I was once told, “For someone with OCD, you really don’t seem like you have it.” As laypeople, most of us are used to seeing and hearing the stories of distressed obsessive compulsive disorder sufferers who can’t seem to wash their hands enough to feel clean, who flip light switches on and off a set amount of times to avoid perceived doom, who are painfully superstitious, can’t touch certain surfaces for fear of being contaminated, or who desire such neatness and order in their homes that their entire day is consumed. On the flip side of the obsessive compulsive disorder coin is the silent yet malignant face of this condition called Pure-O, which is characterized by a constant bombardment of distressing, unwanted intrusive thoughts or images regarding behaviors like violence, sexual deviance, pedophilia, disease, death, blasphemy, and countless other forms of depravity. These thoughts, or obsessions, are met with mental rumination or an attempt at applying logic, better known as compulsions.

Perhaps these things resonate with some of you. Perhaps they don’t. What I do hope for, though, is that someone reading this can glean insight or even the smallest amount of impetus to have enough compassion for themselves to begin helping themselves.

At the depths of this debilitating disorder of cognitive distortion, the idea that there could be a God or a higher power seems unfathomable to many of us. The sheer level of mental, emotional, or even physical torture we endure at times as sufferers at the hand of OCD, its related conditions, and depression seems interminable. If we’re lucky, there’s the occasional glimmer of clarity where we feel what most others not hampered by a set of chronic, intrusive mental health issues must feel. Things smell different. They look different. They even feel different. The impressionist painting that has been our lives up to this point is suddenly cohesive. The succession of dots and splatters meld into each other creating a narrative we could be content with. It makes… Sense? Then The Devil awakens from his slumber and lays waste to things all over again. Just like that, our existence becomes the personification of Edvard Munch’s masterpiece The Scream. Swirls of multi-hued hopelessness envelope us and we mourn for our souls, it seems. We think about a life that we’ve maybe had small bites of but have never been able to fully savor. I, for one, think about the man that I’ve become who knows how to write about an idyllic life where he’s one with his mind but has never really lived one. I think about the boy inside me still carrying a torch, holding hope for a better day, even if it is literally twenty-four solid hours of peace. I think about what life can be like when I finally make it out on the other side. And I will. Dammit, I will. And you will. We all will.

This is the first time I tell my story to any level of detail outside of my own head or the anecdotes I’ve given friends and family. This is the first time I admit that the image of myself I see when my body dysmorphia is at its worst has brought me to tears– Me… The big, macho guy covered in tattoos who looks like a rugby player. This is the first time I openly admit to complete strangers that at my most depressed I wished someone would shoot me in the head to put me out of my misery. This is the first time I admit to anyone who will listen that my Pure-O has brought me to my knees and nearly destroyed my romantic relationship as well as that with myself and the world around me. This is the first time I admit things need to change and I need to become my own mental health advocate. This is the first time in a very long time… That I see hope at the end of this tunnel. It may be far, but it’s there.

I wish I had all the answers. I sincerely do. If I did, I’ve give them to all of you and all the future generations who may experience some or all of these issues. I’d drop pamphlets from a plane detailing how to overcome OCD, body dysmorphia, and depression in as few steps as possible. We could get on with our lives, love our loved ones more, laugh harder, dance more, sleep better, and run through the streets rejoicing in being alive. More importantly, we could learn to stop being so hard on ourselves and stop feeling like our thoughts define us or are indicative of our true feelings. We could, dare I say, learn to love ourselves again or maybe begin to love ourselves for the first time ever. It’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it?

Whichever path you choose—Medication, CBT and ERP, therapy, mindfulness, meditation, reading, or even your own self-constructed journey, just know that there’s hope once you’ve made the decision. I know it doesn’t seem that way at times, and sometimes even convincing myself of the fact is arduous, but there’s hope that maybe, just maybe, you can learn to tame the beast and regain control of your being. I’m just now beginning my journey… If you haven’t already, give it a try. If you already have, don’t give up.

Jonathan Fleming

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11 Comments

  • Reply P.J. August 18, 2016 at 12:17 am

    Loved your story! Glad to hear you’re on the road to recovery. Concerning light at the end of the tunnel, I love the phrase: “The light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion, the tunnel is.”

    Welcome to a great community! Know that we’re all here for you now.

  • Reply Jonathan August 18, 2016 at 3:57 am

    Thank you so much for the feedback, PJ! I really hope that my story, along with Stu’s work and the others who have contributed, can make some change. Keep on keeping on!

  • Reply Kris August 20, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story Jonathan!!! Your honesty about your OCD is a gift to me and other fellow strugglers! Thank you!

  • Reply Lauren Milano August 25, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. This made me choke up, I can relate so much to the way you describe how torturous it feels. I’ve been on the journey to recovery for a few years, but it feels as if it’s been slow. Some days I feel hope, others I don’t want to get out of bed, etc. Thank you for being brave and encouraging the rest of the community.

  • Reply Liz September 6, 2016 at 1:10 am

    Thank you! As someone who also suffers with OCD, is refreshing to hear other people’s tales. I’ve been struggling on and off for 3 years and during my good times I almost forget how hard it is when I get really bad spikes. My OCD ranges from relationship OCD to harm OCD. Sometimes it feels like just what I’m getting better it gets a little worse. Meditation helps me a lot but it is still journey of recovery. Good luck! My blog is 30ocd.wordpress.com

    • Stuart Ralph
      Reply Stuart Ralph September 18, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks for the comment Liz. Great to hear you are doing meditation. Long may your recovery continue 🙂 Stu

  • Reply Brian S September 22, 2016 at 3:27 am

    It seriously is like I wrote this myself. I know that my story isn’t unique but I have been struggling with this 2-month long issue. I was originally just told it was GAD and given Zoloft and sent on my merry way, not given any kind of validation to everything you just described and zero coping skills. This worked for a while, well… till this year anyway when it hit and hit HARD. I legitimately thought I was going crazy and feared being homicidal. I had no idea this was OCD and still to this day, even though I know what it is now, I cannot “understand” it. It’s the first thing in my life that I cannot rationalize and I felt completely defeated. I am starting therapy next week, hopefully they won’t tell me this is “not a thing” like my last counselor did. This story just hit so close to home for me and I am so so thankful for you putting it out there for people like me. I couldn’t thank you enough for giving me this kind of confirmation I so desperately needed.

    • Stuart Ralph
      Reply Stuart Ralph September 22, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Hi Brian, thanks for your comment! I wish you every success in therapy 🙂 Stu

    • Reply Jonathan Fleming September 27, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      Hey Brian,

      It’s been some time since I came to read the comments here regarding my story. It warms my heart to know that my journey and honesty has touched many of you. I sincerely never thought the quirks or aspects of my personality or mental health that I so often deemed as “crazy” would resonate with others. We really are quite a unique bunch as OCD sufferers in that we have those moments of clarity where we know so much of what we perceive or imagine is a concoction in our head caused by the anxiety/OCD, but when we are stressed, depressed, or just emotionally exhausted, it’s hard to decipher fact from fiction. Keep fighting the good fight. You’re not alone. And thanks again to Stu for his work and the opportunity to post my story.

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