I don’t wash my hands a hundred times a day. I don’t clean obsessively, or need things to be “just right”. I don’t count numbers, or switch light switches on and off. But I have OCD. Dear old OCD has been with me for a quite some time, and is always finding new ways to terrify me. Thanks again for that OCD.
For me, my OCD is mostly around intrusive thoughts and reassurance seeking. I remember my first intrusive thought, when I was just 9 years old, I couldn’t fall asleep, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was suffocating my dog with the blanket. I keep looking and checking on her, until I was certain it was off her and she could breathe. I felt if I didn’t keep checking, she would die, and it would all be my fault.
As I grew older, my GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and OCD symptoms grew larger and larger until they overflowed, and my parents knew it was time to take me to a therapist. My intrusive thoughts, or “bad thoughts” as I called them, revolved mostly around hurting myself, or killing myself. I was terrified that I would somehow manage to kill myself, and that because I thought that, it was going to happen. I avoided the kitchen, and couldn’t do anything dangerous in fear it would be me trying to commit suicide.
Let me make it clear that I was not going to do these things, but this is the nature of OCD, to make you doubt, doubt, doubt, fear the worst things, think the worst most “blasphemous” thoughts. Everytime I heard the word suicide, alarm bells, no freaking air raids go off in my head. I went into full panic. I write “were” because it used to be much worse. Although, this is still something I experience on a daily basis, it is much better than before.
A lot can happen in an hour, so I focus on minutes and good moments.
I woke up one morning after getting my wisdom teeth pulled, bombarded by an inordinate amount of UNWANTED OBSESSIVE INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS that I found myself incapable of ridding. We all have thoughts, but these thoughts were like none other I had ever had before. Racing through my mind feeling as though someone had lit the tip of my brainstem on fire….I was debilitated. Suddenly I was checking if the stove was off, flicking light switches up down up down up down, blinking a certain number of times until “it felt right,” tapping my fingers into numbers into counting….repeating sentences…..what happened to my mind? I didn’t know why nothing filtered out. I didn’t know why I could not let these thoughts go. I didn’t know how I was going to successfully enter my first year of college at UCSB with such bizarre obsessive worries. I was concerned about absurd topics like whether or not urine was sterile. I wanted to know that semen was not air-borne. I wanted to make sure my zipper was properly up or else something bad might happen to a family member.
August 2002, my sense of homeostasis was taken from me.
After 7 months of living in clandestine and being tormented by my own mind, I finally saw a psychiatrist who explained to me that I had a very severe on-set of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. How could my brain drastically change over night I thought? Also, from the stigma that I heard regarding OCD, it was a disorder of hand washing and cleaning. I didn’t do either, so how could OCD be my diagnosis I thought?
In episode 60 of the podcast I interviewed Liz Atkin. Liz is an award winning visual artist and mental health advocate. She is known for her free 1 minute compulsive charcoal drawings. These drawings are inspired by and as a coping mechanism from compulsive skin picking, also known as dermatillomania.
I had a good chat with Liz about compulsive skin picking. She shared how she has transferred the energy of skin picking into art, how her drawings act as randoms acts of kindness for strangers. She talks about how art can be an conversation starter for both awareness of the condition and helping others who live with other conditions. Liz shares some tips for stopping skin picking, and offers some good advice for living an amazing live. Enjoy!