It was an everyday struggle. It still is.
11 years old. 5th grade. That’s when it all started:
I would wake up at 5:50 on the nose. Not a minute before, not a minute after. I’d dash into the kitchen and begin making a pot of coffee for my mother. I would prepare everything the night before– the filter already filled with fresh coffee grounds, the water container already filled to the line, the spoon perfectly aligned on a fresh napkin. While waiting for the coffee to brew, I would prepare and eat my breakfast. When the coffee was finished, I’d pour it into a cup and place it to the right of my mother’s “spot” at the kitchen table, with the handle perfectly aligned to the right. By 6:05, I HAD to be finished in the kitchen and on my way to my next morning task. I’d get dressed, brush my teeth, make my bed, curl the tips of my hair, and run to the living room to start my next morning ritual. At exactly 6:30, I would turn on the television and watch QVC (the home shopping network). The show was so structured, which was appealing to me. I was fascinated as to how they could talk about one single item for an hour straight, without it seeming too repetitive or mundane. The show brought me an odd sense of comfort, which is why I let it into my life every single day. At 7:20, I would grab my backpack, head to the car, and mentally prepare myself for a day of school.
To start my day in the classroom, my pencil would be placed horizontally on the top of my desk, my composition book to the left, both perfectly aligned, of course. I sat next to the same girl all year long. She was eccentric—in both her personality and disposition. I respected her, but she was a complete mess and it drove me nuts. She’d spread her things all over her desk, would leave a mess, and fidget and chew on things. I was constantly reaching over and organizing her desk for her. Surprisingly, she never said a word. Although we were opposites, she understood me, and I understood her. We were “different”.
The biggest struggle I faced was the whiteboard. That stupid, stupid whiteboard. My teacher would write something on the board, and when she erased it, there was almost always one little “smear” of marker left behind. When it happened, I became completely fixated. It created a feeling in me that I can’t even put into words. I felt as though the world was no longer “right”, that my life was off balance. Anger and anxiety built up inside of me. On the outside, I was sitting up straight, hands crossed, being the ideal student—oh but on the inside, I was having an absolute meltdown. I had no choice but to solve the problem. I would look at the clock and see when it would be the best time for me to make my move to remove the smear. If lunch, recess, or another activity weren’t coming up anytime soon, I would say I needed to use the restroom. As I walked away from the teacher’s desk, I would slyly run my hand across the spot on the board. Oh the relief. All was well…until it would eventually happen again.
My teacher was my mother’s best friend. She understood how I was and respected it. She probably thought it was cute in an odd little way. At the end of the year when she was giving out certificates, I got the “perfectionist” award. I was happier than a lark.
Grade wise, I was an average student, behavior wise, I was top notch. I was the good kid. The other kids in class were all kind and friendly to me, as I was to them, but I was in my own little world and I liked it that way. I always knew that I could have pushed myself harder, and that I was intelligent enough to be considered one of the “smart kids”, but my mind always would shift and become distracted by the imperfections of the world. I was constantly trying to come up with a solution for them. OCD kidnapped me from reality. To this day, I still personally consider myself a brilliant person, with an education level that holds me back from my true potential. The worst part is that I blame myself for that. I prevented myself from my reaching my “could have been” life.
From 6th grade to the end of my first year of college, I was free. It was the strangest thing. As I was forced to begin socializing more in middle school and hop from class to class, my mind shifted focus. I began to feel like a “normal” kid, and by normal, I simply mean a person who was no longer burdened by insignificant things. I became a social butterfly, given the “class clown” and “most likely to become famous” titles. I learned how to do my hair, my makeup, and dress myself nicely. I was noticed. Everyone called me weird, but then they’d follow it by saying, “the good kind of weird, though”. It bothered me and made me happy all at the same time. I just loved the fact I was no longer trapped in a world of my own. People saw me, and I saw them. College came, and I then entered the best year of my life. I had a group of friends that were honestly like sisters, I began seeing what the world was like outside of the country town I grew up in, I became involved in movements, met tons of diverse people, went out and cultured myself, and all in all, had the time of my life. I don’t have one ill thing to say about that year. In the timeline of my life, it was where I reached true happiness.
I was no longer in a dorm setting my sophomore year of college, and began living in a shady little apartment with one of my best friends. When I wasn’t in class, I was working. Although oftentimes I was physically surrounded by people, I began to feel isolated and shut off from the world. Amidst the feelings of isolation, a familiar old feeling began lurking back into my life—my old childhood friend OCD. OCD knew me like the back of its hand, and it desperately wanted back into my life. I couldn’t resist it. I hated it, but couldn’t prevent it from walking right back into my world. The obsessions became focused around my personal living space—particularly my bedroom. I created a ritual for myself again. When I moved into a new apartment the next year, the routine followed me, and when I recently bought a house, a whole new and darker routine began. Apartments are small, especially when you’re only occupying a small space, but now I have my OWN house, so I now NEED to have control of every room there (at least that’s how I feel).
Wake up- clean.
Go to work- clean workspace.
Go home for lunch- clean.
Get home after work- clean.
Make a little time to eat and shower- clean, clean, clean.
Before bedtime, pre-crack eggs for breakfast the next morning and put them in a plastic container, cut the crust off my morning toast, create and pack my lunch for the next day, lay out my clothes for the next day, pack my gym bag, and on and on and on. Once bedtime comes, the only thing running through my mind is all the many things that still need to be cleaned/prepared.
Sometimes it follows me to the “outside world”. When I go out to eat, I compulsively clean the table when we’re done eating. Stacking the plates, folding the napkins, wiping down the table, etc. I’ve gone so far as to grab my husband’s plate before he’s finished eating and scrape his food off to the top of the stack of plates. It is times like that that make people become frustrated with me. I become equally frustrated with myself. Why must I feel the overwhelming urge to do this?
My OCD reflects itself in other ways, too. I become “obsessed”, per say, with certain things. It has ranged from knitting to meditating to conspiracy theories to drawing to religion, and on and on. I become fixated on something for a short period of time, and dedicate all of my thoughts and hours of research/time onto those things until I find a new fixation.
OCD makes you feel constantly unsatisfied… Like enough is never enough. You want life to be perfect, yet logically you know that it can’t be, which is why the anxiety kicks in. The craziest thing about the disorder is the many different forms it comes in—for me it’s cleaning, order, and fascination– for others, it’s fear of germs, fear that the door is unlocked or the lights are still on, despite the fact you’ve checked it 10x, for some it’s repeating a word over and over until the word sounds “right”. There are dozens of forms of it. I often hear people say, “omg, I’m so OCD… I just can’t stand for there to be dirty dishes”, or something along those lines. Although I don’t know their personal story, they could actually be suffering from it, but the word unfortunately gets thrown around lightly. I wouldn’t wish this disorder on my worst enemy. The tears, sleepless nights, fights, and sadness this disorder gives to the people that have it is awful.
Over the years, I’ve become very good at hiding my problem. I’m bubbly, talkative, and outgoing to everyone I encounter. I often feel like I’m just putting on an act. Very few people in my life know the suffering OCD causes me and how consuming it is. Many people have thought that I’ve shut them out, but in reality, I’m just trapped in my own world. Within the past year, I’ve regularly started seeing a psychologist and taking a medication. For a few years now I’ve been going to the gym, as well. When I’m there, my mind simply drifts and focuses on nothing but bettering myself. Honestly, fitness has been the most helpful remedy of them all. The reason I’ve written this though is because the awareness needs to be made. I was always afraid to get help, and I didn’t want anyone to find out. There is such a stigma about any type of mental health issue. When you feel very sick, you feel no shame in going to the doctor; but when your mind (the most powerful and significant part of your body) is suffering, we’re so quick to avoid it and feel ashamed by it.
Your mental health is equally as important as your physical well-being. I waited way too long to pursue the help that I needed. I can’t imagine where I would be right now if I hadn’t sought help. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but I’m slowly but surely getting there and testing myself each day. I left a dirty plate on the kitchen counter this morning before I left for work. It’s slightly getting to me, but nevertheless, I did it! Woo to the little victories! I am open to talk to anyone who is also suffering from this. I need support, and I also want to give it. I also know some awesome contacts and places for support in the surrounding area (Louisville, KY).