It was my 7th or 8th Christmas when my first intrusive thought came to my mind. I was in my grandparent’s living room with my mum and suddenly the thought popped into my head: “you want your mother to die”. I remember having my first panic attack and telling my mother what I just thought, to what she concluded it was just a silly thought, something everyone had sometimes. After that first contact with my dear life companion, I experienced a period where I had a lot of those thoughts, which caused me to freak out. I remember being at church and thinking: “Jesus is an asshole, God is an asshole”, and then feeling extremely guilty and asking for forgiveness. However, I just labelled those thoughts as silly thoughts, something that everybody had.
That period passed, and I experienced a normal life until I hit high school. At age 12, I started opening and closing the bathroom tap before going to sleep until it felt right, if I wouldn’t do that a member of my family would die. If I was writing and a letter wasn’t perfect, I would try to round it up until it was completely perfect (you can imagine how many times the letter would thicken until I felt it was right). If I didn’t do something perfect in an exam I would have to reproduce perfectly in my head what I wrote in order to convince myself that it was right and that my teacher would read it as the right answer. If I didn’t reproduce it without hesitating I would have to repeat it again or it would be automatically wrong and I wouldn’t have a good mark. This last one could include variations, doing it while getting up of a chair, where the movement should be perfect too, etc. If I didn’t complete the rituals successfully, a wave of anxiety swallowed me.
Things went that way for 3 years. By then, I knew this wasn’t normal, but somehow I convinced myself that was something everybody did. In addition, those “strange rituals” didn’t bother me that much, they just interfered with my life the period of time when I was, not knowingly, engaging those compulsions, so I didn’t try to figure out if something was wrong with me and lived just a “normal” life.
I say normal between commas because a part from those rituals I’d always had a certain degree of “social anxiety” (I use the term just to express how I felt in some determined situations). I would feel extremely uncomfortable in social situations like carnival and I definitely hated being the centre of attention. I also remember panicking if someone said (in general, not to me in particular): “Gays sit that way; Gays look at their nails that way; Gays brush their hair in that direction”. After that, I would look at myself to make sure I wasn’t doing any of those things, and in case of doing them I would change them because in my head, and because of the education we get, being gay was an awful thing.
So, at age 15 it all exploded. It was a June night, and there was a celebration in my village. I was walking with a friend talking about girls. I had left behind my first love and he was telling me his stories when suddenly we sat on a bench. While talking, it came across my mind “the thought”, my nemesis. Out of nowhere, my brain shot me: “you find him attractive, you want to kiss him”. The only thing I remember is that it felt weird. Why was I having that thought? I’d never felt attracted to men, never questioned my own sexuality.
I don’t remember having panic attacks the days after the thought but I can perfectly see how the compulsions started. Approximately a month after that thought I started dating with a girl. Initially it all went perfect, until I started trying to figure out my sexuality. I remember kissing her and trying to make sure that I preferred kissing her than kissing a man. Everyday that we met I would arrive home and think: “you are a 100% sure now that you’re straight, you will not worry anymore about it!” But the thought would come again, over and over again.
I tried to make sure I wasn’t homosexual by thinking in my life experiences. I remember thinking: “I’ve played football all my life, I’ve shared dressing room and shower with lots of men and I never had a sexual thought. That must mean I am straight”. A sensation of relief would invade me momentarily, and then the thought would come to my mind again, over and over again. In that panic state I even remember having intrusive thoughts with my father! It was nuts.
Even though I dated some girls, things got worse the following two years. I fed the obsessions by engaging compulsions; I needed to figure out my own sexuality, I couldn’t live that way. Every time I hit football dressing room I would engage hundreds of reassurances, and I would feel terrified if I felt some groinal response. My OCD started to focus with determined individuals, which it only worsened my state.
It all went that way until I thought in all the “strange things” I did years before and I recalled that the only way of getting better was not doing the compulsions. That helped me a little bit but I would still feel scared to death if someone mentioned homosexuality or I would avoid being alone with a male friend because I was scared of having thoughts or impulses of kissing him.
Time went by, and during my freshman college year I met my actual partner, the most comprehensive and caring person I have ever met. We started talking and, eventually, we kissed each other. I was unbelievably happy, but it lasted less than 48 hours.
I went to a party, and I started having intrusive thoughts about sexuality again. The difference now, was that she appeared in the equation, making it terribly difficult. I started feeling guilty for being with her while having those thoughts, I started reassuring over and over again, and my symptoms worsened exponentially. They arrived at a certain point where I couldn’t even watch cartoons because I would feel anxious seeing male characters, walking in the street became horrific and I would have constant headaches. I would wake up with an intrusive thought and I wouldn’t have a quiet moment until I fell asleep.
One day, I decided that it was enough, that I could not continue that way, and scared to death I looked up for information in Google. I came across with OCD, specifically Pure-O, but I didn’t read much and dismissed it, which led me into months of pain again. Finally, I decided to give Google another try and I read more about OCD, Pure-O and intrusive thoughts, and I saw that it was describing my life. A big sensation of relief came to me. After years of pain I finally found what was happening in my head, I wasn’t mad, I wasn’t alone.
Two or three months after, I arranged a date with a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis, and after being professionally diagnosed with OCD I started visiting a psychologist. OCD is a tricky disorder, so not every psychologist is capable of treating it. I had to change and found a new one and work very hard in order to get better.
It has been (and it’s) a tough road. I’ve had ups where I thought I was better and nothing would make me feel bad again and downs where I have cried and I’ve felt horrible. I still have good and bad days but, slowly, I’ve reached a point where good ones outnumber bad ones. I have learned to accept my thoughts, which I think is the most difficult part. Accepting them means that you don’t try actively to accept them, you just let them be there, somewhere in your mind. I’ve also learnt not to engage the OCD cycle and focus and enjoy what I am doing at every moment. I’ve reached a point where I can have intrusive thoughts while being with my partner and dismiss them almost unconsciously.
OCD recovery, from my point of view, is an on-going process; there isn’t a point where you won’t have any intrusive thought. There’s always something new to learn and many ways in which your brain will try to fool you. In my case, and although the sexuality is still my main OCD theme, my brain tries to fool me with violent or relationship related thoughts. However, I’m prepared and I don’t fall in its traps.
In terms of treatment, CBT is what has worked for me and, of course, meditation. It has been more than a year since I started meditating and I really think that’s a vital part of OCD recovery, it helps you to see your thoughts as what they are, just thoughts. Other important points in OCD recovery are diet and people around you. Eating healthy and having comprehensive people around you will definitely make it easier.
And believe it or not, there’s beauty in OCD recovery too! Having OCD has helped me understand myself better. For example, I’ve seen how my “social anxiety” fuelled my OCD. Knowing yourself better definitely helps you understand others and increases empathy in such big ways. I’m much more empathic that I’ve ever been and I’m happier in deeper ways. I would choose not to have OCD but hey, we are how we are, let’s enhance what we have!
As someone said before in this page: “Keep on going, you’re all heroes to me”.
Be aware; find people you can trust and take care of yourself.