A person’s recovery from OCD requires them to let go of the concept of certainty and embrace uncertainty.
My OCD story. I’ve made this post visible to those I feel know me or won’t judge me. I hope my story will educate those who don’t truly understand OCD.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been a hypersensitive, worrisome and impressionistic person. I experienced my first OCD symptoms at the age of six. I have memories of myself lying in bed with my eyes closed, having unwanted and intrusive thoughts repeat in my mind. Most of these thoughts involved close family members, who I’d visualise as being harmed and tortured. This made me feel extremely upset, frightened, guilty and helpless.
At the age of ten I began engaging in a bizarre compulsion, one which had me spitting saliva everywhere I’d go. I’d spit mostly on my clothes and the floor, and this would be accompanied at times with a strange swallowing compulsion which I still carry to this day. A lot of my thoughts were still centred on harm and a feeling of entrapment, both of which made me believe I was evil and deserving of some sort of punishment. I felt that If I was to swallow my saliva something bad would happen to me or my family so I tried my hardest not to do this.
I had also become fixated on the number ‘four’. Everything I did was in fours and even to this day I still engage in this ‘four’ compulsion, although I try really hard not to. Some nights I would be doing actions such as turning off the light switch four times, over and over again until I felt I had got it right. It wasn’t a matter of just making sure I had done it four times, I also had to place my hand on the switch in a correct manner, with four fingers on the panel, upright and not downright. Even if I had made the slightest mistake in my hand placements I’d have to start over. This would last at least thirty minutes on average before I felt comfortable enough to move onto another action that requires the same ‘four’ compulsion to get me through my day.
At the age of 17 I had my first panic attack which had been triggered by the horror movie “The Ring”. I had watched the movie with my brother and a friend from high school after class that same night. After the movie finished I went home and began obsessing about the concept of demonic possession. This led to me having my first panic attack, probably the most terrifying feeling I’ve ever experienced.
The next morning my thoughts had quickly switched to the movie “The Exorcist”, a film I’d seen when I was 11 years old. This is where my life had turned upside down. I began to visualise scenes from the Exorcist film almost every minute of the day, and these images had cycled repetitively in my mind for at least four months straight. During this time I could not eat, I had lost enjoyment in all activities; and had become 15 kilograms lighter due to loss of appetite and an anxiety disorder causing me to sweat profusely and go to the toilet at least three times a day.
After a month of not knowing what was wrong with me, I decided to chat to my mother about my experience, confessing how terrified I was that I might be losing my mind. My mother has never been supportive, and did not care to hear me out. I remember sitting in front of her one afternoon begging her to take me to hospital so I could be prescribed medication to ease myself of the thoughts. My mother was stubborn and sat there with a stern look on her face. After days of pleading to her, she finally agreed to take me to an adolescent psychologist.
I was not sure what to think after my sessions with the psychologist. I did not find any of them beneficial as they did not explain anything to me. Instead, I was diagnosed as having a psychotic attack. Both psychologists treating me had felt extremely sorry for me, almost infantalizing me. They had asked my mother if she would allow me to start on anti-psychotic medication. My mother denied this as she is very anti-drugs, she did not care to hear me out either. Soon enough we went home and not one word of my mental health was spoken around the family.
I’m not sure how but after four months I had somehow stopped obsessing about demonic possession as it was no longer a concept that had frightened me. I was free from intrusive repetitive thoughts for a good two or three years. Unfortunately, things were to change again for the worst shortly after I had entered my first relationship.
A friend of mine had sent me a YouTube video which had shown an artist and his descent into schizophrenia. This triggered me quickly, and in a short amount of time I began obsessing about schizophrenia and having ‘what if’ thoughts.
I began researching endlessly, believing I had every symptom or that I could be in the midst of developing each symptom that I had read online. I was so terrified of developing schizophrenia as I saw it as a death sentence, something I’d never be able to live with.
After weeks of obsessing and unhealthily researching symptoms almost every minute of the day, I decided enough is enough. I started to see another psychologist, and this time without my family being involved. The doctor who referred me onto the psychologist had written on the referral letter that I was experiencing OCD symptoms, an acronym I had no idea about. Luckily enough, this is where I began to start learning about my mental health condition.
During my never ending OCD research I had stumbled across ‘religious scrupulosity’, noticing that it had been a common theme for people with OCD. Within religious scrupulosity I’d noticed that a fear of possession was very common. I had also noticed that another common theme of OCD had been a fear of schizophrenia, which was termed ‘schizophrenia OCD’. Furthermore, there was also Paedophile OCD, Trans OCD, Gay or Straight OCD, existential OCD, Relationship OCD, all of which entailed ‘what if’ thoughts and a fear of developing or having said theme.
The next psychologist I decided to go and see only worked with me briefly. He reiterated that he felt I was not insane and that I was not in the midst of developing schizophrenia and quickly prescribed me antidepressants and told me to come back in a month or so.
I did not find him helpful at all, and shortly after two sessions I decided to see another psychologist. I had explained my mental health story to this new psychologist in depth, telling him that I was diagnosed as having a psychotic attack at the age of seventeen.
The new psychologist had refuted that I’d experienced psychosis. Instead, he had said that I’d “freaked out” after watching a movie. Hearing that I’d merely freaked out had made me even more confused as I felt some relief at the age of 17 knowing I had a psychotic attack and that I could attach a label to my experience.
After two or three years, on and off antidepressant medications, my symptoms started to subside and I was no longer anxious. I decided to come off the medication for good without consulting my doctor. The next five or so years were great and I felt I could cope without medication as I was no longer in a state of constant anxiety and felt I’d recovered from my OCD for good.
Unfortunately, at the age of 28 this all turned upside down again. The reason being was that I had decided to experiment with drugs one night. I’d taken MDMA pills laced with meth with a couple of friends.
A couple of weeks later, I began obsessing about my sanity again. My schizophrenia OCD had come back with a vengeance, a fear I thought I had surely gotten over. During this time I became agoraphobic; experiencing anxiety attacks daily, I felt depersonalisation and derealisation symptoms, and had to take five weeks off work.
During my time off work, I began taking antidepressant medication again, hoping that it would help me feel ‘normal’ as I was not functioning at all. I also began researching my anxieties in more depth, and this is where I found OCD YouTubers such as Mark Freeman, Stuart Ralph and ShalomAleichem. All of which provided me with great information and insight into my experience. I felt I could relate to each one of these peers and it felt amazing.
Furthermore, during this time I had also visited Reddit’s OCD forums religiously, as well as a site called Nomorepanic.co.uk. I had begun interacting with people on forums who were in a similar position to me, and were compassionate and empathetic.
In conclusion I’ve come to realise that people who have OCD traits are often perfectionists and are sensitive in nature. Somewhere along the way in their life they’ve lost a sense of stability within themselves, fearing uncertainty and needing control in their daily lives.
A person’s recovery from OCD requires them to let go of the concept of certainty and embrace uncertainty. This means that individuals need to stop engaging in compulsions to feel safe from scary thoughts, as it is a vicious never ending cycle if they don’t.