OCD has been apart of my life since I can remember, but it wasn’t always apparent until I received my official diagnosis two summers ago and started to reflect on how it had affected me. In hopes of shedding light on the mental health stigma, I present my story to the OCD community.
Let’s call my OCD a creature. An elusive being; not one that slinks about unnoticed in the shadows, but not one that rears its head and cries for all to see. My OCD is a creature that merely sits on its haunches and waits for an opportunity to act. Unseen by many, it ponders carefully in the furled bracken of my mind- observing, adapting, and striking out to permeate into the physical world when the time comes. Barred back by reason, my creature claws tenaciously at the barriers my mind puts up in an effort to control the beast. But every so often, it breaks through. Every so often, my OCD takes hold of me.
As a six-year-old, my thoughts should have been a whirl of care-free illusions. However, it was then that my creature decided to forego this construct and lash out. Upon seeing something intriguing, my mind told me that if I wanted to remember it, I would have to stare at the image for no less than three seconds and say the phrase “Okay, now, good.” This compulsion is the earliest symptom of my OCD that I can accurately recall. If I did not perform this ritual, something would go wrong. Of course, my parents were unaware of this until I began my Cognitive-Based Therapy years later and revealed all the compulsions I had accumulated over the years. Eventually, my rituals and tics would evolve from psychological to physical as the creature grew over time and began to control my movements.
Fast-forward to my early teen years, and a more prominent evolution of my symptoms began to occur. I had always been one to emphasize that the aspects of my life had to be even. Now, that same rationale that had governed my life with order and clarity began to turn on me. I started clearing my throat several times a minute because I felt that I was not clearing it in the right spot, or that I had cleared it too much on one side. Six months went by, and a new ritual had appeared. This time it was the creature at the base of my brain telling me that if I did not touch each side of my body the same amount of times, something grave would transpire. Brushing up against a friend would behoove me to double back and brush up against the other side as well. Strange looks and scowls were an all too common occurrence that had become familiar. The ordinarily two-minute walk back from the school bus stop to my house reached a horrible peak as it had begun taking me nearly a half hour in an effort to avoid stepping on any sticks or leave that may require me to go back and walk over them twice. At times, I pulled at my hair and screamed into my bedsheets, crying over how unfair it was that I needed to perform these rituals when no one else did.
The creature let out a throaty purr in contempt.
In my father’s opinion, the worse compulsion I underwent manifested in my preteen and teen years. It was the horrible, unyielding feeling that no matter what my ailment was, my family, friends, teacher, and peers would think I was faking. On the frequent occasion that I woke up sick and weak, barely able to open my eyes, I would refuse to stay home and tell my parents unless I was running a fever- because if I had no quantifiable evidence of illness, the creature warned me that no one would believe I was sick. It scolded me that no one would listen to me without corroboration. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been an issue if all my life my body had not been racked by disease and sickness, the unfortunate result of several stomach conditions and Hashimoto’s Disease. Trips to the hospital and specialists were, again, an all too familiar occurrence. Due to the constant need for doctors appointments, it was inexorable that my more severe obsessive thought would begin to clue my parents into the fact that I needed help. For what teenage girl begged and cried for her parents to believe her when they already did? What ethereal force had managed to convince me that not only did other people think I was faking all my ailments, but that I was faking them as well? Even when bombarded by medical evidence, I thought to myself, “You’re a faker, stop making up your disease, your anxiety is not real, no one believes you.”
My parents were concerned, and with reluctance, I agreed- therapy would be beneficial. Inside my mind, my OCD creature paused in careful observation.
The psychiatrist I saw started treatment by addressing my social anxiety- a sensible move, considering I was a teenage girl who refrained as much as possible from engaging with large crowds and public spaces. After a myriad of sessions, I was eventually put on Lexapro to manage Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The medication was also intended to lessen the stress of my obsessive thoughts. I was then assigned homework: to stand under the heating vent in my bedroom and allow hot air to wash over my body on one side. Of course, this sounded manageable. But the hardest part turned out to be silencing the howls and screeches of the creature as it thrashed against my willpower, wailing in protest to let the other side of my body experience the heat too.
I remember shivering. Naturally, I had tried to tune out what my mind was telling me and ignore my rituals before, but I seldom succeeded. Such a significant deviation from my natural instinct made me shudder and gasp for air. I lasted for almost forty seconds before giving in and turning around so that the vent evenly distributed heat on my body. I was disappointed albeit persistent. To pass the time in school, I practiced touching certain sides of my desk, or rubbing a pencil along my leg, and testing how long I could last before surrendering to the cries of the creature. At long last, I was able to effectively shut down what my mind was telling me and adhere to what my psychiatrist’s encouragement. She told me to think about it like a car. Either I could drive, or my OCD could drive. I decided that I wanted to drive.
The scratches on my body where I had clawed areas of uneven skin began to fade. My voice, usually scratchy from all the coughing the creature told me to do, smoothed out. I was able to read sentences without stopping to start over, was no longer grinding my teeth in an effort to chew my food evenly. When I laid a hand on my arm in silent contemplation, I was aware of the OCD creature screeching inside me to place my hand on the other forearm- but I ignored it.
The creature in my mind lunged forward only to be tugged back. A leash now tethered it to the back of my mind, growing stronger with every resist I made to quell my OCD.
Of course, it sounds as if I tethered my OCD with nothing more but willpower. But the truth is I always consider myself grateful that it has never been worse, for I am aware of the struggles other people must deal with- and they are worse than I have ever been.
As for medication, in my darkest hour, I asked for some when the physical pain of my tics built up. But it has remained, unused, on my nightstand for the past year. A safety net that I have not yet had to use, and give thanks every day that I hope I won’t have to. Because for now, my OCD is manageable. For now, the creature closes its eyes and drifts into peaceful sleep- hopefully for good.