Living With OCD

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OCD. We have all heard this term get thrown around. When you hear that someone has OCD, most people would assume they are Uber clean and wash their hands excessively. And they might, but that is not what OCD really is. As someone with severe OCD, I can tell you for a fact that my house is a MESS. No neat freak here. So, what does OCD actually mean? Well, the acronym “OCD” actually stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is described as “a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions). To get rid of the thoughts, they feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).” But I never think medical jargon is a great way for someone to understand something this complex. So instead, I’ll tell you a little about me and how OCD shows up in my life. 

You know those thoughts that you get when you glance over the edge of a high place, where you momentarily think, “What if I just jump?”. Or maybe you see someone in front of you on the escalator and think “What if I just reached out and pushed them?”. And for a second, that image pops in your head. You pushing someone down a flight of stairs. You throwing yourself off that cliff. Now for most people, this thought comes and goes just as quickly. You briefly think, “Wait, what the hell, I definitely DON’T want to murder that guy” and maybe laugh a little and never really think about it again. Everyone has these thoughts, OCD or no OCD, and they are called intrusive thoughts. They are 100% normal, and just a part of being a human being. 

However, for people like me, this is where the ”obsession” aspect of OCD comes into play. We panic about this thought and fixate on it. It plays in our head, over and over, like a song on a loop. This thought that is supposed to just float away sticks with us, and we obsess over it. And since we are thinking about it so much, we start to obsess over what it means. “Am I secretly a murderer or psychopath?” This obsession further distresses us, so we think about it even harder. Then, to handle these scary thoughts and the anxiety they produce, we act out “compulsions”. This can be a physical thing, such as pinching yourself, or crossing your fingers over and over. But it can also be something internal. When I had intrusive thoughts of my parents dying, I would close my eyes and repeat “Please don’t happen” over and over in my head until I felt satisfied with the amount of times I’d said it. Another way compulsions may show up is in seeking reassurance. This is a biggie for me. If I ever worry about being a psychopath or having some kind of rare disease I heard about on Grey’s Anatomy, I will call people and ask them if they think I have it. I will seek their reassurance until I feel better about the situation. 

Now, OCD is complicated; There are many different subsets. There’s somatic OCD, where you may develop an obsession with a symptom, convincing yourself it is something bigger than it is. Something like a headache becomes brain cancer, and the compulsions repeat, maybe through reassurances or other rituals that assuage the anxiety. There is also relationship OCD, where you may develop obsessions surrounding your sexuality or your partner’s loyalty. There’s some really scary ones, where you may have an intrusive thought about matricide or child abuse, which forms into an obsession, in which you begin questioning whether or not you are capable of hurting those you love. These are all common forms of OCD, but it doesn’t mean they are easy. What will make it easier is understanding it better. One way to do this is to untangle the web of myths and stereotypes that OCD has produced: 

First: Having a bad thought means I’m a bad person. Myth! Everyone has “bad” thoughts, but it doesn’t mean that you actually want bad things to happen. 

Another one: OCD is a personality trait. People who are specific about certain things are “a little OCD” about that. Myth! OCD is a mental health condition. Being meticulous doesn’t make someone “a little OCD”, in the same way feeling sad doesn’t mean that someone is depressed. 

So what helped me? I read everything I could. I obsessed about it! But my OCD tendencies actually helped me in this way as I quickly learned a lot about what having OCD meant and how I could relieve my obsessions and compulsions. I learned that other people had these thoughts too! That might seem obvious to some; Of course everyone has their own shit going on, and you can find your own little group of weirdos anywhere. But knowing that and feeling that are two very different things. Being able to read other people’s descriptions of the same intrusive thoughts and subsequent thought patterns I’ve experienced was very relieving for me. And humorous! Getting to see other people’s brains tricking them the same wild ways mine has made me think less of my own scary thoughts. I began to see them in the light for what they are: Just silly irrational thoughts and fears with no basis in reality. The second way this helped me was by bringing my level of awareness and understanding to a deeper place. Being able to recognize and label the things I was doing. Once I was able to understand that asking my family “Do you think this is concerning and could be cancer” was actually a compulsion and only furthered my OCD tendencies, I was able to try to stop seeking reassurance. And I was able to explain to them the harm in them reassuring me and ask them to not engage if I start trying to do this. Likewise, I learned that when I think “If I don’t cross my fingers 4 times, then my dad will die”, I am engaging in “magical thinking”. Magical thinking occurs when I believe that just by thinking something will happen, I am causing it or able to control it. Which is not true! Now when I have those thoughts, I am able to call myself out and recognize I’m participating in magical thinking and I am not a magical person.

There are so many myths out there about OCD, it’s hard to figure out what’s real and what’s bogus. But without learning more about my condition, I would have no way of learning how to help myself. I have found that as scary as it is sharing these inner parts of myself with my family and friends, it has been therapeutic. I am definitely still learning how to overcome my obsessions and compulsions but I hope that by sharing my experience, I can help others feel less alone and feel okay with sharing this part of themselves.


What is obsessive-compulsive disorder? - What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? (n.d.).