To be honest, I've never discussed the possibility of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affecting my life with a medical professional. That's not to say I don't struggle with it or I don't have it, but I want to be completely honest with you. I also think we (all of us) can get lost fairly quickly in the Google searches and researching where we make ourselves believe we're suffering from many things we may have barely any relation to. In saying this, I encourage you to talk to someone before overdiagnosing yourself and in turn overwhelming your likely already busy brain!
I'll talk about how I believe I relate to OCD and how the symptoms and causes talked about in What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have resonated throughout my life in hopes that someone/people struggling can realize they are NOT alone. You are NEVER alone.
Growing up I certainly didn't place any label on myself. Whether it's because it wasn't talked about, or we didn't know enough about it I'm not really sure- but it's not like it was never brought up. The problem is, only a few short years ago, mental health carried even more of a stigma than it does today and everything just got joked about and nothing really got further researched or looked into. Although a stigma still remains, I feel people are learning more and more and are in a place where they can recognize if someone may be going through something and hopefully they can reach out to find the proper resources. I don't know that being 'treated' would've done much as there wasn't a lot of research being done, and I mean there really isn't a lot now. But even knowing that these actions/thoughts/behaviours are coming from somewhere essentially uncontrollable takes a weight off my shoulders.
I'll start with the stereotypical OCD stuff to ease you in... I've always had a place for everything. I've always colour-coded everything. It always bothers me when something is out of place and it causes me great anxiety. I grew up with two older sisters, and as sisters do, we used each other's stuff and wore each other's clothes. That wasn't the problem. The problem is I would come home or go into my room or bathroom and something would be out of place. Whether it had been used and put back incorrectly or taken and not put back at all. It caused extreme discomfort and irrational responses. In layman's terms, I would get FIRED! UP! if a shirt was gone or my deodorant had moved two centimeters to the left. It wasn't my fault, it wasn't their faults. I think we all just thought we were sisters overreacting to sisterly things. To this day I still struggle. If things aren't the exact way I left them or the exact way I think they should be I feel out of place, or off-kilter; like when we get together at family dinners and we're not all sitting in the "right" spot. I know something is not quite right and I will fixate on it. A cupboard door could be slightly open and we've sat down for dinner, engaged in conversation, but the thought of the cupboard door will NOT leave my mind until I go and fix it.
A need for perfection is an obsession that comes right along with OCD. In this case, it's less about items and more about performance. I played sports all throughout school and did quite well academically. Although this was often met with challenges. I can remember trying to stifle tears through exams or lessons or drills because I just didn't understand something or didn't pick it up right away and I couldn't imagine not being perfect at it. It was immensely frustrating for me and would break me down mentally. Of course, we just equated this to stubbornness, or not being prepared enough and moved right along. I still struggle with this and it often appears in the workplace. If I don't pick up on something right away, or even if I've given 110% and the outcome isn't in my eyes, perfect, I completely shut down. I get frustrated, or mopey, and feel like I've let everyone including myself down. It's so so mentally and emotionally exhausting. I then feel guilty for "acting like a child" when in reality it's my mental illness and really has nothing to do with me. Not only that, but society doesn't view mental illness as a reason for certain behaviours yet so I feel like I have to cater to that and hide what I'm truly going through.
Fear of harming yourself or others also falls right in line with Obessesions. Keep in mind there really is no sound reasoning or logic for these thoughts, or even why they happen. Upon reading through symptoms I was immediately connecting things back to my childhood, it's like everything started to click. I used to have intense nightmares about fires in my early childhood, I'm not 100% sure when they started or when they ended, but I remember everything in between. My dad used to have to bear hug me basically throughout the night because I would violently shake from these terrifying dreams of our family home burning down while we were in it. We used to have at least four pets at a time when I was growing up, plus the five of us in the family, and I remember the dreams (which are still so vivid) and I would have to round everyone up and get them out of the house. Something I realize now and maybe didn't want to comprehend then is I was likely the one also starting the fire. Although it may not be as intense now, at least not all the time, I still have fears of harming myself. Unintentionally. It's not depressive harm or anything like that. It's just when I'm doing everyday things. I've noticed it a lot with stairs lately, there is not a time I go up or down the stairs where I don't feel a wave of panic or fear rush over me. It's almost like what could happen. I could fall face first and mangle my face and break all my bones. I realize how bizarre this is. And I really don't expect you to be able to empathize, but maybe try to understand what some people could be going through- every day. I don't believe this is related to trauma, I've never had a staircase accident, and certainly nothing too gruesome if I have ever missed a couple of steps.
I could go on with the obsessions that plague me, I really could. And if you ever feel like you want to chat more, never be afraid to reach out to us with our YAC AT US platform.
What happens with your obsessions though, is you develop compulsions to deal with them. Rituals or rules you have in place to either prevent or combat the obsessions. Like colour-coding so everything is in order, like checking all the locks to feel safe, or even if I know something is correct I will look at it repeatedly until the event or story is over to make sure it's perfect. For example, it can take me a while to read books because I'll read the same sentence or paragraph over and over until it sticks in my mind and I could repeat it back. Or if I put my boarding pass on my phone, I'll repeatedly check the app until I've boarded the plane to make sure it's there - and then immediately delete it so it's not cluttering my phone (this applies to paper boarding passes too). For this reason, I don't often lose things, so if I do (because I'm human after all) it causes major anxiety.
You almost start to develop your own cognitive behavioural therapy through mental rituals. When those intrusive thoughts like falling down the stairs rush over me, I try to force them out by repeatedly replacing them with more positive thoughts. In a way, this has helped me work through negativity and become a more optimistic person, but it can often get exhausting to constantly have to be replacing irrational thoughts. People with OCD often feel like they've done something bad, which I think is where that guilt comes from, so you're constantly checking with someone to make sure what you're doing is right because you don't want to mess up. Or you're constantly asking permission for things you really don't need to be. Before I started school or just whenever I was home with one of my parents I would ask to go to the bathroom. It's not that I wasn't capable, it's not that they had asked me to do this, I really don't know why I did it. To get permission I guess. Hoarding can also be part of OCD, you have an extremely hard time getting rid of things that have value to you. My family used to call me a Packrat* when I was younger. They didn't mean it offensively, we obviously never thought of it as that serious of a problem. But in reality, it is a symptom. And symptoms of OCD can change all.the.time. You don't necessarily have fear of harm for your entire life. You may not always be a hoarder or have a need to ask for permission. Somethings impacted me more as a child and somethings impact me more as an adult.
I should probably be writing a book, instead of a blog about this, because I really could go on and on. As much as it's a weight lifted off my shoulders to know all of these things - as irrational as they seem - knowing they have meaning or are normal to people with OCD feels that much better. These symptoms don't make you a crazy person. They don't make you less of a person. And they certainly don't make you any worse or better than the person beside you. They're things you live with and other people may not. I hope for people who struggle with this you know you're not alone. I hope for people who were questioning their symptoms you have found some clarity. And I hope for people who didn't understand OCD before understand at least a little bit more now.
Never hesitate to reach out, whether to us in the comments below or through YAC AT US, or to anyone you feel comfortable with. You are NOT alone.
*Packrat : wood rat especially : a bushy-tailed rodent (Neotoma cinerea) of western North America that has well-developed cheek pouches and that hoards food and miscellaneous objects. First used in 1885
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals and are not able to provide licensed medical advice. This is a platform to relay information and share about mental illness.