I Have OCD
NOTE: I'd encourage you to comment if you feel so moved! I want to people to feel comfortable talking about mental health and am hoping this site can do at least a tiny bit to make that happen a little more.
I finally caved on a weeknight during my seventh-grade year, as I sat at the kitchen table trying but failing yet again to do my homework. Maybe “caved” isn’t the right way to put it; maybe that moment—when I put down my pencil, wiped the tears of frustration from my ruddy cheeks, and walked into the living room to tell my parents that something was wrong—is when I started. It’s the moment I keep coming back to as the first time I sought help for what I now know is very real obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The symptoms began to surface well before seventh grade.
I can remember the feelings beginning as far back as seven or eight years old. It was around then that I suddenly developed a need to say “I think” after almost every single thing I said. I was worried that if I said something inaccurate—and I’m talking harmless, honest mistakes, like saying that the Orioles beat the Red Sox 5-3 when I didn’t realize the final score ended up being 5-4—then I was lying. I was committing a sin and would be punished for it. So I said “I think” just to cover my bases (pun a little bit intended). It doesn’t sound like much, but when you start needing to say “I think” more and more, after every sentence you utter, it becomes a problem. You can’t converse. You can’t talk with people. Simple conversations become scary minefields. And it grew from there. My obsessions and compulsions multiplied and diversified like the best retirement portfolio.
So what punishment did I dread so intensely? What was I scared of (or, more accurately, what am I scared of)? I can put it into words. I’ve said it in therapy. But even today, two decades after my first symptoms, my fear has enough of a hold on me that writing it down is scary. I want to share my struggles, and everything I’ve been taught as a writer says to give details, be specific, show people. But I’m not yet strong enough to share my bizarre, longstanding terrors with the public; I’m scared that it could somehow make them real. I still don’t know exactly how to write about my OCD, but I want to start trying.
For now I will say that every day is a unique and exhausting battle. I will say that OCD has cost me. It has held me back from reaching my full potential and forced me into ridiculous, self-sabotaging behavior. It has caused me to waste money, miss opportunities, and underperform at work and school. It’s frayed some relationships. I will also say with some confidence that if it weren’t for the unfathomable love, support, and resources afforded to me by my family and friends, my life would look a lot darker, and I’d be in a very different place. So in the grand scheme of things, I’m fine. More than fine, actually—I’m absurdly lucky. Everyone—everyone—has a cross to bear, and this is mine; unlike a lot of people, I bear my cross in a first-world country with a loving and understanding family who helps me find professionals to try to help.
So why write about it? The biggest reasons are two: One is that despite all of the resources I’ve been afforded, my OCD is still painful and uncomfortable, and I hope that writing about it might help me. The other reason has to do with the fact that the more I open up to people about my disorder, the more I realize that other people deal with mental health challenges. As I said, everyone has a cross; I’m learning that a lot of them have to do with mental health.
I will write about my OCD because that’s what I know, but I really hope that The Abell Cable can offer a safe place for anyone struggling with a mental health issue to open up and talk. I’ve set up the commenting system to allow anonymous commenting, if you prefer that, and I think it’s easy to use. I encourage anyone who feels so moved to go ahead and join in the discussion! You can vent, respond, comment, question—the goal is to create a safe and healthy place that might help people even a little bit.