Monday, 25 July 2016

The Use Of The Term OCD

'OCD' seems very common these days. I knew I suffered from OCD in my early teen years and it wasn't until I got older that I started to hear more and more people openly mention having it too. But they'd talk about the crooked tile that annoyed them, or pens with the wrong coloured lids put on them, or or any little thing that wasn't quite aesthetically perfect. It surprised me how often I'd hear something like "my OCD is kicking in"... a seemingly trendy thing to say. I had always kept quiet about having OCD because it was so embarrassing to me. Yet a lot of people would say they have it and almost laugh about it with each other, because everyone else could relate. I felt like this overuse of the term invalidated my OCD and others' who were truly suffering from it. I don't believe a person is ill enough to be labelled as having a disorder for being annoyed that a tile is out of place. There is nothing wrong with wanting neatness. If, however, this person then fears that the house will fall down or burn unless the bathroom was renovated to fix that crooked tile then yes, that person would be obsessive compulsive.

I don't believe that a person who is actually suffering from true OCD would casually throw it out there to everyone as openly as people do these days. Because it is simply too embarrassing to have people know that you genuinely feel the need to enter and exit a room a certain way otherwise your family will die. That is an example of what I believe OCD is like: absolutely trivial things being believed to determine people's lives. It's horrible. And being caught is the worst. You have no good explanation as to why you did something weird. This is what I suffered from for at least 3 years. I tried to so hard to get this disorder as far away from me as possible. Only after a few years did it slowly start to diminish.


Something strange happened one night when I was 12. Actually, nothing happened that night. Well nothing physical. But something strange.

I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. I started worrying about the horrible feeling in my gut that was developing the longer I stayed awake. The only thing I could relate it to was what I had heard happens to people when something bad happens to someone closely related to them. It seems to be quite common when a person loses a family member or a close friend that when they later find out about it, they remember having an awful feeling at the actual time of it happening. I felt terrible, so sick and hurt. I thought that I'd wake up in the morning to some awful news that someone close to me had died. I turned my light on and looked at photos of my family, telling them I loved them and kissing the photos, hoping they were still alive. I tried to go back to sleep and still couldn't. I felt like my body was filled with bad thoughts. I felt the need to go and wash my hands. So off to the bathroom I went. It was as if I believed I could use the tap water to help wash away the horrible thoughts. Looking back now at that visit to the sink, it was from that moment on that I had OCD.

I remember the next morning very clearly. I had to play it cool. It was a school day, I was in year 7 at the time. I still felt horrible inside. I tried to work out what the hell happened and why I felt the way I did. No one called me first thing in the morning with any terrible news. Maybe I'd get a call like that later in the day? At school I wanted to tell my closest friends about how awful my night was. But when I thought about it I realised I might sound crazy. What if they asked me "Sorry, so what actually happened?" Would I just have to say to them "well.. nothing I guess. But I just felt like something bad happened and I'm still freaking out about it". That was embarrassing to me. I had nothing real to tell them. I had to keep that to myself.

These awful feelings continued. I lived with a constant worry that a close family member was going to die. I had an extreme fear of death and I couldn't handle it. I started doing weird things that I believed would fix these feelings. I'd make my hand move a certain way, I'd avoid stepping on a certain part of the floor, I'd try not to look at a particular thing in my vision and just look around it. I'd wash my hands A LOT. I would 'touch wood' a lot.

The thought of being caught doing any of the weird little things was so embarrassing. I'd always try to be subtle about it. A girl in high school caught me one day. She said to me "what was that?"... Busted. How was I going to explain this!? I decided to play dumb.
Me: What was what?
Girl: You just went like this *re-enacts my weird hand gesture thing* It was really weird
Me: Did I? *lightly laughs* Oh yeah that is weird. I have no idea why I did that
Me: *dies inside*

At the time, I hated that she caught me. Now, I'm so glad she did. It was probably the first time I ever felt truly encouraged to make it all stop. I couldn't keep putting up with that embarrassment and not being able to explain myself. People would definitely think I'm weird. And crazy. And in need of professional help.

I tried to become my own help because I didn't want to talk to anyone else about it. Nothing improved for a while. The fear of death grew stronger and the compulsive habits became more frequent. I lived in the horrible depths of OCD. My teen years were still ok; I enjoyed a lot of my adolescence. I remember my English teacher drawing a pie chart on the board with four sectors in it, each labeled Physical, Emotional, Spiritual and Social. I thought a lot about this pie chart and how it applied to our lives as individuals. I realised that I was happy with 3 out of 4 of those sectors. Spiritual was what I needed to work on. I believed a lot of silly untrue things and a had a lot of weird habits to try and numb those thoughts. Outside of the spiritual part of my head I felt that life was pretty good. Physically: I was healthy and relatively fit. Emotionally: I was generally pretty happy, very emotionally stable for a lot of my teen years. Socially: I was content in my circle of friends, they made high school a good experience. I do realise that Spiritual and Emotional might tie in together a lot of the time, both being mental aspects, but even though I felt really damaged spiritually I still felt very stable emotionally.

My efforts to try and overcome this phobia of death, as it was the foundation of the OCD, had no effect until about 3 years later. It slowly and gradually started to go away the more I would confront it, tackle it and try to be strong in fighting it. To do this I had to go against these beliefs of bad things potentially happening and avoid going ahead with my weird compulsive habits that would supposedly defuse them.

If you want to get inside the head of my obsessive compulsive young teenage self I will explain to you here what it was like. Know that it is still a little embarrassing for me to admit, but I'm glad I can open up about it now. I will also explain why I did that hand gesture when the girl in high school caught me. (And girl if you are reading this, thank you for noticing and pointing it out to me even if I didn't like it. It really helped kick off the start of this journey of self-healing).

So I would randomly have a thought about a close family member dying, very similar to the first night at the age of 12 when it all started. If I had had that thought while looking down at the ground ahead at say a particular paver in the path, that brick would be tainted and I could not walk on it when I approached it otherwise that thought I had might actually come true. Solution: don't step on it and no one will die. It gets crazier. But then there were things that weren't actually going to become something I could actively avoid like walking around a paver. What if I had one of those bad thoughts while looking at the sky? I then had to clear that path of vision somehow. My way of doing that was to use my hand, just wave it in front of my face to break that path of vision between my eyes and whatever it was that I was looking at when I had the thought. Oh God, I'm cringing so hard in admitting that one. If you're cringing too, or laughing at me or thinking I'm a freak, it's ok, I understand. But hey, that's us obsessive compulsive weirdos. So that is my answer to the girl's question that I never answered of what I was doing with my weird hand movement: clearing my path of vision so someone wouldn't die. You can see why I didn't admit it to her.

To get better, I wanted to be mentally healthy again, I had to face my fear and tackle it head on. I'd have an awful gut feeling while say looking at a paver in the pathway thinking that I need to avoid it to be safe, but actively choose to go and step on it even if that was what I was worried about. I needed to prove to myself that stepping on that paver wasn't going to kill anyone. And as I came to realise that these things I was doing wasn't causing bad things to happen, I was able to slowly fix my mind. It wasn't easy. It took YEARS. Facing a fear is a hard task. I applaud anyone that tackles theirs.

I believe I am no longer suffering from OCD. I can still recognise thoughts I used to have but they mean nothing to me now. I hope to meet people who have also suffered from OCD. I am curious to know where others are at with their disorder, whether they are still suffering deeply, or they are trying to overcome it or, like me, feel that they no longer suffer from it. I am also curious to know what strange thoughts they have and how they act on it. I will totally understand their weird little habits too no matter how different from mine.