I don’t talk about this often. Where anxiety and depression are much more understood now than they were even five years ago, OCD is something that’s still hard to admit to myself or others.
It seems obscure, bizarre, strange, and silly. And the worst thing is that I think so, too. How silly! To think wiping a stain a certain way or cleaning an item in a certain order and with a certain cleaner would matter to someone. Absurd that someone might cry over what color shirt to wear (same style and brand, mind you!) or have to click through a video over and over so the image you end on is a positive one.
I’ve had to do all of those, and more. As a kid, my OCD came and went for a few years. It showed up for a few months, disappeared, then showed up the next year. Finally, it disappeared for good for many years.
Back then, my OCD revolved around checking. I checked the door was locked. Over and over and over, standing in front of the doorknob. I could SEE it was locked. But I didn’t believe it. I would check the fridge was closed all the way, the stoves were off, and nothing was hanging out halfway from an outlet. I would have to check the other door, too, and tug over and over at my window to ensure it was closed.
I wasn’t afraid of the food spoiling, someone breaking in, or a fire starting. I was afraid if anything happened, I would be to blame. It would be my fault something horrible happened.
I forced myself to ignore the compulsions, and they went away.
Until about a year and a half ago.
When they came back full-force and have grown stronger, instead of disappearing.
I don’t check things any more. Now I’m obsessed with cleanliness, especially around things being tainted. I obsess about bad connections in my head. Imagine you go to a party in a bright yellow dress and have a horrible experience. You may never want to wear the dress again, due to the memory. That’s how I live. All the time.
My memory is so strong, and I feel things so deeply, I constantly associate items with events. Constantly. Every item or color or sound reminds me of something else and starts a train of images or observations. Can you imagine analyzing every item, scent, color, or image to ensure it doesn’t attach to a negative event? GAH! It drives me crazy.
And while it may seem easy from the outside to say, “Just ignore the compulsion!” and while it seems ridiculous even from the inside to follow the compulsion, trying to resist it is insanely difficult.
Imagine there’s an earthquake and the neighbor’s house is falling down and their dog is trapped, and you see a beam about to drop on the dog and kill it, and you know you can safely dive in, free the dog, and escape . . . and you don’t. You just stand and watch. THAT’s what ignoring a compulsion feels like. It feels like the world will collapse, who you are will collapse, a nightmare will become reality. I can’t describe it. It’s everything in your brain telling you you MUST do this thing, or else your life or the life of someone else or the basis for your reality is in danger . . . and could die because of you.
The compulsions are tricky, too. They will say, “Just this one time, do as I say. Just this one time, listen to me. I won’t feel as strong next time. Just this time. Do this one thing, and I’ll go away.” And it does. You do the compulsion, the thoughts go away, and you feel safe . . . which re-iterates to your brain the compulsions are necessary.
Then the next time, the compulsion will say the same thing. “Just this one time. I’ll go away. I swear. You can deal with this next time.” And maybe you wonder why I listen each time. Again, see the example above. You can only ignore a house falling on someone so many times before it really gets to you.
Several months have passed since I originally wrote this post. I’m happy to say most of my compulsions are gone, and those that remain are much weaker. In that time, I’ve learned ignoring a compulsion or “just not doing it” don’t work super well. The feelings intensify and intensify, and your thoughts spin and spin instead of releasing so you can move on. And it’s exhausting releasing every compulsion you come across.
There are some compulsions you do need to just walk away from.
There are times when you choose to give in to a compulsion because you are exhausted, and do so from a place of love, celebrating the times you have resisted throughout the day.
But, mostly, I’ve learned OCD stems from thoughts about myself and the world around me that I’m not sure how to answer or handle. The more I look at those thoughts, process them, think about them, and face them, the more I can understand why a certain compulsion means so much. Maybe I feel like I need to wear a certain color shirt because I’m terrified of having a panic attack if I wear the same shirt I’ve already had three in. Maybe the underlying fear is that I can’t control myself, so I look at my environment to control me. What I do then is address the underlying fear, and work on changing the thought “I’m going to lose control if I pick wrong.”
OCD is about believing in your environment more than you believe in your own capability (for example, the ability to face the unknown or scary events).
As with depression and anxiety, the most effective response is to come at yourself with love and acceptance. Accept the OCD. Recognize the compulsions. Recognize it for what it is. Be aware. Then dig deeper. What’s underneath? What am I really afraid of? And work on those thoughts. Work on resisting the urges you can, and be gentle when you choose to give in.
I wish you the best.