Recently, I noticed a topic popping up in online communities: What are the most bizarre things OCD caused you to do? “What an interesting topic!” I thought to myself. But when I looked into the threads and comments, I was extremely disappointed.
I found misguided, ill-informed people making funny commentary about their unique preferences or quirky things they liked to do. I’m sure they meant no harm, but their posts only reinforced stereotypes and misunderstandings about OCD.
Taking a light-hearted approach to OCD can be freeing
OCD is a serious and debilitating illness, but as an OCD specialist who has also suffered greatly from the condition, I try to approach OCD in a lighthearted manner when possible. I think it can be important to take a step away from the seriousness of the condition and recognize just how illogical it can be, and even how it can be humorous in hindsight. It allows me to regain control of an illness that took so much from me. I can laugh at my own expense and can rewrite the narratives that OCD has tried to tell. I can recognize the pain and suffering that OCD caused in my life, as well as the times when OCD was just plain odd. Here are just a few of those times.
The pool debacle
When I was a teenager I had the idea that I could wash away all of my intrusive thoughts. Whether I had actual contamination fears or magical thinking, I felt that chlorine was the answer.
I decided on one particular day that I was tired of throwing everything away as I had done in the past because it was “dirty” or even “metaphorically dirty.” This day I would keep all of my stuff, but I would cleanse it all. It was a hot summer day and I figured my parents were occupied with their own things. They probably wouldn’t even notice if gradually, item by item, I took everything I owned out to the pool, dunked it, and brought it back.
It was an arduous process, but I reasoned that it was well worth it. I know my dad saw it. He didn’t say anything, but just let me carry on. The daughter in me was grateful, while the therapist in me knows that this only strengthened the hold that my fears and compulsions had on me. That’s precisely the type of well-meaning behavior that OCD education can help prevent.
The allergic reaction I never actually had
When I was in labor with my third child, I decided that this time around I would accept medication. I would use an epidural, despite my fears. In my previous childbirths, my OCD fears and “what ifs” were too strong, and I wasn’t willing to risk it. I had severe bouts of fear about having bad reactions to medications all throughout my life. But this time, things were going pretty well for me, and my OCD was much quieter than it had once been.
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It was time to face this fear head-on. And that’s what I did. Instantly, as I felt the needle go in, I felt an immense wave of anxiety, but there was no turning back. This was the best exposure I could have done, but my response prevention skills weren’t where they needed to be. I panicked. I looked at the anesthesiologist and begged her for help. I told her that I was sure my throat was closing in.
Everyone in the room looked uneasy. My husband dutifully reminded them of the OCD diagnosis that was emphasized in my chart. Needless to say, I did not die or go into shock, but felt very embarrassed for the rest of my hospital stay.
The laundromat incident
This happened in my early 20’s. I had been to a laundromat for my weekly chores, and I noticed two young children playing outside with toy guns. They were laughing and having a wonderful time. It was early evening in the summer.
Suddenly, I wondered if I had really seen toy guns. Maybe they were real. How could I know for sure? I knew I had to tell the worker at the laundromat so that they, being a much more reasonable person than I was, could decide whether the threat was real or not. I remember feeling so embarrassed, but I felt like I couldn’t let go of the fear—the more I thought about it, the more it grew.
I tried to approach the worker several times, unsure how to mention my concern casually. Eventually, I mustered up the courage, and it was more awkward than I had even imagined. She was so confused, and pressed me for more information. Was I sure they were toy guns? I thought they were but I wasn’t “sure.” Eventually, I had no choice but to just walk away, ashamed and still uneasy. I used a different laundromat for months after this, too embarrassed to return.
There were drugs on all the paper
I had learned as a young child that illegal drugs were, of course, bad. They needed to be avoided at all costs, and it was very important that I rid any and all possibility of drugs from my home.
In my mind, all drugs were white and powdery. I became hyper-focused on the idea that the paper I loved to color on for hours each day was coated in some sort of drug. Before I knew it, everywhere I looked I thought I saw or felt white powder. It was as if I had never before noticed just how drug-infested our household items really were.
I began throwing away papers at an alarming rate, hiding them so I wouldn’t have to explain. I think some part of me knew that this was absurd, yet I couldn’t seem to stop—I believed that my family’s lives were at stake!
Recovery is possible
As you can tell, I have many, many stories like these. Having lived with OCD my entire life, I’ve had plenty of experiences where OCD reared its ugly head. Although they may have been incredibly uncomfortable to live through, I did just that: I lived through them. And I hope that they can bring peace, hope, and even a smile or laugh for anyone on their own journey with OCD.
OCD has a way of making us feel so much shame and embarrassment, guilt, and even self-hatred. I hope you will make a choice to see this not as a character flaw, but as a condition, and a very debilitating one. I hope you can find enough relief from your suffering that you eventually laugh at the things you couldn’t change—in humor, we can sometimes find healing.
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You are not as alone as you may feel at this moment. If you or someone you care about is dealing with OCD please know that there is hope. OCD is very manageable. If you’re ready to start your own recovery journey, we can help. Our licensed therapists at NOCD deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP therapy. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs – and that means the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.