Before being diagnosed with OCD – I felt alone, isolated, confused, and ashamed. I wondered if I was going “crazy” every day. I had no one to honestly talk to about what I was experiencing. I had heard of OCD before and I thought that I knew what it was but I never would have guessed that I actually had OCD. My OCD didn’t look like the OCD I had heard about. I wasn’t “neat” or a germaphobe, or any of the other misconceptions that I thought were true. I had no idea what OCD really was. It wasn’t until I received psycho-education on OCD and received proper therapy that I realized what OCD really entailed and that this is what I was dealing with and had been for a very long time.
Intrusive thoughts and images
When I look back on my childhood memories I can see the impact of OCD in my life from a very young age. By age 6 it had already begun to take its grip on my life. I had terrifying images pop into my head and anxiety about completely irrational things. I tried as hard as I could to push the images away- but sadly this only made them more prominent. One time in particular, I can vividly remember having intrusive images of my bathtub filling up with blood and I would say to myself “Don’t think about that when you go into the bathroom right now”, which would inevitably make me think about it. I had intrusive thoughts at night about being murdered and it made me fear going to sleep. It was as if my mind was a horror film.
I have always felt that I was different. I felt that something was “wrong” with me. My family didn’t know any better and they definitely didn’t know about OCD or what I was experiencing fully. They didn’t understand it. We weren’t much of a “therapy-type” family. In my home, we just kind of dealt with things on our own. We didn’t seek outside professional help. Sadly, I was met with anger versus compassion because my anxiety and fears were seen as attention-seeking and it was never an option for me as a child to speak to someone about what I was going through. I think that receiving an earlier diagnosis could have really changed the trajectory of how I learned to navigate my OCD symptoms.
Now, I have cycled through just about every single OCD theme that exists. Each one has had its own unique way of affecting me, but each was equally challenging and all-consuming.
Existential fears and obsessions about my mental health OCD
The meaning of life has always been a mind-boggling concept for me. I could never seem to wrap my head around how people just go about their days knowing that we’re just floating on a rock in outer space. It is so strange to me to be alive.
Should I just continue to go through the motions of each and every day without fully knowing the purpose of it all? These types of thoughts would lead me to feel derealization and it would feel as if nothing were real.
As I became older my thoughts shifted. The word schizophrenia absolutely horrified me. I avoided that word at all costs. Anything and everything to do with that word or with mental illness, in general, was to be avoided, at least in my mind. I was fearful of being severely mentally ill. Then there was the harm-themed OCD. Was I capable of harming someone? Am I a psychopath? Do I want to kill people? On a road trip with my best friend (which was supposed to be fun), I was crippled by the intrusive thought that I wanted to harm her. OCD has a way of completely ruining the joyful moments of life.
Relationship, POCD and magical thinking
I have always been quite concerned with what people think of me and how I come off to others. I overthought every single thing I did and said. This wasn’t just with romantic relationships but in my friendships as well. I never felt that I could relax and just be myself in relationships. I am still working on this one, even today.
For as long as I can remember I have been associating objects and things with “good luck” and “bad luck”. If I had a really good day and my rings were on my fingers in a certain order, then I felt like I needed to wear them the same way again. Alternatively, if I had a bad day in a specific outfit I would feel like I needed to throw it away. Certain dates stood out as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. I gave meaning to things that really had no meaning at all, but I didn’t know it at the time, or at least not fully. My mind was full of worries and I tried to find anything I could to blame for why things were happening the way that they were.
One of the most difficult themes that I experienced was POCD right after my nephew was born. This was the saddest and scariest theme for me because it made me distance myself from spending time with my nephew in the earlier years of his life. I was disgusted by my thoughts and completely disconnected from who I know I truly am.
There have been many overlapping compulsions through the years that I have used in an effort to relieve the distress of the thoughts and images. Thought suppression has been my go-to, admittedly not to much avail. Reassurance seeking- needing to ask others or research if I am in fact, “crazy”. Reassurance in my relationships. Avoidance of so many things. I avoided anything to do with violence in movies and on television, psychological thrillers, or anything with pedophilia themes.
The first time I sought professional help was when I was 24 years old after a road trip with my best friend where I first experienced Harm-themed OCD. I couldn’t seem to shake the awful feelings that these thoughts had led to and my anxiety was the worst it had ever been. I confided in a friend of mine about what I was thinking and feeling and she mentioned that I may have OCD. A quick Google search and my entire conception of OCD shifted. I had no idea that it included intrusive thoughts like this. I was in therapy for a few months, but unfortunately, I stopped treatment once I was feeling better and wasn’t able to fully see how pervasive OCD was in my life, at least not just yet.
A few years later though the OCD returned with a vengeance after my grandmother’s death. It was this time around that I realized just how much of an impact these symptoms have had on my life. Existential OCD and fear of death were consuming me. Debilitating anxiety was my baseline from the moment I woke up until I fell asleep. I started to get excited to sleep because it was the only time the intrusive thoughts would pause. It was then that I was able to connect the dots and see the relationship between years and years of intrusive thoughts and images and how these were, in fact, symptoms of OCD.
It was at this time that I was able to go to the OCD LA Center in California. This is where I came to the full realization that this was OCD. It had been all along. The pieces of the puzzle all began to fall into place. I began to challenge the way I had been thinking for all of these years. Years and years of patterns of thinking had to be rewired. This is where I started to live in recovery.
Treatment was difficult, but nowhere near as difficult as dealing with OCD symptoms daily. I was able to learn how to exchange temporary relief for long-term relief of symptoms.
I was asked to do exposures of writing the word schizophrenia out over and over. I literally felt like I wanted to throw up. I wrote out imaginal exposures about killing my best friend. I wrote stories about sexually abusing my nephew. At the end or at the root of all of these fears were the same ones. The ultimate fear was that everyone that I cared for would hate me. That they would leave me. I would end up alone and die alone. These were my core fears. Seeing the similarities in my fears and coming to terms with what I was really afraid of was a pivotal moment in softening the intensity of the intrusive thoughts. I started to wear shirts that I had believed were ‘bad luck’. I refused to text my partner for reassurance and instead sat in the unknown.
Meeting other people who have OCD has been so important in my own journey. It has shown me that I am truly not alone. Having people who understand is important. There have been uncomfortable and hard parts of this journey, but they have all been worth it. You will meet so many people who understand along the way. There will always be some who don’t, and that’s okay. Find the ones who do and get to know them.
I used to think that having OCD meant that I was weak. But now, that has changed. I know how strong I am. Through seeking help I learned that I am resilient. I know and understand myself so much better now. OCD really forced me to figure out who I am and what I value. I have a renewed vision of what is strength and what is weakness now. I am far more compassionate and empathetic. I no longer feel the need to put on a mask and pretend to be okay. I have been in the depths of despair and darkness. And I have survived. I have even thrived. I am able to do the work that I do today because of what I experienced for so many years.
I now work with trauma survivors teaching Yoga and meditation. Because of my personal experience with OCD, my heart can be open to their darkness and hardships because of my own lived experiences. OCD has guided my career path. The idea of trauma-informed care and yoga is very important to me. Meditation has also been a huge component of the work that I do. I believe that for me, OCD was a way to seek control. I believe that I created a scarier reality in my head, to escape the reality that was happening around me. I try and tailor my meditation to those who may have OCD as well because I know how scary it can be to sit with your thoughts.
I would say to anyone that doesn’t fully understand what OCD is and the impact it can have on individuals to seek education and familiarize themselves with the myriad of ways OCD can manifest. Education and understanding are powerful and meeting people who truly understand this disorder from a non-judgemental place can be the difference in someone feeling completely isolated or someone feeling like they are on the path to recovery.