Most people think OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, is when people are meticulously neat. They make sure they don’t have crooked picture frames, or make their beds without a single wrinkle on the blanket. But OCD feels like your mind is making you do things you don’t want to do, but you can’t stop. You impulsively repeat things over and over. It feels like a constant mental discomfort, an anxiety that urges you to do things you don’t always want to do.
There are two parts of symptoms of OCD. One is obsessions, uncontrollable thoughts that create stress and anxiety. The other is compulsions, actions that are repeated over and over again in an attempt to relieve the stress (Bhandari).
In addition, when you try to avoid your compulsions, it increases your distress and anxiety, since you feel that doing these compulsions will help ease your stress. No matter how hard you try to ignore your intrusive thoughts, they just keep coming back. Some describe this as “ritualistic behavior” (“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)”).
In third grade, I had some thoughts about the way I lived. This sounds silly, but I thought if I touched someone, their personality/intelligence would pass onto me. As a fourth grader with parents always pushing me to be smarter and smarter, intelligence was always a very important thing to me. If I lost it, I would lose part of myself, and as long as I was concerned, I always wanted to be who I was. So after I would give someone a high five, I would always shake my hands free of the “remains of other people’s personalities” that I thought were passed onto me. I made more and more “rules”, like I always had to blink an even number of times, one to “do” something, and the other would “undo” it. When using bug spray, I always had to spray exactly five times, and if I missed that amount, I would have to “start over” and spray exactly five times again. Whenever I exhaled and was aware of it, I had to put my “breath” in a specific place- the corner of a room, and wait 5 seconds until I could inhale the same air again. I had to place my tablet in a specific direction while charging. I had to use the same length of floss every single time. I had to place my toothbrush in a cup at a specific angle.
I soon grew to hate these “rules” I made for myself to follow. Annoying and a pain to repeat, they distracted me from my life. I couldn’t even breathe or blink normally. So I tried to stop. I tried, but I couldn’t, because there was always a voice in the back of my mind telling me that if I stopped, something bad would happen to me, like I would get a bad grade on a test, or someone in my family would get sick. And if bad things did happen, I would blame it on myself, saying that that thing happened because I messed up. This just made things worse and made me more obsessed with these rules.
As a child, I didn’t know what this was. I thought everyone had these thoughts, and what I was going through was completely normal. Because of the misrepresentation of OCD in our society, I didn’t know this was OCD until I read an article about someone else’s experiences with OCD a few months ago. I related to all the things the writer was talking about. It shocked me that these rules and anxieties I made up were part of a real mental disorder. This was a part of me that was so compounded in my life, and it surprised me that this wasn’t something normal, it was something wrong with me.
I have slowly been working to stop following these rules. It has been hard because I’ve been doing these things for years, and it’s too ingrained of a habit to stop. But I believe I can do it. Someday I will be free of these poisonous needles that prick at my brain. I will untangle the web of thorns and vines that dictate my life.
Having OCD is not being a perfectionist. It is not a personality. OCD is when a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts that they feel the urge to repeat over and over. OCD is having intrusive thoughts and urges that cause anxiety. OCD is having repetitive behaviors that a person does impulsively but can’t stop.
To those of you struggling with mental health out there, you are not alone. There is always a person out there who understands you and a person out there who is happy to be your shoulder to lean on. You will get through this. I believe in you.
*Disclaimer: These are my personal experiences; not everyone goes through the same things when experiencing OCD.
Bhandari, Smitha. “How do I Know if I Have OCD?” WebMD, WebMD, 19 February 2020, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/understanding-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-sy mptoms#1. Accessed 9 November 2020.
“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 March 2020,
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptom s-causes/syc-20354432. Accessed 9 November 2020.