“Yes, I have OCD.
No, it is not just about being a neat freak.”
–Pinterest (unknown author)
Deciding to share my battles with depression on social media really wasn’t that difficult, but I haven’t talked very much about living with OCD and anxiety. It is harder to talk about for me because it is the side of my personality that I have had a habit of trying to hide.
People often claim to have OCD in a playful way. OCD is associated with cleanliness and organization. While these traits can definitely be a part of it, OCD is so much more; and the motivation behind performing actions (like cleaning and organizing), are usually different than people who are just a little particular and get some anxiety over not having things cleaned and organized their way.
I actually didn’t realize how bad my OCD was until I was tested during one of my final years at BYU. I always knew it was part of me, but I didn’t know that certain things I did were part of it. I’ve found that realizing and recognizing are two of the most powerful tools in keeping my OCD in check.
Living with OCD, what is it?
OCD is a form of anxiety. It is what I like to describe as reoccurring (obsessive) thoughts that are usually appeased by an action (or ritual as it is referred to as in the world of psychology). Sometimes the obsessive thought is logical (although usually extreme), but it can also be completely illogical. There are times I’ve had illogical thoughts, and even though I know they don’t make sense, I still can’t shake them. Let me give you some quick, personal examples that I’ve found can actually be common for those living with OCD.
I used to be obsessed with the idea of things being even. Evenness was fair to me and the world needed to be balanced. When I was young, I even went to the extreme measures of bumping the left side of my body if I accidentally bumped into a door with the right side (I had to even it out so each side of my body experienced the bump.) I also counted how many cracks in the sidewalk I stepped on, it had to be an even number and each foot had to step on the same number of cracks, if I stepped on any at all. It would send me into a tantrum or panic as a kid if I couldn’t make it even.
Most kids are scared of sharks, snakes and spiders. I was terrified of the bubonic plague. I once saw a dead rat on the beach that I was sure died from the Black Death, and I was convinced that I had walked too close and would die soon from the plague. On top of my fear for the plague, I washed my hands so many times in a day that they cracked and bled constantly. My mom would put Vaseline on my hands at night and cover them with gloves so that they would soak up the moisture and heal a bit.
This is the trait that I didn’t realize is often part of OCD. When I was about ten years old, I was at church and when the sacrament was passed around, for some reason a swear word slipped into my head. This was very out of character for me considering profanity is not something I incorporate into my daily life, and certainly not as a child. I don’t think I had even cursed at that age! However, every week from age 10-25, when the sacrament came around the same word would pop into my head. I felt so guilty that I would say a quick prayer of repentance immediately after to make it right. I had no idea that this little prayer was my “ritual” to appease my OCD thought and actually cemented the reoccurring thought every week (I will go into more detail on this in a later post). It wasn’t until I read a book about living with OCD and found that many others had odd, inappropriate thoughts that didn’t fit with their character, that I realized that it was just a part of my anxiety. With this knowledge, the thought finally stopped. This went on for fifteen years people! Fifteen years of guilt and anxiety that were finally swept away just by understanding what was going on inside my head better.
Why I’m Sharing This
I decided to finally share my struggles about living with OCD to hopefully help some of you who may struggle with it. I want you to know there is hope. Now that I understand it better, I have more control, and it has actually helped me achieve success that I probably wouldn’t have had without it. It has become just as much of a positive force in my life as it has been a negative, if not more. There is freedom from your thoughts, paranoia and anxiety. There is relief. It is hard work and you have to face uncomfortable situations head on, but take courage in the idea that your mind can know peace. There are so many resources available to help, so take advantage of them. In some future posts I will share some specifics on how I conquered some of my past struggles and what OCD has done to help me as well. Feel free to share some of your experiences with me via comment or email as well. Here is a great, short article from Business Insider I found recently that does a great job at describing OCD and what it feels like in more depth.