Disclaimer: Mental health is personal, and each experience is different. If you are struggling, or interested in learning about mental health please consult the Wellness Center or a mental health professional.
I’m done feeling ashamed. For such a long time my mental illness has made me feel weak and powerless, but that is over now. This last week was obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) awareness week (October 13-19), and it is time for you to know, I am a person with OCD.
This April, I was finally diagnosed with the disorder that has been controlling my life since I was four years old. Why did I wait so long to get diagnosed? It was not in my control. For so long, I did not realize my behaviour was abnormal, and once I realized it took years to gain access to the services I needed.
For the longest time, I thought I just had generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which I was diagnosed with as a kid. I was 17 when I first realized that my anxiety disorder seemed to be a lot more intense than what others with anxiety were describing. OCD was never something I thought was possible for me to have. This is because of the incredibly flawed portrayal of OCD in pop culture. People exclaim “I’m so OCD” when they’re neat and tidy, like to clean, or are particular. This is not what OCD looks like for me.
OCD stems from intrusive thoughts, something that all people have. It is the little voice in the back of your head telling you to say that inappropriate thing to your friend, or drive off that cliff, run that red, etc. Usually when a person has an intrusive thought; they shake it off. They know it is just a thought. When I have intrusive thoughts, I take it very seriously and see it as a direct flaw in my character.
When I was young, my family was deeply religious, and I was told that God could hear all of my thoughts. So when I would have an intrusive thought about doing something inappropriate or would question God, I would immediately beg God for forgiveness, believing that I was evil. These were my first interactions with OCD.
A person with OCD will have a thought, and judge it as harshly as an action. The compulsions are a way to soothe their minds. The compulsion will make the thought go away or cancel out the thoughts. However, not all people with OCD have compulsions, some just have debilitating thoughts.
When I was younger, I was taught about manifestation, which basically means that if you believe something enough, it will become true. So, when I had intrusive thoughts about my parents dying in a car crash, I believed I summoned this car crash, and had to act out my compulsions to make the thoughts momentarily go away.
OCD is not fun, and that is why it hurts me so much when people use it as a punchline or a quirky personality trait. I spend my life fighting so hard, trying to manage the intrusive thoughts that not only hurt me but impact the people around me. My mom has to spend time preparing for my visits home, my friends and loved ones have to avoid speaking about certain topics so that I do not spiral. I have to leave events early because someone burped, and I can no longer mask my panic. As soon as someone knows you have OCD, they make all these assumptions about you, and they don’t want to be around you because “your anxious energy is too much.” It hurts because I know it is difficult to deal with me, but it is much harder being me.
I’m not writing this for pity, I do not need pity. Because of my parents, I was able to afford an incredibly costly psychological assessment to obtain paperwork that I need for certain accommodations like medication. I am able to afford the expensive medications that I need to keep my thoughts bearable.
Historical figures with severe psychological issues always end up with morbid endings. I look at Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and feel thankful that although mental health services are still widely inaccessible, they exist. If anyone else reading this feels like they can’t trust their own mind, know that you’re not alone. It can get better, even if it feels like slow progress.