OCD and me. What it's like in my brain.
CW: OCD, Self Injury, Suicide, Depression, Anxiety, Disordered Eating.
I've had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for quite a long time I suspect. It definitely started in childhood but I kept quiet. I was about 9 when it began and it started with the germs.
One day I was at my best friend's house and I dropped my hockey stick on the ground in their driveway. It landed in a little stain on the concrete which was probably oil from the cars. Most would just pick up their stick and that would be it, but not for me. I played hockey that day but my hands were contaminated after that point. I would cry for hours before I had to go to hockey because I would have to touch my stick. I would play hockey with my hands in my sleeves. When my parents figured it out that I thought it was dirty, they cleaned it for me with a pine-o-clean wipe. But there was still a problem there were chemicals I thought were poisonous on that and so the problem continued. I don't even remember how or when that stopped but it did I suppose.
The fixation with poisons then continued. My dad had built me and and my sisters a sand pit in our backyard. He told me that the wood was treated with insecticides to stop the termites. The problem continued. I remember being scared to eat because I couldn't use my hands because I had touched that wood and there was now poison on my hands. In the end I remember my dad licking the wood (or something like that) to assuage my fears that I would be dead if I consumed it. He was of course fine (I don't recommend licking wood though!) and I eventually accepted that after he didn't die a few days later.
I became very preoccupied with being good, If I wasn't good god would kill everyone I knew. I used to pray "please god don't kill my family, I promise I'll be good", every time the slightest thing went wrong I could convince myself in an instant that my family would be dead.
But it didn't stop there. I couldn't swallow my spit because I was afraid poison had got in my mouth or I had breathed it in. I couldn't go outside in certain places without holding my breath for fear of breathing in poison from the Oleander trees. I saw psychiatrists, my parents were worried about OCD but it calmed down a little and I mostly internalised everything and it was manageable for a few years.
Now I'm a 20 year old and the OCD has been back since I was about 15. For the first four years I truly believed I was a monster. No longer is my OCD regarding poison and germs (although I still hold my breath around poison plants and petrol stations and can't touch a rubbish bin or door handles at times...) it is now around being worried about causing harm to myself and others. I think mostly it has to do with being bad and being a bad person.
I believed that I was truly the worst person in existence. I believed I deserved to be dead for the horrible intrusive thoughts and obsessions that I was having. The more I reacted, the more I became distress over what was happening in my head the worse it got. My OCD compulsions are a series of mental rituals and phrases - on the outside no one would even know (despite my often distressed appearance) that I have OCD. I used this as justification that proved I was a monster, I didn't have OCD - I really was the most terrible person in existence. I really wish I knew that my parents thought I had OCD when I was younger, I think that really would have helped.
The thing is my OCD obsessions are the worst things I can imagine a person doing. They are so ego-dystonic ie. not in line with my beliefs and morals that they have had such an impact on my self worth and value as a human being. Anyone who knows me would say that I try to always be kind to everyone no matter who they are and would never want to even be mean, let alone commit an awful crime, be mean or do something bad. This is what gave them so much power over me.
"Obsessions are a little bit like weeds in a garden. They might be there but I sure as hell didn't plant them."
In 2015, I moved overseas by myself and my OCD sky rocketed. Every waking moment was filled with obsessions. I would be lucky to have 20 minutes cumulatively in a day when they weren't screaming in my head for a whole year. I still hadn't figured out that it was OCD at this stage. I was depressed and suicidal. I was having more panic attacks than one can count, but that worked in a funny way. I would keep incredibly busy and purposely do things that made me anxious, like flying and travelling alone. I would be so anxious about the situation I was in, I wasn't quite so focused on the obsessions. But even still, I look back on my photos from that year and could tell you exactly what my brain was saying at that point in time, it was graphic and terrifying.
Then began the obsessive exercise and eating minute amounts of food. I wreaked havoc on my body to try and quieten my mind. I lost my period for over a year, my heart became slow, I lost my hair and I was dizzy and sick. I set all these rules for myself and was constantly thinking about how many calories I had eaten or burnt or when I could allow myself to eat next. I swapped one obsession with another (I know it's slightly different - I mean that it occupied so much brain space fixated on food I was focusing so much on the intrusive thoughts). When I started to eat again and cut back on the exercise, then another harmful tool of self punishment took its place. I would hurt myself in almost a compulsive way, trying to prove to myself that I didn't like these thoughts, that if I hurt myself then I wasn't a monster.
Right now my OCD is not as bad as it has ever been but it's still quite severe, there's now just other things going on as well. Some days my brain won't shut up but occasionally I can get a bit of quiet from them (I'm usually worrying about something else to be honest but thats a whole other story). It still has quite a hold on me but at least now I'm starting to get proper help. It's been a slow road and probably something that will never fully go away, but a bit less would be quite nice. This year I've been hospitalised, tried my third lot of medication and had to reduce much of my course load at university (something that my high achieving type A personality is still trying to accept). I'm now doing Exposure and Response Prevention therapy - the leading psychological treatment for OCD weekly and trying all of the things to get better. I'm not going to lie, ERP is fucking terrifying. You have to expose yourself to your biggest fears and face them without resorting to anxiety reducing compulsive behaviours or mental acts. But it will work, I'm sure of that. I am learning that I am not a bad person, I just have OCD.
Maybe one day I'll be able to comfortably write what I obsess about exactly rather that vaguely saying that I am bad. I think that will be a step in exposure therapy, or to say them aloud to someone, I'm just not quite there at the moment.
I'm learning that my obsessions are a little bit like weeds in a garden. They might be there but I sure as hell didn't plant them. It's just something that happens. My thoughts aren't magical - thinking them cannot make anything bad happen and I'm not a monster. My brain just likes to work against me and not let things go. Saying my obsessions out loud won't make them happen and doesn't make them true, I'm in no way capable of that - often its downright impossible for the things I think about to happen. I'm learning to live with them and not let them have so much power over me.
If you're struggling with OCD, the International OCD foundation is a great place for information.
Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000. If you live outside Australia, link to worldwide crisis numbers can be found in the sidebar.