In March, I had an opportunity to help spread the word about OCD—including my own obsessions and struggles—in a huge public forum: the Huffington Post website. OCD was suddenly a timely topic after Lena Dunham’s character on Girls displayed symptoms, and while I was excited about the opportunity to tell a large audience more about the disorder, I was also nervous. It was a new thing for me to be so open to so many people. I mean, this was going to be on the Internet. The World Wide Web. Where anyone could chime in, letting me know exactly what they thought of my blog post.
While I’ve never really shied away from sharing my OCD diagnosis with people in my life, publicly writing about my OCD was different. I felt more exposed and unsure. This wasn’t a conversation, after all—it felt like a confession.
But I was willing to make that confession if it meant helping others. Not long before I was diagnosed with OCD, I read an article I found on the IOCDF website about “bad thoughts,” and I felt better for the first time in a long time. Not only did I realize I wasn’t the only person who had ever had obsessions like mine, I realized there was help out there. It pushed me to finally make an appointment with an OCD specialist.
After I was diagnosed, I bought the book my psychiatrist recommended based on my obsessions (Imp of the Mind by Lee Baer) as well as two others. I read voraciously, researching the disorder, and feeling better and better the more I learned. But I never read anything written by someone with OCD; it was always by a professional who helped treat OCD (but those firsthand resources are out there!).
So, I decided to write about my own experiences in the hopes that it would help other people with OCD and reduce some of the stigma around mental illness. I love doing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. It feels a bit like standing at the edge of a diving board, with a long, snaking line of impatient belly floppers and cannonballers behind me. I can’t just stand there. But I can’t turn back, either. There’s only one option, and that’s to jump in. Hold on—is that an alligator? In a pool?!
At first I wrote everything down in a journal, for my eyes only. Eventually I tested the waters with Facebook posts, linking to articles here and there, and then letting people know during OCD Awareness Week that they could ask me anything they wanted to. Then, I took the plunge and submitted a book proposal to a publisher, and was amazed when they were interested. Now it was really happening! I had gotten so caught up in not wanting to be rejected that I hadn’t fully considered what success would mean, how much I’d end up telling strangers about my most shameful thoughts.
When the episode of Girls featuring OCD aired, my publicist suggested submitting a blog about my perspective on the episode. Without much time to talk myself out of it, I wrote the piece, sent it to my book editor for his take, and passed it along to my publicist. It all happened very quickly because we wanted to respond while the episode was still fresh in people’s minds.
My publicist submitted my first draft, and the editor at Huffington Post said that while she liked it, she’d like it even better if I added more of my personal experience. Gulp. I could do that, sure. But how much should I share? How much was enough for the editor, and how much was too much for me? I added a few details, including how my OCD was once so bad I’d considered suicide. Then I sent it back.
She liked it, she said. She’d post it soon.
There was no turning back now.
I was definitely excited. And definitely scared. I pictured the piece right up there with articles about philandering politicians and Kim Kardashian photo galleries, with hundreds of comments, some ugly and hateful. (I know what you’re thinking: Someone with OCD, blowing something out of proportion? Nah…)
Something beautiful happened instead. Tucked away in a smaller corner of the site, my piece targeted a more specific audience, and those who commented said they were grateful for my candor.
Thank you for writing this article…I hope it will encourage others who are suffering in silence to get help…and to realize that help is indeed out there!
Thank you so much. It won’t get much attention, but I’m happy any time I see someone speaking up for us and telling the truth. I didn’t know I had OCD until Googling “repetitive unwanted thoughts” years later.
Thank you a thousand times for writing this article. As someone who has had OCD since the age of 15 and who is now a mother with two teenagers with OCD I often struggle to make people understand what it is. Oftentimes people tell me that we look fine, we operate normally, what they do not see is the internal struggle with the true “o” of the OCD.
As I read these comments, I realized how rare it is for those of us with OCD to find people in popular culture to relate to. And who can relate to us.
A coworker emailed the article to several other colleagues, and one approached me afterward to say she wanted to give me a hug. Another said, “I have to admit, I’ve been that person—I’ve said, ‘I’m so OCD.’ I’ll be more careful from now on.”
I posted the link to my Facebook page, and friends shared it, and their friends commented on it. And guess what? Not one person said something nasty. No one made light of OCD. Everyone’s responses were sincere and genuine, and many said they’d learned something new about the disorder.
A former co-worker wrote, “Can we get together to talk?” and a friend of a friend wanted to get coffee right away—she realized there was a name for her intrusive thoughts and wanted to connect.
And a few weeks later I got this email from a friend:
I’m at a conference. The conference director comes around and hands out drink tickets to the vendors and generally makes sure everybody’s doing well. The conference has started supplying stickers that people put on their badges, things like “Diva” or “Runs with Scissors.” Hers was “OCD.” A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have thought about it at all… now I felt like asking “Do you really have OCD? If so, way to own it!” But I’m sure she was just making a joke because it’s her job to make sure that everything is “just right.”
I’d love it if I had just one of these responses, but reactions like this have been pretty common. Even a few months later people will email me to say things like, “I was in the bathroom washing my hands and so-and-so said, ‘I’m so OCD!’ and I wanted to say something”—and sometimes they do say something. Writing that one article had a ripple effect, and while I’m nowhere near finished spreading the word and stomping out stigma, I’m that much more empowered to continue doing so.
Sometimes I wonder why I had to have OCD, why I had to suffer for so long when all I’ve ever wanted is to be a good person and lead a happy life. But I think I’m beginning to understand why: I’m in a position to help others. I happen to have a writing degree, and I happen to work in the publishing industry. I happen to have OCD, and I can use what I’m already passionate about to let others know they’re not alone in their struggle. No one deserves to have OCD. But I’ve been lucky enough to have a strong, loving support network. I want everyone to have the same.
I’d love to hear from you. Have you shared your story with anyone? Have you encountered stigma yourself, and if so, how did you deal with it?