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This story is part of our blog series called “Stories from the OCD Community.”  Stories from the community are collected and edited by Toni Palombi. If you are interested in sharing your story you can view submission details at www.iocdf.org/ocd-stories.
Chris Abell is a writer, editor, and stand-up comedian living in Boston. He was diagnosed with OCD in seventh grade and holds mental health issues near and dear to his heart.
A few years ago, when I was living in New York City, I began to notice and admire the facades of a certain type of downtown building. I’m talking about the old brick-and-mortar walk-up apartments in neighborhoods like the East Village and Lower East Side, the kinds with fire escape ladders zigzagging down the front. It seemed like every building had a different combination of brick color and ladder color: tan brick with black ladders, red brick with green ladders, etc. And the more I actually looked at these beautiful buildings, the more it occurred to me that they looked vaguely…tasty. I started assigning them “flavors” in my mind. And then I started taking pictures of them. And then one day I decided to start putting them on Instagram with their flavors as captions.

I even started taking pictures when I traveled.

I called the account “buildingflavors.” The posts started getting more and more likes and more and more comments and more and more reposts until it started to get sort of exciting (at least for me, especially when I compared it to the lack of action on my potty-humor-centric, low-like personal Instagram account). People reached out to me about how much they enjoyed the account, and my employer at the time, Travel + Leisure, even took notice and approached me about publishing a little piece on buildingflavors. It was nothing groundbreaking, but for me it was a fun and rewarding hobby with a vague possibility of turning into something bigger. It was just something that made me happy. And then, almost a year and a half ago, right as the account was really building momentum, I stopped. I logged out of the account, and deleted Instagram and, until today, have not posted on it since. I deprived myself of a rewarding hobby that other people also enjoyed, and I did it because of a complete delusion.

What scared me off of Instagram was, in short, an inexplicable issue with the “#buildingflavors” hashtag I had created; it had suddenly stopped displaying the correct number of posts using the tag. A harmless glitch, but it spiked in me an intense and irrational fear that something sinister was at work, something that posed a threat to me; to protect myself, I needed to distance myself from it. My OCD took over. One of the hallmarks of obsessive-compulsive disorder is the infuriating discord between knowing that your fears and behaviors are irrational and the inability not to engage anyway. For some reason, for me technical glitches in things like social media applications feel very scary, and a world full of both apps and glitches can be a frightening and exhausting place.

I bring all this up because it’s a clear example of an incredibly frustrating trend: OCD consistently costs me. It doesn’t cost me a million dollars; it doesn’t get me fired from a job; it doesn’t physically injure me. But it does cost me. It holds me back in a million different little ways just like it did with my buildingflavors hobby, and it adds up to lost potential. A few other examples:

OCD kept me from posting the video of one of my most successful stand-up comedy sets (there was an anomaly in the link the videographer sent me that tripped me up). Who knows, maybe a promoter would have seen that clip and asked me to perform?

  • OCD made me stop using a credit card that garnered me valuable rewards (and saved me a lot of money) because I had used it at a hotel that I learned was supposedly “haunted.”
  • Sometimes I feel compelled to get rid of favorite items of clothing because some kind of bad luck has contaminated them (for example, if I stepped on a shard of broken mirror on the sidewalk, I might get rid of the flip-flops I was wearing at the time).
  • Often, in conversation, I’ll say “I take it back” over and over because I worry something I said could be perceived as somehow offensive to someone who isn’t even there.
  • I’ve wasted an unbelievable amount of time and energy over the course of my life performing rituals to “protect” myself from perceived threats that my OCD latches on to.

I could list so many more, but the point is that I let the disorder hold me back and behave in unhealthy ways. Most of them are small things, but again, they add up.

The other day I stepped on a shard of broken mirror (if you’re constantly on alert for them, you’ll be surprised at how often you’ll see pieces of broken mirror on city sidewalks). To be sure that’s what it was, I picked it up. Then I realized that everything I touched with that hand thereafter would be tainted with bad luck from the broken mirror. And I just got exhausted. I thought, “enough.” I am getting married in two months. I hope to have kids one day. I want to achieve great things professionally. I cannot let OCD impact every single aspect of my behavior. I need to fight it harder. So today, almost exactly 16 months after my last buildingflavors post, I’m putting up a picture and using the “tainted” hashtag. I’m hoping it’s a step in the right direction and that I can battle through the discomfort I’m sure will come.

Plus, I live in the Beacon Hill area of Boston now, and the buildings here are just too tasty to pass up. 😉


  • Alan Landay

    Excellent post. We all need to fight the time-wasting aspect of OCD. Best Wishes to Meghan Buco.

  • Hilary Bednarz

    What a great article – so impressive to see how you are handling your OCD.

  • Brigit Rotondi

    Excellent post Meghan. Im so glad you aren’t allowing the anxiety to stop you and your trying to challenge the ocd and worry thoughts. It is a daily struggle for me. I keep going and trying to challenge them.

  • Claudia Brown

    Lucky you to live on Beacon Hill. I have had OCD since I was a little kid. I am 65 now. I started taking Luvox in 1987 and it worked. I am one lucky girl. Have you tried medication or CBT? Boston is the place to be if you have OCD. They have tons of doctors to treat it. Doctors that are trained to treat OCD. I am afraid my OCD is raising its ugly head again. I have lost seven loved ones, including my husband and father, in less than 4 years. I am going to learn CBT because I am so overwhelmed with grief. I think it will really help me. Good luck to you.

  • David Gorin

    Great story! Thanks for sharing!


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