This story is part of our blog series called “Stories from the OCD Community.” Stories from the community are submitted and edited by Toni Palombi. If you are interested in sharing your story you can view submission details at www.iocdf.org/ocd-stories.
To cage the beast – this is a statement I use when describing my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). When meeting other sufferers, I am always fascinated to learn that many of them can remember a time before their symptoms started. For me, my whole life has been intermeshed with this disorder.
I experienced my first obsession at the age of five. However, I did not seek the help I desperately needed until I was nineteen.
My first two obsessions were consistent with contamination and symmetry based fears. At the age of 5, I was gripped by the incessant fear that I would fall ill from food, contract AIDS from a doorknob, or contract tuberculosis from someone coughing. As for symmetry, everything – and I mean everything – had to be done in sets of 3 or 4; occasionally 5 was acceptable. But 6, oh no, 6 was forbidden.
The number 6 symbolized bad things; if I thought about it for too long, fears of being brutally kidnapped and murdered would overwhelm me. Therefore, compulsions had to be done twice after 5 so as to skip 6 and go right to 7. They had to be reset every 12 times, with a maximum safe number of 60 compulsions at one time.
As I aged, my obsessions and compulsions evolved. It seemed as if the disorder adopted new obsessions to satiate its lust for torment.
Through my lifetime, I have experienced nearly every major documented obsession. Most of the obsessions were irrational. One time, I had an obsession that actions I carried out would result in an infestation of bedbugs. Another time I was terrified I would contract type 1 diabetes from a woman, despite knowing that this was impossible.
Slowly, the obsessions began to destroy me from the inside out. I became reclusive, spending 8-12 hours a day just performing compulsions. My life withered away, and my school work and job suffered. Part of the problem was that despite being diagnosed with OCD, I never believed my actions were linked to the disorder. I thought everyone did these things.
Eventually I encountered my two most horrific and time consuming obsessions: harm obsessions and sexual obsessions. I have spent more than thirty-five thousand hours obsessing and performing compulsions for these two themes alone. They have caused me the most distress daily, and ultimately pushed me to the point where I needed help.
Eventually I sought help from a wonderful psychologist: Dr. Ronald Dahl.
While my therapy is ongoing, I can finally feel myself reclaiming my life. For as long as I can remember, OCD has been part of my life; now for the first time, I feel like I am taking control of my brain.
As a result of my experiences with OCD, not only am I an advocate for the disorder, I am devoting myself to researching the biochemical and neural basis of the disorder through my university studies.
I have lived my entire life in the shadow of this disorder, and now finally I am beginning to see the light. I understand that OCD is a chronic disorder and no matter what I do, it cannot be cured. However, it can be controlled and shoved back into the cage from which it crawled out of.
One of the issues that caused me so much trouble in seeking and receiving treatment was the stigma and misinformation surrounding the disorder. The idea that OCD is simply a disorder where people like things to be neat needs to be rectified.
I have also met individuals who believe that the disorder simply refers to people who cannot handle anxiety properly. They could not be more wrong. When I begin to describe the pathological doubt, inability to change your thought processes, as well as the constant urges and impulses to do things you do not want do, such people have little to say.
Also, for some reason, OCD has been adopted as a novelty by some. The common phrase: “I am so OCD” makes my blood boil.
The point of the matter is: OCD is a debilitating mental disorder. Stigmatization, misinformation, and overall ignorance poses significant problems to the community. Therefore, it is important that those of us with the disorder contribute (in whatever way possible) to bring an end to this stigma and educate others.
I am learning to control my OCD. I hope all of you who are still suffering will one day learn to put the beast back in its cage.
Erich Miller is a 19-year-old biochemistry student at Alvernia University. He devotes his time to researching and understanding OCD from a biochemical and neural perspective. His goal is to pursue an M.D. and potentially a PhD as well.