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.
I have lived with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for 20 years. I started to experience symptoms when I was 20 years old. I have always been a somewhat anxious individual, but I had suffered nothing like the explosion of anxiety and dread that began with the onset of OCD. Since this time, my symptoms have continued to wax and wane throughout the years.
My obsessional thoughts revolve around unfairness, humiliation, contamination, violence, and religion. In my early years, the compulsive side of OCD completely derailed my working and social life. I turned up to work and events hours early and left hours late; I washed my hands excessively and restrained them because I feared I may lash out at someone. With the assistance of medication and behavior therapy, I could address many of these behaviors, getting to the point where they were intermittent rather than constant. Unfortunately, the internal obsessions that I experienced from OCD never faded; obsessional thoughts continue to distress me for much of the day.
As a result of these obsessions, I had to end my career path in animal husbandry. I retrained and found work with varying success in other fields, however, OCD continued to hamper my performance. I was relieved when I left the paid workforce to become a stay-at-home parent. I’ve missed out on doing many things in my life, such as traveling and watching my favorite bands perform, because I was too afraid.
Despite this, my experience with OCD has made me a more compassionate person. My constant thinking about unfairness has made me acutely aware of how others are treated. It doesn’t always stop me from making mistakes when dealing with people, but it has sometimes made me pause before doing something that might cause problems. In addition, as a result of my OCD I am always extremely health conscious and am frequently complimented on my punctuality and reliability. While some may read this and reason that my OCD can be an asset, the important thing to understand is that the mental processes that create these behaviors are emotionally excruciating.
While I would not wish these thoughts on anyone, in dealing with OCD over the past two decades, there are many times that I feel like this struggle has made me stronger. It seems as if all of the time I have spent learning to manage these intrusive thoughts has prepared me for managing even more difficult and stressful experiences.
For example, one time I found myself suddenly at risk of being homeless because the rental home I was living in was sold by the owner to someone wanting to demolish it. I had no friends or family that could assist me if I couldn’t find a new place. Yet I functioned perfectly well, and through diligence and budgeting found a place that I could afford.
Another example is when my car broke down at rush hour on an extremely busy city arterial road. My then girlfriend had a panic attack when she realized we were stuck and surrounded by seemingly uncaring and angry drivers. Despite this being something I’d worried could happen, I was completely calm. I arranged for some strangers to help me move my car out the way. My then girlfriend couldn’t believe that she had been paralyzed with anxiety while I had been the one to maintain composure.
I look back now and marvel at how relaxed and capable I was in those moments. Having occasional moments of clarity in difficult situations may not seem like much, but to someone who is often crippled with anxiety, they are precious.
Richard Munoz is a 40-year-old husband and father. Before becoming a home dad, he worked in administration and animal husbandry.