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.
Have you heard the term obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) used as an adjective to describe someone who is organized or tidy? Have you heard people talk about being ‘so OCD’? Have you seen online quizzes which ask: “How OCD are you?” or pictures that supposedly please those with OCD?
So many of these statements are misconceptions and do not reflect the nature of the disorder. Living with OCD is a real challenge; it is time for me to do my part and tell my story.
I have dealt with OCD my entire life although I did not know it was OCD until I received treatment at the age of 16. The thoughts that took up so much of my time and energy were violent, gruesome, and scary. Common thoughts included: If I don’t wash my hands, my mom will die or I might/could/would kill my family. These thoughts were frightening. I felt so confused and scared because I knew that I loved my family; these thoughts made me question if I was actually evil. Other than hand washing, I would do compulsions such as turning the light on/off multiple times, as well as erasing and rewriting words. There were mental compulsions as well; actions that others could not physically see. My mental compulsions had to do with “retracing my steps” or going over situations in my head to make sure I said and did the right thing. The compulsions only calmed my anxiety for a brief moment. The next time I had the thought, it would be stronger.
I feared something was terribly wrong with me and I felt so alone. Although I was scared to admit what I was going through, I finally spoke to my parents about the thoughts that I was experiencing.
After speaking with my parents, I made an appointment with a psychologist. I was grateful for my family’s support, but I felt extremely anxious at the thought of opening up to a stranger. Despite all the emotions I felt during my first appointment, it was a huge relief to learn that what I was experiencing was actually OCD, and to be able to talk to a professional who understood what I was going through. It helped me to understand that I was not alone and that other people experienced thoughts just as absurd as mine. The challenge was learning how to not get stuck in these thoughts.
My recovery did not happen overnight. Exposure-response prevention (ERP) therapy was – and remains – essential to managing my disorder. ERP required me to confront my thoughts head on and not perform a compulsion to erase the thought and the accompanying anxiety. The more I practiced not responding to a compulsion, the easier it became for me to tolerate the anxiety. For me, one example of an ERP activity was watching scenes from gory movies many times and not washing my hands even when the scary thoughts flooded my mind.
At the time, there was nothing funny about these thoughts. However, now when I reflect on my old thoughts—I laugh. I laugh because they are so ridiculous. I laugh because I know who I am and how out of character the thoughts are for me. I laugh because they are just thoughts.
It is so important to understand that therapy does work. While it is neither easy nor fun, it is necessary. After two years of therapy, many things that used to bother me no longer have an impact on me. This is a result of working hard on the ERP and remaining committed to seeing my psychologist. The new compulsions and obsessions that I am battling now are being dealt with in the same exact way.
I am proud of my strength to overcome OCD. It takes a lot of strength and energy to confront OCD thoughts. I am strong for admitting my struggle to my parents. I am strong for seeing a psychologist. I am strong for engaging in ERP therapy.
If you are struggling with OCD it is important to get help. There are communities of people around the world that are cheering you on (me included).
Kristin is eighteen years old and is majoring in biology at Cal Poly Pomona.