By Dale Vernor
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.
Television shows such as Monk can be misleading as they often portray obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as being only about a fear of germs. However, OCD is far more complex. I live with OCD and I am not obsessive compulsive about germs at all. However, I have obsessions with numbers, time and recurrently checking whether I have locked my door.
For a long time, I thought these compulsions were simply eccentricities that were not uncommon. However, as I aged, I realized my obsessions and compulsions were not eccentricities but symptomatic of something more serious. I became increasingly aware that the anxiety I felt over certain subjects weren’t just quirks.
Looking back, I realize that I have experienced OCD obsessions and compulsions since I was a child. As a child, I would count the steps I took each day. For some inexplicable reason, I had to take a certain number of steps before I reached my destination. I always looked at the pavement when I walked to make sure I did not step on any cracks on the sidewalk; I was nearly a teenager before I felt I could take my eyes off the pavement when I walked. I never told my parents because I believed that other children were doing the same thing.
As an adult my obsessions with numbers has led to challenging situations. For example, I have over drafted my bank account many times because of this obsession when filling my car with gas. The amount I spend on gas must end in a zero or else I have an uneasy feeling. My obsessions compel me to keep pumping the gas even though I know I have exceeded the amount in my bank account (I use a card with a limited amount of funds that is not attached to my savings account). The $30 overdraft fee does not work as a deterrent; ensuring the amount ends in a zero reduces my anxiety albeit temporarily.
I’m also extremely obsessed with time. I can only leave the house at certain times, even if it makes me late for an event. The minutes must end in 5 or 0 for me to leave the house otherwise I feel a surge of anxiety. If it’s only 1:01, I can’t leave the house for another four minutes. If I miss the five-minute mark, I have to wait until 1:10 to leave. I feel horrible because I have been late to events and kept people waiting, including my son.
There are endless examples of situations where my obsessions and compulsions have taken over my life. However, I have now managed to control the OCD through exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP). I was able to get to this point thanks largely to a client with OCD who receives ERP treatment from her psychologist; I was helping her to write and edit a book about her experiences and learning about her treatment taught me how ERP can be used to manage my own OCD. I am very grateful that I met her. I am happy to say that presently I am able to control my symptoms and I rarely have issues related to OCD compulsions or obsessions.
Dale Vernor is a writer and researcher in the fields of substance abuse and mental health. After battling with OCD, he was able to treat his mental health in a productive way and obtain his bachelor’s degree. Dale likes to write about mental health and substance abuse to help lift the negative stigma associated with both issues.