by Alice Franklin
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.
For as long as I can remember, I have had obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Going to bed as a little girl was a time-consuming ordeal. I would be tucked in by my mum and dad, and upon them leaving me to head off into the land of nod, I would get up again, close the door just so, turn the CD player on and off 17 times and check under my bed 17 times. I would meticulously line up my toys so each of them had an equal amount of space, and then eventually go to sleep, much later than my parents ever realised.
OCD wasn’t just there in the night, of course. It followed me around in the day, too. Every time I would walk into a room, I would check the corner for spiders, check under the table for spiders, check under the seats for spiders. It wasn’t that I was a crippling arachnophobe, it was more that spiders were wrong, weren’t meant to be there, had to be removed.
OCD wasn’t just there when I was a child, either. It followed me into adulthood, taking a more pernicious form; I found myself losing control of my thoughts entirely, my mind being completely absorbed by my obsessions, even if the compulsions had calmed down a little.
For me, OCD feels like you’re not in control of your brain. Intrusive thoughts – vivid, visual images of the most horrendous things – plague me on a daily basis. I pick up a knife to chop an onion and see myself stabbing someone. I pick up a cup of tea and see myself throwing it on someone. I stand on the Tube platform and see myself pushing someone onto the tracks.
The questions I ask myself whilst thinking these thoughts do not help matters at all: What kind of person could conjure up such ideas? What if I did act upon these images? What if these things are what I subconsciously want to do? The questions only lead me around in circles, and fuel the intrusive thoughts until they return with a dizzying ferocity.
Ruminations over past events play in my mind so loudly it’s almost as though they’re audible. A constant soundtrack to my days, it’s as though I’m listening to the same song on repeat for years, only the song is a hellish event from my past and it accompanies me from the second I open my eyes to the second I finally manage to close them at night.
The questions I ask myself during my ruminations are not helpful: What if I said something differently? What if I did something differently? What if it had never happened at all? The questions only lead me around in circles, and fuel more ruminations.
Right now, my OCD is just about under control. Yes, thoughts still intrude. Yes, I still ruminate. But the intrusions and ruminations are muted somehow. I am on 150mg of sertraline and have educated myself on unhelpful thought patterns.
For now, I am just grateful for the quieter spell, but nevertheless irritated when people laugh off OCD as a personality quirk, when it’s dismissed as something everyone “is a little bit of,” when it’s aligned with being meticulous, organised, a perfectionist – qualities anyone could put down on a CV, rather than what it is: a horrible condition that requires treatment, support and empathy.
These misconceptions about OCD need to change. It’s about time OCD was taken seriously, because what it is, is no fun at all.
Alice Franklin is a writer who has Tourette syndrome and OCD. She writes at a leisurely pace, runs at a leisurely pace, and hammocks at leisurely pace. Previously, her work has appeared in two Spanish short story anthologies, Liars’ League, and the Financial Times. She blogs about OCD, autism and Tourette’s here and you can follow her on Twitter here.
I’ve read this piece and it’s so similar to many scenarios OCD throws at sufferers on a daily basis. I have checking, contamination and health n safety OCD. I’m starting to see some parts of my OCD muted to. Well done and thanks for sharing.
a terrible disease. It breaks my heart to see the life my beloved Grandson is forced to live because of it. An honour for us when he can leave his comfort zone to join us
Hi Kaye I am sorry to hear your Grandson struggles with OCD. It can force you to live a certain way because it is a bully that tricks you into believing that it is real. It feels real but it is not. With time patience and of course the right help there is hope and some great help out there
Hi: I am in the same position as you. I ruminate all day and night over a negative event from my past that I cannot let go of. It only happened 19 months ago so it is all very fresh in my mind. I have yet to find the right medication as most make me feel more anxious than ever. If not for the fact that I adore my husband and children, I would not be here . I had it all before the event happened and I long to be who I was but know I never will be. I don’t know what to do anymore. Have you ever felt like you don’t want to die but you also don’t want to live? This is where I am at right now.
Are you currently receiving treatment? If so, does your therapist use ERP therapy? This is the most effective way of treating OCD symptoms. You can search for resources including therapists who provide ERP, clinics, and support groups by using the IOCDF Resource Directory: https://iocdf.org/ocd-finding-help/
It may also be helpful to contact a support hotline during those times in which you need extra help. NAMI runs a hotline for those with mental health issues which you can reach at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
I have bad ocd with songs in my head. I only need to hear a word and my mind willl find a song that it goes with and then keep it playing over and over. I felt like it was driving me crazy. I also would fixate on a word with a foreign accent in my head like eg Barcelona., then keep repeating it in my head or even out loud over and over.
It has quieted now a little bit.. I take aropax as my psych can’t seem to find the right medication to quiet the noise as well as treat my depression and anxiety.
Yeah thanks a lot for sharing Alice . I know you are glad you can finally have an objective discussion with others about it . Now let me share something with you . I’m a nanny / housekeeper for a family and the wife struggles with a form of OCD combined with depression .I don’t know the names of the medicines she takes to keep her disability under control . Nevertheless , it is distressing to watch the couple that pays me so well ,struggle to stay a nuclear family when one of them has this disruptive disorder in tow . So I wanted to read more about the subject to make my workday workplace and their lives go smoother while I’m there . I can identify with a lot of the unnecessary repetitive behavior that you describe because I see it ( or hear it ) often on the job . Anyhow , thanks again . It was informative and helpful to read .
Alice , I can so relate to your struggle. I too, had horrible thoughts about hurting my family, my children,!!!! the people I loved the most. Every knife, pencil, scissor, screwdriver, and so many more terrible thoughts about hurting others. As a child I would check windows and doors for locks and closure before bed. Always asking my Mom for reassurance. Thankfully and it took many years to go for help. With medication and CBT I have been able to get to a much better place of life. I wanted to kill myself so, so many times. I just couldn’t leave my kids without a Mom. I still cry today about these painful days. Please if you are suffering go see someone and get help. It takes alot of work and patience, but today I can live a fairly normal life. The thoughts are not completely removed and I am sure they never will be but I am so good at ignoring them, I often don’t even recognize them and many are removed for long periods of time.
I feel like you, Mary. I feel like I’m slowly losing control of myself until I slide into an hole of shame and obsessions and compulsions that I’ll never get out of. I can’t get to a therapist. I can’t tell anyone. This started last year and this OCD monster has taken over my life. I need help but I can’t get it.