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.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is neither cute nor quirky. It is illogical, terrifying, and tormenting.
I experience what some refer to as ‘hit and run’ OCD. On its worst day, it looks like this:
Get in and go. Get in and go. Useless mantra. Approaching your car, you scan the parking lot. You casually check its perimeter for school children hiding underneath the vehicle. You get into the car and the mental anguish begins. You know full well that sitting and waiting only makes the thoughts louder and the drive more difficult. You finally begin to drive towards the exit. You take your eyes off the road for a split second; now you must go back and check because what if? You turn left out of the lot. Something deep down tells you to keep driving, go straight home, flirt with bravery, but you inevitably turn left again back into the parking lot. Your scan meticulously around the spot you just inhabited. Your eyes send their signals through your synapses that the area is clear. You stare at the empty parking spot for a whole minute, as if you’re waiting for the neurons to accept this message. Your brain outlandishly refutes the truth your eyes relay and you must repeat this process two more times. Out of the parking lot and back in. Out and back in. Out…
You manage to stay on the street this time and make it to the light. Hands cramping and knuckles white, you begin to repeat over and over: There’s nothing there, there’s nothing there. Eyes focused on the road ahead, just let me make it home, no distractions. But then…your eyes blink, or you look at the odometer, or you think of that one student, or you feel the tiniest of bumps. The muscles in your back tighten and your forearms spasm. You know what’s next. You must go back because what if? You turn around and go back and repeat the process. Your heart rate is increased, you don’t dare take your eyes off the road.
Finally, you approach your street and the thought screams: You must go back because what if? You see your house come and go as you begin the journey back. The absurdity of what’s happening causes you to feel anger and frustration. You begin to drive a bit faster and this forces you to pull over. You get out of the car, turn on your phone’s camera and begin to walk along the street, recording the asphalt. Checking, scanning, walking 10, 20, 30 yards away. Temporarily content, you return to your vehicle and continue back to work. This is the last time, the last time. Useless mantra. You begin to feel the pinprick of tears but force them away in order to see the road ahead. You make it to your house and get out of the car. You take pictures of the bottom of your vehicle: searching, scanning, checking for the body that’s never there.
Over the years, my anxiety increased to such a high level that I eventually gave up driving altogether. I began to walk to and from work every day. Fortunately, my BMI registers somewhere around blue whale numbers, so everyone bought into the idea that I was just getting some exercise. I had a lot of time to think during those walks: How can I possibly explain this to someone? You’ve lost your independence. What kind of a person thinks these morbid thoughts anyway?
Almost a year ago today I made the decision to stop the inner turmoil and seek help. Having never been in therapy before, I was extremely pessimistic about self-improvement and equally neurotic about having personal and difficult conversations with a stranger. At the risk of sounding dramatic I am confident that, without the help of Dr. Brian Moran, I would have eventually been a prisoner in my own home. This is a psychologist who effortlessly creates an atmosphere akin to your living room rather than an office. No matter the depth of our conversations, he actively listens and participates with empathy, candor, sometimes frustrating rationale, and a level of sarcasm that brilliantly matches mine.
Through Dr. Moran’s patience and my persistence, I am making careful progress. With his support, I’m learning to see these intrusive thoughts for what they are: just thoughts. I’m slowly learning to sit with the fear and anxiety while not allowing it to dictate my reaction or next step.
Getting in that car and saying aloud: I expect to feel this excruciating sensation and anxiety. I have hit and run OCD, of course my brain will tell me I’ve hit someone. I see you, but I’m stronger. I see you, but I’m stronger. Useful mantra.
Jenn was diagnosed with OCD a year ago, although she has lived with it for most of her adult life. Despite OCD’s best efforts, she enjoys teaching her third-grade class, reading a good book, and watching the Philadelphia Flyers.