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.
While watching Harry Potter I had a thought regarding obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). There is a scene where the students are taught how to tame a boggart — a spectre which assumes the form of their greatest fears, be it a spider or a Dementor. The method they use to usurp the boggart of its ability to terrorize is by making it humorous: the spider wears roller skates, Snape is in female attire and a moon deflates like a balloon.
So how is this relevant to OCD you might ask? In my experience, OCD is so often contradictory and absurd — and I believe this gives us a weapon to fight back. If we say the logical conclusions of our obsessions out loud, I believe we too can diminish the power of OCD.
Here is an example: Over the years I have suffered with many taboo intrusive thoughts of a violent and sexual nature (paedophilia, murder, incest, homosexuality, and more). On many occasions I have sat in a cold sweat believing I am one or all of these things. So, there is my spectre or boggart, but what is my ridiculous spell? Well, I am either a murderous, incestuous homosexual (with an attraction to his mother and young boys), or, I have OCD. Now although this is not always going to be effective, and although OCD will try to convince us it is a false dilemma, there have been times where this little thought experiment has brought me a great deal of comfort. I have shone a light on my demon and revealed its absurdity. Of course, I don’t believe this will singlehandedly manage OCD, but it can certainly help tip the balance in our favour when OCD seems most convincing.
Many Heads, One Monster
OCD has changed costumes more times than I can count in my experience: Scrupulosity OCD, Relationship OCD, Sexual Orientation OCD, and Somatic OCD. Often when OCD shape shifts, I simply can’t recognise it and believe that this time around, it’s not the disorder I know. I believe this is where prefacing OCD with myriad letters becomes problematic: you can get lost in a forum of OCD sub-culture and believe you are treating HOCD as opposed to OCD more widely, but the goalposts shift and you fail to recognise new forms of OCD, chameleon-like, appearing.
An example: I often find that when I am particularly stressed about incestuous thoughts, I get tunnel vision and am focused on figuring out in my head whether this is OCD or evidence of sexual sin. When this process starts, it’s easy to remove this new obsession from your wider obsessional history, making it harder to identify it in the context of your disorder. If you suspect it might be OCD, I’d hedge a bet it is.
Since early adolescence, I have received treatment by cogitative behavioral therapists and OCD clinicians. One feature of OCD therapy and literature that has struck me most is how the disorder is often depicted as a “monster” in your head; a ferocious spectre which hangs over us. For me, this has mystified OCD and made me feel like I was possessed. However, a large part of OCD is our perception of the thoughts we have — it’s how we interpret the same thoughts so differently to others.
Take intrusive thoughts for instance. Everyone experiences strange, disturbing thoughts, but for most, it ends there. The monster is in how we interpret these thoughts. When someone told me that others have these intrusive thoughts as well, I suddenly felt a weight off my chest. Half the fear that comes with intrusive thoughts is shame that your mind goes to a place whereas others do not. It’s simply not true. I think by acknowledging this we actually give back power to ourselves to fight the disorder. Suddenly, cogitative behavioral therapy becomes a way of changing our response to thoughts that others have too, instead of a battle against a beast separate to us which produces such thoughts.
OCD attacks the things which are dearest to us — that’s why it’s so distressing. OCD sufferers are almost always morally scrupulous; we are torn apart by the obsessions because they are contrary to what we believe. Try to remember that. You’re not what you think, and you’re certainly not what you fear.
Ross is a 23-year-old politics graduate of Reading University who has lived with OCD since early adolescence. Ross is passionate about sharing his experiences and dispelling the myths and misinformation surrounding the disorder.