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.
Thank you for sharing this, Ross. I can relate to much of what you have said – especially about the shape shifting nature of OCD and the difficulties at identifying new manifestations of it.
Thank you for telling some of your story
And being so open about the tricks that OCD get up to in our minds. It’s really refreshing to read and to see others all over the world starting to speak about this disabling condition. I have been a sufferer of OCD since my oldest son had diagnosis of a life threatening illness. That was many years ago and it’s great to find hope again through organisations such as IOCDF.org
and stories like your own. Good luck and Kind Regards
Helen Mc Clymont
Glasgow Scotland ????????
Thank you for this post.
“Try to remember that. You’re not what you think, and you’re certainly not what you fear.”
This really hit home for me.
Thank you for sharing your story.
I’m a person suffering from this terrible disorder. I was not aware what it was until, accidentaly, I learned about the problem in a text book, but this happened later in my life and although the book gave a general description of the disorder, it opened my eyes on what it was. I then started doing some research and to my amazement I found that I was not alone, that there are many people all over the world with this disease. It is the same disorder but there are cultural differences. In my country for example, there isn’t not much awareness and there is a stigma if a person has a mental condition resulting in a feeling of shame and guilt for those of us sufferers. I immidiately relate to people with OCD like yourself and feel a great empathy for them.
Can i ask how do you tell if your thoughts are OCD OR YOUR OWN??
Hi Michelle, I think that you compare your thoughts now to your thoughts before OCD. What did you think before this, and how are your thoughts different? Also, if you’re having violent thoughts, those are most likely not your own, especially if you haven’t had them before.
I am 10 years old and I have been struggling with OCD since last year. At least, I think it’s OCD. I’m not sure. But it’s hard! I haven’t told anyone yet, and I’m afraid I’m crazy.
What is it with the number 3?
“I haven’t told anyone yet”. Please do tell someone you trust. It is better when we work together as a team. Other people can help…
Thank you so much for this article Ross. I’ve recently started to experience severe OCD symptoms, but my OCD had me convinced that it was early onset of schizophrenia, or psychosis, or trauma…but this article has really opened my eyes to what the true monster is. Thank you, this has given me so much comfort knowing that others are also going through this, yet still going strong. ❤