Obsessive compulsive disorder doesn’t always look like needing to keep your house organized, or all your pencils facing the same direction, or your minivan free of kid junk, or any other stupid joke people make about managing OCD. In fact, my house is a mess.
I remember watching As Good As It Gets and finding Jack Nicholson’s character fascinating. He was so frank and sharp and yet he couldn’t go out in public or go more than a hot minute without washing his hands in scalding water. It was a few years after being diagnosed with OCD, and frankly, it pissed me off because it made my life look neurotic and ridiculous and like the comic relief, when the fact is, OCD — at least for me — doesn’t look anything like it does in the movies.
Anyone who ever says, “such-and-such is setting off my OCD” with a snicker knows nothing about the real condition. OCD isn’t a simple irritation; it’s actual fear. It’s a deep, anxious pain in your gut that you can’t explain, because honestly it doesn’t really have an explanation, so you search for one. You search for something to pin your fear on. But the fear doesn’t make logical sense, so you end up attaching it to something nonsensical.
For a long time, I attached it to sleep. Actually, I still do to some extent. I’d wake moments after falling asleep in a deep, fearful sweat. I don’t know why, but somehow that made me think that if I didn’t get enough sleep, I’d be anxious. Any time I suffered from an anxiety attack, I made the connection that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I exercised every day to make sure I was tired. This lead to a strict routine of going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning, and sometimes exercising vigorously for up to eight hours a day. I was 18. I went three years never missing a day of this routine. I started to have trouble with my kidneys because I was exerting myself too much, but I couldn’t stop.
With the help of a therapist, combined with medication, I was able to get back to living a normal life. I got married and finished college. But my anxiety and OCD still pops up in strange places. I obsess over my kids and their routines. I get anxious over my writing, checking the shares on a post. If I don’t write every day, I get anxious.
OCD feels like someone is pushing you. It feels like something deep inside of you is forcing you to do something necessary, even though it may not be essential. It can become all-consuming, and it can look like a simple tic, something you must do every day or risk a panic attack. It doesn’t make sense to anyone not struggling with it, because it defies logic. And yet, when you are living with it, OCD feels very real and very terrifying, and it can consume your life if you do not keep it in check.
But if it’s focused toward something productive, it can cause you to be very driven. And that’s the plot twist when it comes to how the world views OCD the condition, and how people with actually OCD are seen.
Usually I am described as funny, punctual, driven, helpful, loyal, calm, organized, and friendly. My fourth book comes out this October. I have a master’s degree and work at a university. I’m not saying all this to brag; I’m saying it to show that, although I have this mental illness, I am a high-functioning person. In some ways, my anxiety pushes me to do more than I would otherwise, and while it is disagreeable at times, I cannot deny that it has made me very motivated.
I was chatting with my therapist the other day, and she mentioned that I’m a perfectionist, which is common for those suffering with OCD. The fact is, some of the most committed, hyper aware, and focused people around you have anxiety, and some of them may have OCD. They just don’t talk about because they don’t want you to see them like the world sees them: the butt of the joke.
This article aside, you will never hear me openly discuss my OCD. You will never hear me say that I need to do something to stop a tic because, frankly, I’m embarrassed. If anyone is good at hiding something, it’s a person struggling with a mental disorder.
For the most part, I live a normal life. I go to work. I take care of my three children. I love my wife. I never ask someone to change what they are doing to accommodate my panic attacks. I suffer alone because I’m ashamed of something I struggle every day to manage.
If we could change the way it is perceived, living with OCD and other mental ailments would be much easier. I say this for myself and for others. So if you are reading this and you live with a mental illness, know that you are not alone.
And if you are reading this and you think that people who struggle with mental ailments need to “get over it,” or you often use the term OCD to describe your minor annoyance at the state of your desk, realize that the person laughing with you just might be suffering in secret.