What is OCD?
OCD or Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental disorder in which a person has certain repeated intrusive thoughts (called obsessions) that makes people feel the need to perform some repeated actions (called compulsions) in order to alleviate the anxiety. Some people might or might not have compulsions.
OCD can be disabling if left untreated.
Did anyone notice when my obsessive and compulsive behaviours first started?
No. My mother and my aunt tell me they noticed something was different about me but they chalked it up to me being careful and teased me about my weird obsessions.
Did I realize how OCD was negatively affecting my life?
I didn’t realise anything was wrong with my behaviours until my doctor pointed them out to me and asked me why I did them.
I don’t remember when my obsessions first started.
I remember a particular morning when I was upset that my bag didn’t look a certain way it did on other days. I was in elementary school.
Then there were months when my hands would be wrinkled all the time because I’d wash them so many times. I was sure there was something on my hands and it wasn’t coming off. I can’t say if that’s when my OCD started for sure because it was a long time back.
But I remember the past 2–3 years of my life. Or parts of it. When things started getting bad. I was still hiding my behaviour well or even if anyone noticed, they didn’t pay attention to the details. But it was getting increasingly difficult to live my life. Study suffered. There were days when I felt so anxious, I’d get a splitting headache. I could barely get up from the bed. I started having almost one meal a day because eating felt like a chore. I was so weak I could barely walk for 5 minutes. I was tremendously sad and terrified all the time. Circumstances in my household didn’t help which added to the problem.
But at the end of the day, it was OCD that was ruining my life. And I didn’t recognize that at first.
What does it feel like?
I can only talk about my experiences. It can vary from person to person.
There was a time when I had to check the doors and windows of the room I would be in. I was afraid I’d get jumped if I don’t check. If I was going out of the house, I had to repeatedly check behind me, count up to 10 before taking another step. I was afraid of leaving something behind.
Rituals make those thoughts go away for a while. But there’s a catch. The more you do it, the more thoughts come to your head. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Imagine living in that constant fear all the time.
At times, holding a knife would scare me because I was sure I was going to harm myself with it. I had thoughts of stabbing myself with it. I was afraid the shower head is going to fall on my head. I could distinctly see the sight of me lying in a pool of blood. There were days when I wanted to jump in front of the train or the bus when I was going to school. I was terrified I was going to harm people. I was afraid of losing people I’m close to. If someone talked to me in a loud voice, I’d expect them to hit me. I can’t remember all my compulsive behaviours now. With time, my compulsions changed their form, taking the shape of anything that made me afraid at that time.
It was exhausting and terrifying as hell, stuck in my head, caught in the web of my obsessions and ruminations.
I was used to the high-level anxiety and the sense of abject terror. I could barely sleep at night or at times slept like a log. It felt like I was swimming against the current. I would go into frequent highs and lows because of my anxiety. I was reckless when I was high. But when I was down, it felt I’ve reached the rock bottom.
I tried to kill myself twice before I decided I need to figure out what’s wrong with me. I mailed my aunt (because I was too chicken to face her) but she told me to forget about it and focus on my studies. It took some tries but I managed to talk to my mother. Initially, she handled it badly but eventually came around and took me to the psychiatrist.
But it was not until the end of 12th grade that I finally convinced my mother to take me to a psychiatrist. I didn’t know what was wrong with me until then. I was referred to a psychologist and after much to and fro, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
How my family reacted —
My mother was upset. She lost her head and yelled at me for faking it at first. She had a hard time wrapping her head around it. She was disappointed to learn I wasn’t as strong as she took me to be. But she came around. She was the one who took me to my therapist appointments, made sure I had medications. Without her support, I wouldn’t have got this far.
My father didn’t care. Till date, he has no idea what OCD is. But that’s okay. My aunt, to whom I’m close to after my mother, didn’t take it well either. To her, it’s a weakness that I can fix if I try hard.
I understand their reactions and where they are coming from. Mental illness isn’t a much-talked-about subject in India and telling people you have a disorder will make people see you as a crazy person.
Then why do I want to talk about it?
We need to talk more about mental health disorders like OCD. We need to remove the stigma.
Before I was diagnosed with OCD, I didn’t have much of an idea about it except it’s about being a neat freak. And I am anything but neat. So it can’t be me, right? Turned out I was wrong and it would have helped me a lot if I knew what obsessive-compulsive disorder is. Even after I was diagnosed, I didn’t see many people talking about it on the internet. I wanted to see someone I can relate to. So I am trying to be that person talking about my struggles with OCD in the high hopes that someday it might help someone.
How do I work around my OCD?
I was prescribed medicines after a few sessions with the psychologist but it took a few more tries and a change of doctor before I found the right combination of medication and therapy that works for me. I am lucky. Not many people find the right medicine so early in the treatment.
Currently, I’m on medications and I am doing much better than ever before. If I’m terrified of something and it seems irrational, I step back and try to reason with myself. I talk to my friends so that I’m not stuck in the same loop of my thought process. I try to find my triggers and try to stay away from them.
I know it’s easier to say or do when you are okay, but not so when you are struggling with OCD or in the midst of an anxiety attack. It initially helped to have meds because they helped to reduce my anxiety level down and think rationally. The first time I tried to stop my compulsions, I felt my head was splitting. I felt sick. I’m not saying it’s easy but it feels a whole lot better when you are not terribly anxious.
I’d like to end this by saying a good support system is important in getting better. I’m grateful to my friends who stuck with me even when I was struggling. Even when I might have come across as selfish or a bad company to be with, they were with me. They were with me on those nights I was terrified about almost everything, they talked to me when I was afraid I’ll spiral down into depression. So, Dimity Elske, Nusrat, Nihaayl, Rei, Arsh, Zo, Gloria Bates, James Finn, neil chapman, Fred Shirley, Gwen Saoirse, Eric Griggs, if you are reading this, thank you. Without y’all, I wouldn’t have managed to come here. I’m sorry if I have unintentionally missed anyone.
Feel free to ask me questions about OCD in the comments or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.