I thought I would describe my experience with OCD to you all this week in attempt to eliminate the stigma surrounding it. Although approximately 2.3 percent of the population between ages 18 and 54 suffer from OCD, I figured it would be worth the try to reach out to those that are dealing with this mental illness, and perhaps even encourage others to get the help they need. If you want to hear more about our stories of our own mental illnesses, check out our podcast from this week.
This is a story I wrote for The Odyssey Online about a year ago.
I still remember going to therapy like it was yesterday; I was an introverted, uncomfortable elementary student who spent an hour every week awkwardly sitting in a caramel leather chair discussing my feelings in a dusty room that smelled like old books.
My therapist first asked me simple questions about school―questions about my friends and my teachers, and I answered politely. Yet, after about 20 minutes, it was time to open up about the Voice inside of my head.
OCD, for those that do not know, is obsessive-compulsive disorder. This beast of a mental disorder takes many shapes and forms, from completing repeated actions or habits to continuously having the same thoughts.
During my “struggle” with OCD, it felt like what some OCD patients describe as having a pistol aimed at my head, with a voice behind it telling me to do things. In my case, if I didn’t do something the Voice told me, the Voice would threaten me by saying one of my loved ones would get hurt.
Most of the actions I felt compelled to do were tedious, time consuming, and random. Here’s an example: At the mall closest to my house, the floors are lined with an intricate pattern of horizontal and vertical rectangular tiles placed next to one another. One of my “habits” included aligning my feet inside the rectangles until the Voice told me to stop. Some of you might be thinking, why didn’t you just stop listening to the Voice? The answer is because my mentality was “warped.” I sincerely thought that if I didn’t do the actions I was told to do, something bad would happen to someone I loved.
Whenever a friend asks how I overcame my disorder, I often compare it to a diet. If you set yourself on a strict diet, you need to have a certain willpower to avoid fatty foods and stick to what you are supposed to be eating. Well, overcoming my OCD wasn’t that different; it was all about mind over matter.
Months when by, and I still dreaded visiting my psychiatrist every week. When my friends were at soccer practice and Girl Scouts, I was talking to a woman in a suit about how I could start living a “normal” life again. Whenever a friend asked me if I wanted to go on a play date when I had a therapy appointment, I was continuously reminded that there was something wrong with me―as if the Voice inside my head wasn’t enough.
So, one day I went up to my mom and told her I didn’t want to have therapy anymore. Although looking back, I’m almost positive the Voice inside my head wasn't gone, but my desire to live a normal life again motivated me to break away from my old habits.
From that point on, every time I heard the Voice inside my head, it would slowly become less and less powerful. No longer was I concerned about my loved one’s lives being at risk, and I no longer felt like I was being demanded by someone to do something that was, quite honestly, stupid.
I focused on what made me happy again: soccer, dance, school, and my friends and family, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like my old self. Although there is really no “cure” to the disease, I felt like I was able to have carefree days, just like I did before I was diagnosed.
And in case you were wondering, yes―sometimes the Voice comes back. Sometimes I end up locking my front door several times in a row, in fear that someone might break in. Sometimes I check my alarm clock a few too many times, in fear that I will forget to set it and oversleep the next morning. However, it’s nothing I can’t silence after a few minutes. At least, most of the time.
Living with a mental disorder is incredibly challenging, confusing, and debilitating, but I took comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. With the help of my psychiatrist, friends and family, I was able to overcome my OCD, and defeat the Voice living inside my head.
I am stronger than my mental illness. And for anyone dealing with your own mental disorder, know that you are too.