Hi. My name’s Oliver and I have OCD. Not your standard hand washing, cleaning, or even checking locks or counting. I’m going into this assuming you know what OCD is: intrusive thoughts and compulsions. I tend to see my intrusive thoughts as obsessions, thoughts that keep me up at night and take up the majority of my waking thoughts. And my compulsions are the sort of things that calm my anxiety, or cause anxiety if I don’t do them.
I don’t know when my OCD started, but I’ve always been an anxious person. Afraid to try new things. Afraid that my loved one’s could walk out the door and I’d never see them again. I had a difficult time making new friends and my daily life has been routine when possible.
In my case, my OCD doesn’t make me worry that something will happen to my loved ones, it’s a general sense of unease that won’t go away. The earliest case I can remember was an obsession with “being liked”. I was very influenced by movies as a child. I wanted to be the queen bee of the school; I wasn’t happy with just one friend, I wanted EVERYONE to like me.
So I would research -my biggest compulsion- how to get people to like me. How to change my personality. How to talk to people. I would analyse my own behaviour and see what I could improve on. (Nowadays I’m a perfectionist who always sees things that could be improved on.) I’d throw temper tantrums when people paid attention the kids who were actually popular (because they were nice people). At the time, it wasn’t something I realised was abnormal. I recognized I probably had underdeveloped social skills due to childhood neglect. But other than that I never really thought about it, I thought I was just being an attention seeking brat (which.. I kind of was as well).
A few years later, I had a few genuine friends. But this intense need to be liked was still there, only this time with a dose of social anxiety. This time it wasn’t about being popular. It was an obsession about whether I was being a good friend. I would ruminate over whether the content of our conversations “met the criteria of what friends should be talking about”. Whether we spent enough time together. How exactly they felt towards me. I would ask for reassurance that we were meeting these criteria, that we were being “good friends”.
When I was kicked out my home at 16 and moved into a homeless shelter, I had an episode of recognizable OCD. I cleaned the entire apartment. It wasn’t a case of fearing germs, it was that I didn’t feel “safe” due to my surroundings being unfamiliar. My roommate asked me if I was alright, and I replied that this was just something “I had to do”. Except: this was the only time this cleaning episode ever really happened. I like to be neat and tidy, but not to the extent I’d displayed that day.
That happens sometimes with OCD: you get obsessions and compulsions that come and go within the blink of an eye. It likes to change themes too, depending on what’s making you anxious. It likes to prey on what makes you most anxious.
I later had an episode I like to call “The Who Am I?” episode. I think this was near the end of highschool, beginning of university. I was basically having an identity crisis. I would take personality tests, over and over: to the point where I’d lose sleep over it because I just HAD to know which MBTI type I was, or how my astrology applied to who I was that day.
I would ask people online for their opinions, repetitively writing about myself and who I thought myself to be, getting more frustrated with the fact that there were different answers. I was basically seeking to be told I had This or That characteristic, so it could be done and over with. (Personality is an abstract concept: there’s no definite answer! Especially not from multiple sources!!) I would ask my friends, beg them even, to tell me what personality traits they thought I had, which character they thought I was most like from a TV show. After a few years they got very annoyed with me.
I was under the impression that I wanted to know my personality because if I did, I could understand how people saw me. And that mattered a Lot, for some reason. I would analyse my friend’s personality too, I would make them take the tests because I thought; if I knew how they thought and functioned, I could treat them the way they wanted to be treated. Essentially, I was back to square one and trying to figure out how to get people to like me since I feared rejection and abandonment.
It sounds ridiculous, and I knew it was, but the thing with obsessions is that your mind is running on adrenaline: like if you woke up in a cold sweat to an emergency alarm and just had to GO GO GO without really thinking about what you’re doing. But even if you think about what you’re doing, you can’t stop. I would skip class sometimes because I’d been up late taking personality tests and could think of nothing else.
The episode that had me seek help was the one where I feared a shop assistant was going to kill me. (Just any shop assistant in general.) I would avoid leaving the house. One day I broke down in tears and told my friend about it, and they thought I might have an anxiety disorder. And I went to the doctor about it. The year that followed was chock full of suicide attempts due to bad reactions to numerous SSRI’s.
Eventually I began having more typical OCD intrusive thoughts, like seeing myself stab my body. I would get phantom sensations in the area I saw in my mind, and it made my self harm a lot more difficult to deal with. It wasn’t until I hospitalized myself that I was sent to the community mental health team and saw a psychiatrist. It took a few months but I was finally diagnosed with OCD. It had taken 2 years after the shop assistant episode to get this diagnosis.
And naturally I obsessed over it. The week I got diagnosed: I spent more than 50 hours researching OCD. Writing and rewriting my symptoms, because I felt I didn’t understand my symptoms well enough. Re-reading articles and re-taking online tests, because what if the psychiatrist was wrong and I actually had something else? I knew I had health anxiety, because I’d had an episode the year before when I was very convinced I had avoidant personality disorder and bipolar disorder and various other illnesses. It’s normal for people with health anxiety to check their symptoms online.
However, this was considered an OCD episode due to the repetitive reading and writing behaviours, and the fact I was after a “legitimate” diagnosis, since I needed to be correct and feel like I wasn’t “lying”. This episode was actually very recently and lasted several months.
Another episode I had this year was the Homeless Person Episode. I saw a homeless person, and freaked out when I saw someone else on the way home wearing a t-shirt with the logo “guilty” on it, and it made my anxiety skyrocket! Because obviously that was a Sign and karma was definitely watching.
More recently, there was a different homeless person sitting outside a shop and I felt insanely guilty, I felt partially responsible for the fact that she was homeless despite the fact I’d never seen her before in my life. I started clicking my fingers and saying “I’m sorry” repetitively as a compulsion, and obsessed over the fear that I was a bad person for not helping her. I was also concerned about karma “getting me”, as the saying goes: what goes around comes back around.
Essentially, the core fear I was dealing with was the worry of becoming homeless again, and issues with morality due to the fact I grew up in a religious school (though I’m not religious).
OCD just loves coming up again and again, with issues you thought you’d already dealt with and shoving them up in your face once more.
Right now, I’m on medicine and on the waiting list for CBT. My last attempt at CBT went terribly. But hopefully now that I’ve figured myself out to some degree, it should be easier this time round.