by ANNA ALLEN
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I truly began to understand what it was I was being controlled by. It wasn’t until then that I realized these thoughts were not mine, that they were instead the result of a disorder.
It took nineteen grueling years to accept a disorder that has set up home in my mind from the day I was born, and it wasn’t until I was fifteen that I was officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
But I wasn’t convinced. No. I wasn’t tidy, my room was a hot mess of clutter and I washed my hands probably less often that I should have. This could, in no way, be OCD.
Intrusive, repetitive thoughts followed by nights of dry heaving was never shown on those Dateline specials where they follow people with OCD who counted their toothpicks or arranged their carpet tassels.
Clearly my doctors were off their rockers.
It wasn’t until after the doctors got me to a point where I wasn’t convinced I was the person I saw on the news who had been the culprit of a hit-and-run (in a city had never even been, mind you), that I was able to sit down at the library and read about OCD.
I flipped through each page furiously, not minding the fact I was crinkling them as I went, which, in my mind, proved yet another reason I didn’t have OCD, and came upon a chapter labeled “Purely Obsessional OCD (POCD).”
This chapter had my name written all over it. At first I was relieved, and then I was mad. Mad that Barbara Walters had never even addressed the fact that this kind of OCD was real. And then I was even more pissed that I didn’t have the hand washing compulsions, because then, at least, people could see what was going on in my mind, instead of seeing me act normal, while my mind was full of intrusive, terrifying thoughts.
Then I was able to convince myself that I didn’t have OCD at all. I was just a crazy, evil person with thoughts. They weren’t intrusive, I convinced myself, they were thoughts.
Of course OCD was able to convince me I didn’t have OCD; it was a paradox.
There were, and still are, times I wish I could have an outwardly visible disorder. People then could help me. People understand physical disabilities far more than they do mental illness.
That’s why now, whenever I hear someone say, “Oh, I’m so OCD today,” or, “I am so OCD, I count every step on the sidewalk,” I want to shake them and scream “You have no idea!” But instead, I revert back into my mind and wrestle with the fact that maybe they do have OCD and I am just weak. So weak that it took years of different medications and therapy to get me to the point where I didn’t think I was responsible for half of the world’s disasters.
But then, after a few days pass and I gain control back of my mind, I realize that these people are ignorant. They don’t understand the disorder and the fact that people who wash their hands compulsively do so in order to calm the thoughts. Thoughts that remain in your head for days and months at a time. People don’t understand.
And people who suffer don’t have the courage to call bullshit on the show “Monk” and call jerks out who say they are being “really OCD” about something. Because instead, those who really suffer are trapped inside their own mind, trying to fight these thoughts.
You can’t be “kinda” OCD. Just like you can’t be “kinda pregnant.” Of course you sometimes have obsessions: “Did I lock the door?” or you count the steps you take from your bathroom to your room. We are creatures of logic and habit. We like order and we like to make sense of things.
And just like you may be sad after seeing a picture of a tragic scene this does not mean you are clinically depressed.
This means you are human. You are experiencing one of the vast emotions we were given as creatures. You are alive.
When you begin to pull chunks of your hair out, because you weren’t able to do your 20 steps to the bathroom from your room to make sure your sister didn’t die in a car accident the next day, that’s when you’re thoughts are no longer reactions, that is when your brain is suffering from a disorder.
And someday, when OCD and POCD are better understood, people will no longer throw around ignorant comments about the two. Instead, there will be a day when people begin to understand the beast that this disorder is, and they will not mock it.
Anna recently graduated from the University of Kansas where she studied journalism and German literature. She’s a smitten aunt, former au pair, aspiring writer, and—when feeling particularly brave—a red lipstick wearer. She blogs here and tweets here.
Have you ever found it hard to accept a medical diagnosis?