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ABC No More Like OCD: Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Everyone has said something similar to "I'm so OCD I like my clothing organized by color" or "I can't stand when blankets aren't folded evenly, it's the OCD in me" etc. However, for someone like me that's not what living with OCD is like. It's quite a different experience and one that isn't all that fun. But before continuing lets define what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). According to the American Psychiatric Association, "OCD is an anxiety disorder in which time people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.

Many people have focused thoughts or repeated behaviors. But these do not disrupt daily life and may add structure or make tasks easier. For people with OCD, thoughts are persistent and unwanted routines and behaviors are rigid and not doing them causes great distress. Many people with OCD know or suspect their obsessions are not true; others may think they could be true (known as poor insight). Even if they know their obsessions are not true, people with OCD have a hard time keeping their focus off the obsessions or stopping the compulsive actions."

In my personal experience my OCD didn't start out with repeating actions over and over, at first it was repeated negative or anxious thoughts. I would find my self focusing on what I felt I did that was stupid or embarrassing (recently or just throughout my life) and repeatedly think of it over and over until I was so stressed out I felt sick. These thoughts could be something as mundane as "I can't believe I didn't catch that spelling mistake in my post" or dwelling on a conversation that I felt could have went better. It wasn't always big dramatic things like getting sick or fired, for me it was the stupid little thoughts of self doubt that just kept on cycling through my mind that made my anxiety go through the roof.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not the only behavioral issue I suffer from. I also have been diagnosed with moderate recurrent major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I'm also an empath but that's a discussion for another time. These conditions are something I have been battling all my life and still to this day. Over the years I have learned to handle it better and I of course sought out treatment/therapy for it. I currently take medication daily to help me combat these issues. However that doesn't mean this made me immune to feeling extreme stress or overly anxious. Sometimes I deal with it better than others. In fact it was my generalized anxiety that took over a few years back changing my OCD from just thoughts to actions and from worrying about silly things to being scared the worst would happen all the

time if I didn't do certain rituals repeatedly.

It was some time in 2013 that my OCD became so much that it actually disrupted my life. I didn't realize it at first. There were little things here and there. I had to check that the doors were locked or that the stove knobs were all off before going to bed. Then that became before bed and any time I left the house. It wasn't just a quick glance to see if these things were done, I had to physically check. I would pull on the sliding door that leads out to the deck over and over making sure it was locked. Then I would move to the kitchen and check the stove, tapping each knob over and over making sure they really were in the off position. Then on to the front door, pulling on it and turning knob making sure it was locked.

I at first just brushed this off. I always have had a fear of house fires or someone breaking in, in fact most people probably wouldn't want either of those things to happen so it didn't seem all that out there. Then more actions needed to be done. I now had to check certain plugs in the kitchen along with the stove making sure nothing seemed weird. Certain cabinets needed to be opened and closed. My room also now became a place were items had to be checked. I had 2 plugs in my room that needed to looked over before bed, my sheets and pillow had to be adjusted and my alarm needed to be checked over and over to make sure it was really set for work in the morning. I also had to set 3 alarms in case one didn't go off. I would set them a few minutes apart so I wasn't being woken up by three different alarms every morning.

Sure everyone has a fear of being late for work. I'm sure other people have multiple alarms set, so once again I put it aside. I already had been diagnosed with anxiety and my life wasn't at a super cool place at that time, so I just chalked it up to that. However, things just kept intensifying. Checking these places just once wasn't good enough. I had to do it over and over until my mind told me I had checked everything properly. I can recall spending more 15 minutes on multiple occasions before bed just in the kitchen mindlessly moving back and forth checking the plugs, cabinets and stove until I was satisfied this was enough to keep the bad things away.

If that wasn't time consuming enough, I still had to check everything in my room. Again I know there were nights I spent at least 20 minutes just checking the plugs and then another few minutes adjusting my sheets. However the worst of it was my alarms as that was the last step in my ritual. I would repeatedly check my alarms over and over only stopping when I felt nauseous because once I felt sick I knew I checked them enough. Sometimes that was 5 minutes and other times it was longer. Now on top of the normal time it take to get ready for bed, I was adding about 45 minutes to it with my OCD rituals, so I was getting to bed way later than I should be. Aside from being stressed I was now also tired from lack of sleep and constant worrying.

I wish I could say these actions only had to be done before bed, but that wasn't the case. I had to perform all of these (minus the alarm clock) before leaving the house for anything. I was somehow able to make it shorter for the mornings before heading to work but it was still imperative that I performed them. When this started happening I didn't tell anyone, I wasn't sure what was going on. I was embarrassed, I didn't want my friends and family to think I was going crazy. So instead I would try and hide it, making sure I was the last one out of the house so no one would see. I remember I made us late for a party because I had to do all of my rituals. My family was annoyed because they just thought I wasn't ready on time. Little did they know, I could not leave the house unless my checking rituals were performed not because I was dilly dallying. If I did not perform these certain actions, than something awful was sure to happen. In my mind was was protecting everyone.

The thing is, I had no idea why I had to do these things to keep the worst away. There was no logical reason as to why touching plugs would keep me from getting into a car accident or anything. Yet I just had to do it, I felt that if I didn't do my OCD rituals than something horrible would happen. So it just increasingly got worse. In fact if anything even remotely negative happened, my need for the rituals became stronger. I told myself I must not have done them right before, that's why that happened. It could literally be that I made a typo in an email at work on forgot to mail something out. People make little mistakes like this all the time, but for me these mistakes directly meant I didn't do my rituals correctly.

The OCD actions had been going on for about half a year and about 2 months of those were spent performing the rituals until I felt sick. One night when I was checking the plug in my room, I had checked it for probably 15 minutes straight. I remember bending down and getting dizzy and light headed. That's finally when it hit me. "This is not okay, you need to get help." The next day I called out of work. I was able to get an appointment with my general practitioner for later that afternoon. Upon sitting on the table in the examination room I remember just bursting into tears and saying there was something wrong with me and I didn't know what to do.

My doctor was so nice, she calmed me down and told there was nothing wrong with me. I think she said something like, "It's okay and you'll be okay."

I was immediately referred to a counselor and by early the next week I had an appointment booked. I finally told my family what was going on and no one thought I was going crazy. No one judged me or made me feel bad for doing all these irrational actions. All that fear of what people would think was made up. Just like the fear of the worst thing in world happening if I didn't perform my OCD rituals perfectly every day and night.

Once diagnosed and in therapy, we were able to figure out this stemmed from me not feeling happy or in control of my life at the time. I needed to be in control of something so I manifested the need to do the repeated actions over and over. In my mind I believed that I was now in charge. Over the next year I was able to learn to control this irrational behavior. I was put on medication that made me able to rationalize things better. Medication to modify behavior can be a hot topic that some people really disagree with, but for me it saved my life.

For the past 7 years I have now learned to live while having OCD. I wish I could say it went away, but it hasn't. It's gotten better and I'm keeping my rituals in check nowadays. I now understand the reasoning behind my irrational behavior. I know there are certain triggers than can make it worse again. I can sense when it gets heightened, but now I know what do and when to get help. I no longer repeatedly check locks, stoves, plugs and cabinets until I am physically sick. I do still check certain things, but in a very regimented routine that is livable. Since there is no "cure" for obsessive compulsive disorder I don't know if I will ever have a day that I no longer need to do daily procedures, but it is okay. This behavior doesn't define who I am or dictate how my life should be. It's not something to be ashamed of, it's just another thing that makes me well me.

I think I wanted to share my OCD story because I wanted to let others know it's okay. If you feel like this, you're not alone and there is nothing to be embarrassed by. I really hope that by reading this it helps those who don't suffer from this, to understand what it's like to have this type of OCD. I also hope if you have this condition, my story may have helped in some way. If anyone would like to talk or needs to talk please do not hesitate to send me a message. Mental health is rough and it's so important that we support and help one another when needed. Remember is you are feeling anxious, depressed, or just not yourself please do not hesitate to seek professional help. Going and getting help doesn't make you weak or cowardly it's actually the opposite. I takes a lot of courage to admit you may need help. It's your strength and bravery that will get you through whatever battle you are currently fighting.

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