June 12, 2018
When I was 12, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This, coupled with my frequent and irrational anxiety, created a headspace that became very unhealthy for me. I overanalyze trivial situations; I cause myself to become physically ill when stressed; I have intrusive and distracting thoughts during exams or while enjoying time with friends. I resented my OCD, and I wished it away any chance I got. However, I have slowly learned to deal with it, and accept it as part of my complicated and wonderful self.
Part of the reason why it was so difficult for me to believe my psychiatrist’s diagnosis was because of the misconceptions and stereotypes of people with OCD that I had digested and internalized. I thought of someone who couldn’t eat certain foods, who bristles at the idea of their foods touching, and who enjoys washing their hands ten times in one sitting. None of this fit me. My room is regularly in a state of chaos and I have no qualms about sharing drinks or sleeping in instead of showering daily. I had to unlearn these harmful ideas in order to accept that I too have OCD, which can manifest itself as cleanliness obsessions, but can also manifest as obsessional thoughts about morality or intrusive and upsetting images. I still cringe when I hear tired and generalized statements about OCD from people, but I understand why these ideas exist. It took me getting diagnosed with this disorder to truly do my research. Once I was able to accept my diagnosis, I was slowly becoming more and more equipped to deal with OCD. I have learned so much on my mental health journey about myself and about how I can use this idiosyncrasy to help others, and to help myself.
I don’t want to invalidate the truly debilitating affects OCD can have. When my OCD was uncontrolled, I could spend hours lost in scary and foreign thoughts, and it caused me significant distress and fear. I didn’t want to hang out with my friends, I fought with my parents more, and I felt truly and totally isolated. It was easy to think of OCD as something that I was infected with, a disease that came with no warning and that would weaken me perpetually. However, OCD is not infectious and in my case, was not acquired. Certain circumstances definitely exacerbated it until it caused me great impairment, but I can see clear precursors of my obsessive thoughts in my early childhood. When I was younger, I had scary intrusive thoughts about my mom dying in a car crash, my parents cheating on each other, the Earth falling out of orbit due to overpopulation. I was a perfectionist in school, rewriting essays if my handwriting looked wonky and crying when forgetting my homework. This sensitivity was minor at the time, and could be part of normal kid behavior. However, when considered in conjunction with my diagnosis and later mental state, I recognize the connections between my benign fears at 6 years old and my consuming and omnipresent terrors at age 12.
I see my OCD as a part of me, not as a detractor from my identity. My OCD has led me to become a more empathetic person, and I believe that my analytical and perfectionist nature are intrinsically linked with my peculiar brain chemistry. I am always motivated to do well on assignments, regardless of their effect on my grade, and my strong moral compass guides me through my stupidest mistakes. The dichotomy between my sensitive emotional side and my calculated analytical side are both affected by my OCD, or maybe vice versa. I used to grapple with the idea of mental illness. I didn’t understand why I would have fallible brain chemistry or how my brain had gotten the code for “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” in utero. I have come to learn that there is no standard brain, and that our brain chemistry is varied and complex. There is no baseline for normal, and there is no flipped switch that caused my OCD. It is simply a name given to a particular state of mind that deserves recognition. I can now appreciate my OCD for what it does for me, and forgive myself when it hinders me. There are still moments when I fall back into self-loathing and misunderstanding, and that will probably never go away. However, my support network and my coping strategies have grown stronger through necessity, and that’s an invaluable benefit.
There is stigma attached to all mental illnesses, and getting diagnosed with any can be very scary and lonely. People are hesitant to talk about them, for fear of seeming weird or inferior. I still hide my diagnosis from some people, because I know they won’t understand. It’s enough for me that I can accept my OCD and learn to live and thrive with it. It took me a while to appreciate some of the benefits I reap from OCD, and some days the benefits do not outweigh the negatives. I am constantly growing, and becoming more and more comfortable with myself along the way. Four years ago, I never dreamed of talking openly about OCD, but now I know that I have the privilege of educating those around me. I love myself in spite of, and because of, my OCD.