My battle with OCD began when I was diagnosed at 17 years old. For me, the more I understood OCD; the less power it held over me and eventually I was able to turn the volume down in my mind and resist the need to address the obsessions and compulsions that plagued me.
So, what is an obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD? It is an anxiety disorder that affects two to three percent of Australians. OCD is often the subject of a throwaway joke, used as a reference to explain ones’ need to have everything done just right. We’ve all been guilty of calling ourselves OCD to excuse the fact that we are really just particular and not at all suffering from OCD.
The real truth is that OCD is not fun, silly, or quirky. OCD is not just colour coordinating your wardrobe or having your kitchen pantry perfectly matching. OCD is a daily struggle inside your head, consisting of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that become all consuming, constantly appearing as a roadblock in your day to day life.
It’s normal to experience those moments where you have to double check whether you turned the oven off or if you’ve locked the door properly. It’s even normal to have the occasional violent or unpleasant thought, the kind of thought that makes you stop dead in your tracks and wonder why the hell you would think of something so horrible? But when you have OCD, these thoughts and compulsions are stuck in overdrive. They constantly pop in, often out of nowhere.
OCD is like an uninvited dinner guest that won’t leave unless you ‘make it’.
After being diagnosed, the more I learnt and understood OCD the more I was able to recognise my obsessions and compulsions and therefore identify the triggers. I was also able to openly and honestly discuss my unwanted thoughts and get the reassurance and validation I needed in knowing that I was not the horrible person I accused myself of being, instead quite the opposite.
A person with OCD will generally experience unwanted thoughts that are so far from who they are as a person and completely off their moral compass, that they often take a longer time to get diagnosed because of the guilt and shame associated with it.
Throughout my adult life I have found that in times of heightened anxiety and stress, my OCD comes back in full force and I have now resigned to the fact that OCD will always play a role in my life.
After 7 years in an abusive relationship and marriage, my OCD made a friend in PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. Instead of being completely irrational, my obsessions and compulsions came with a little… or a lot of truth mixed in. Fears that my ex would find out where I lived and show up in a fit of rage were not unfounded but the probability of it actually happening although low, were still there.
Flashbacks mixed with images of abuse plagued me and sometimes still do. Flashbacks of what happened and images of abuse that hadn’t. Hearing the dogs barking at the mail man, would have me suddenly fearing that it was him. Logically I knew that the likelihood of him knowing where I lived was slim, but the likelihood of him trying to find me were not.
Realistically, I knew he lived interstate, so what were the chances I would ask? SO HIGH my OCD would roar; plaguing me with fears and images of him at my door, standing behind me with a bat, taking our daughter or showing up to her school and hurting her to hurt me. OCD feeds off fear and PTSD provided the most scrumptious platter it could ask for.
I recognised the control OCD was having on my life and instead of trying to fight it off myself, I asked for help. I now see a psychologist who helps me break the vicious cycle of unwanted thoughts and compulsions, not by ignoring them but by addressing them head on. Some find it easier than others. Some may struggle with particular obsessions or compulsions and count them as a loss while they find wins in other ways.
OCD is best described as a chronic mental health illness, lasting years or a lifetime. How you react and respond to OCD determines the effect it has on your life. There may not be an easy fix but forcefully ignoring it can make it louder so don’t be afraid to address it head on. See a counsellor, talk to family and friends about it- you’d be surprised how many people have experienced the same unwanted thoughts or compulsions as you- knowing that you are not alone can help with the fear and shame associated with OCD. Recognise that it is a part of your life but don’t allow it to get so big that it dictates how you live it.
The author of this story has had their name changed to protect their identity. The images in this story are not of the author.