I'm open about my mental illnesses. I talk about my symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder like it's no big deal because it isn't to me. It's just my life. But there is one thing that I rarely talk about. There is one thing that I am ashamed of, so I usually hide it. That is my obsessive-compulsive disorder. Because my OCD makes me its slave. It makes me do things over and over again, puts thoughts in my head that disgust me and horrify me. The obsessive, intrusive thoughts make me perform compulsions to ease the pain and anxiety of my thoughts. These are seven ways my OCD controls me:
1. I need to stick to my routine or I start to fall apart.
I make a list of things to do every day. I have two planners and a calendar. I look at the days and mentally prepare myself for my appointment tomorrow or something I have due Friday. I even plan out my meals a little, just so I don't get anxious about it. I don't have to stick to what I write down, though. I can put "spaghetti for dinner," and then decide to go out or cook something else. It just offers the illusion of control, of knowing what to expect. If I'm on vacations, things can get tricky. Sometimes I need a Coke when I wake up and it has to be in a can, not a bottle. Usually this isn't a problem, but occasionally, the person I'm staying with sighs and drives me to several different places to find a soda machine because the grocery store is too far away. And I'm sitting in the passenger seat thinking, "There are never going to ask me to visit again..."
2. I go through very particular obsessions, usually with food.
Sometimes I eat chicken wings for every meal for several weeks, and then my palate latches onto a new array of flavors. Right now, I am obsessed with ice cream. But it has to have chocolate syrup. And it has to be in a cup. And it HAS to be from Chick-fil-A or I don't want it at all. It makes me seem whiny or annoying, but I have to have things a certain way or I feel like I'm losing control. Expecting my ice cream to taste a certain way is just one of the ways I feel like I can exert some sort of control over the chaos of life. If I go to McDonald's and I can't get the sauce I want with my nuggets, then I don't want to eat at all. And I know this gets really annoying for people, so I usually don't tell them WHY I'm suddenly not hungry anymore or why I changed my mind about wanting ice cream (because they are out of chocolate syrup). Because I know it's irrational and annoying, so I just hide it. I don't like that I am this way, but that's the way it is.
3. If something is bothering me, I can't stop thinking about it.
This is another obsessive part of my OCD. An intrusive thought appears in my mind, and I can't let it go. Is my boyfriend cheating on me? Did my mom get in a car crash? I text or call them obsessively until they answer, so I know they're okay. If they don't answer because they're busy with work and well, their lives in general, then I usually have a panic attack and break down in tears. I get frustrated with myself because of this. I feel like I'm an adult who still throws temper tantrums, so I hide it. I usually say I'm taking a nap when I am quietly crying under my pillow over something I know that probably didn't happen, but I'm not sure, and the pain of the thought is just too overwhelming... So I fall apart. That's the part of OCD that people forget about: how painful the intrusive thoughts are. I start crying over things that didn't happen. I chew my nails because I can't stop picturing my little sister break her leg over and over. I get irritable because I can't get the image of a gigantic spider out of my head. My thoughts scare me. I resent this.
4. I check things.
This is the compulsion aspect of my OCD. As the day goes on and the sun gets lower in the sky, my anxiety and paranoia increase. Therefore, the number of times I check to make sure the front door is locked increases. I also check under the bed and in the closets more than I'd like to admit. And I have to leave the shower curtain open. Who knows what kind of monster could be lurking in there, right? Haha... Yes, I thought I would grow out of it, too, but here I am at 21 years old, still afraid of the monsters under the bed. By monsters, I mean murderers with two black holes where their eyes should be, but let's keep this article light-hearted, shall we?
5. I've gotten better about this, but I still carry a couple bottles of hand sanitizer with me.
Sometimes I shake hands with someone and get a bad feeling about them, so I have to wash my hands a few times or I start having a panic attack. Or I just feel dirty and need to sanitize my hands. Mostly, though, I use hand sanitizer right before I eat like everyone else (okay, only some people). I used to wash my hands so much they cracked and bled, but I've gotten much better.
6. Don't you dare drink after me...
Okay, I've gotten a lot better about being a "germ freak," but this is one thing that I would not budge on for about 20 years. Even when I was three years old, I would burst into tears if you took a bite out of my cake or licked my icecream cone. My family was always shocked. How can a three year old understand the concept of germs? I really don't know. Maybe I just didn't want your smelly mouth near my birthday cake... My family just thought I didn't like to share, that I was a brat. And honestly, who wouldn't? Maybe I am. I even annoy myself. Leftovers in the fridge from last night? Ugh... I don't know about it this time. Those mashed potatoes look like they were touched by someone looking for a midnight snack. Mold could have grown overnight on the hamburger bun... It's illogical and hard to explain, so sometimes I just shove the food in my mouth, grin, and bear it. But other times, I slyly dump my leftovers in the trash because I'm afraid they're infected, and I really don't want E. coli or one other of the MILLION INFECTIONS that people can get from food. Okay, I'm not a doctor or a scientist. That is probably inaccurate, but my OCD isn't based on logic, sadly.
7. Have you guessed this one yet? I'm dramatic.
My OCD makes me the most dramatic, annoying person ever. I look at myself in the mirror and say, "Why are you like this?!" I've gotten a lot better though, especially about the hand washing, but...mostly, I've just gotten better at managing and hiding my symptoms, so I don't annoy others or have to explain my irrational brain. I'm sure you want to be friends with me now. I sound like loads of fun! But...that's the truth. And I have gotten a lot better with therapy, medication and exposure. There's been a fly in my drink, and I didn't die. Someone has actually shot a spitball into my mouth and here I am, alive and well, telling the tale. On some level, I realized that germs COULD kill me, but that they probably wouldn't. So now, I just tell myself to calm down and act like a normal person or I'll find myself with plastic bags over my shoes in a few years or living in a big plastic bubble. And what would my quality of life be then? I have to accept the inevitable germs and pain that come with life if I really want to live. So, I put my hand sanitizer back in my pocket. I touch the elevator button that a million people have touched. I shake hands with a stranger. I take a risk to feel alive. Some people have to skydive to get that high. Me? I have it easy.