Following my theme of vulnerability and activism it seems appropriate to talk about my experience with obsessive compulsive disorder. I've had it most my life, but had a formal diagnoses in 2015, after a hospitalization and a near death experience. Most everybody experiences anxiety and obsession; it's part of the human experience. While yes, OCD sufferers have both of these things it's a very small part of it. Imagine growing up and believing you have your family’s life in your hands, that if you didn't walk a certain way or tap something, your family would die in horrible ways in front of you. Imagine believing this, because this is all you knew. Imagine being a six year old and believing that if you didn’t act in a certain way you would kill your little brother, who you love more than anything. Or every night as a young child believing you're going to be attacked in your sleep, and becoming accustomed to being OK with dying in your sleep. Then when you wake up being surprised that you lived the night, and repeating those feelings the next night, while not even thinking that it was illogical because this is how you thought for as long as you can remember. This is just how your brain worked.
Then it evolves. Instead of feeling responsible for your family, feeling like you have the capability to kill those around you, and from this you begin to believe you are a sociopath. Doing literally everything you can to silence the intrusive images of those around you killed by your own hand. Because you have these images in your mind you think they are urges, so every night you try to incapacitate yourself so that you can't hurt those around you. Your self worth becomes non-existent, and you begin to think that you have to die so that you won't hurt the people you love. Then losing count of your suicide attempts, and feeling more evil because you can't die and because you are still living everyone you care about will be hurt. This is intrusive thought OCD.
OCD is not a quirky personality trait. It's not about being organized or neat. It is a very complicated mental illness and it can manifest itself in many different ways. However there are common themes in most cases. Firstly (especially in the early ages) there is “magical thinking” which can be exuded in many ways, the most common being a belief in a power over the lives around you. The sufferer believes if they don't take part in a ritual, or enacts a safety behavior then those around them will die. Secondly one of the biggest traits people with OCD have is the interpretation of intrusive thoughts, everyone has intrusive thoughts but people with OCD put either magical or moral meanings behind these thoughts or images. They cannot distinguish them as just a thought. They believe they are a reality. Thirdly the sufferer struggles with rumination around these thoughts. When someone without OCD has an intrusive unpleasant thought they can just push it away and move on. When my OCD was at its worst I was spending nearly 45 minutes out of every hour, all day long ruminating over my intrusive thoughts.
What I value and care about the most is my family and in my case of OCD, I begin to have the thought of how horrible it would be if I were to hurt them. From there my OCD came in and started giving me intrusive thoughts around hurting them. At first it was made up of vague thoughts. It scared me and I tried to push them away. But with the effort of pushing them away, I kept thinking “don’t think about it.” If you are told not think about something you will then often think about it more, so the thoughts begin to come more and more frequent until it is an out of control spiral. Because I lacked mental flexibility I moralized these thoughts, seeing them as evil and became to see them as an extension of myself. The “magical thinking” took hold and I began to think that I was these thoughts. I believed that these intrusive thoughts defined who I was and I believed I was a creature of pure hate and evil, and because of this I believed that I would eventually act on these thoughts. This progression happened in a matter of months and I felt if I were to remain alive I would end up hurting my loved ones. But if I killed myself I would also hurt my family, so I felt stuck. (According to the OCD Foundation, a person who suffers from Intrusive Thought OCD is no more likely to engage in violent acts than a person in the general population.) Most nights I would attempt to end my life but not go all the way through with it, which would make me feel even more hopeless. It got to the point where I was thinking about hurting my family members and thinking about trying to avoid hurting them all hours of the day. These hours turned into whole days, and the only respite I had from these thoughts were through unhealthy and dangerous behaviors.
It's very frustrating to me when people trivialize the mental illness that almost killed me. When I was diagnosed with anorexia I didn't feel so isolated because everybody seems to voice their opinions and fears about food. Though there are a lot of misconceptions about anorexia, it is something that is somewhat openly talked about in our culture. When I was struggling with OCD I never heard people talk about intrusive thoughts. Later in treatment I learned everybody has them once in a while. Everybody has violent thoughts, but it seems when someone communicates, regardless of intent, they are demonized. How are we supposed to have an open and safe conversation about a normal part of the human experience when we judge these thoughts and put morality behind them?
For more information about Intrusive Thought OCD follow these links: