My therapist once told me that I am not OCD. I have OCD, and there is a big difference.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, otherwise known as OCD, is often associated with excessive hand washing and extreme cleanliness or orderliness. You most likely hear people constantly saying that they "are so OCD" when, for example, they can't stand seeing something crooked or feel the need to wash their hands. People take the "OCD test" in which pictures of tiles are messed up, candy isn't sorted by color, or sandwiches aren't cut directly into halves; these people treat the term OCD as if it is an adjective, undermining the fact that it is, indeed, a mental disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is surrounded by a negative stigma and is often portrayed in films and TV shows in a way that does not encompass the entire disease. I still remember watching Glee with my mom when I was in middle school, and her telling me that she didn't want me to end up like Emma Pillsbury, who had OCD, so I should stop acting "so OCD." Emma would clean every piece of food before putting it into her mouth and had a fear of germs, and my mom was scared for her daughter to turn into someone like that.
My case of OCD, however, has nothing to do with germs. Of course, I like washing my hands, and at times feel the need to do so multiple times. But that is not what makes my OCD so torturous. What people do not realize is how paralyzing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be, and how many different variations there are. In my college admissions essay, I wrote,
"I had kept the OCD bottled up inside of me for longer than I can remember, telling nobody but myself about the wicked voice imprisoned in my mind, torturing me and making my life a tumultuous series of pressures. I had to have everything perfect because if not, I felt that I was going to fail. Everything needed to be symmetrical, lined up in precise measurements; a planet of perfection, consumed by the ghastly feeling of needing excellence."
I truly lived, and to be quite honest still live, on a planet of perfection. If something was not perfectly typed, written, said, or performed, I would have to re-do whatever it was that was not perfect, often wasting hours on these compulsions that I felt obliged to perform. But people still did not understand.
Things such as "Just stop, Emily!" "Calm down." "It's all in your head." "You're freaking out over nothing." "You're ridiculous." "But your room is a mess, there's no way you're OCD." "You're literally perfect." "Oh, I'm OCD too." "OMG you're so OCD." would be said to me on an everyday basis by family, friends, peers, and teachers, which sent me further down the spiral and into a depressed state.
People couldn't grasp the concept that my depression wasn't their fault; they would get angry at me for being lifeless and melancholy, trying to put the blame on themselves. I lost friends, broke up with my boyfriend, and suffered in and out of school because of my illnesses.
The problem with my OCD and depression was that I did not tell most people. I acted as if everything were fine, continuing on my days with a smile and a happy face. Beneath the surface, however, I was struggling. Tears would constantly be brimming in my eyes, and I couldn't take tests or write essays without fearing that I would fail. I would perform complex and intricate rituals that turned previously simple tasks into long ordeals. I would feel the need to delete and retype entire paragraphs of assignments, sometimes hitting the delete and space bars one after the other until the rhythm felt right to stop. I would have to tap a certain number of times on light switches and door knobs, and lock the car door a set number of times. I would align my silverware with lines in the wood on the kitchen table, and put things in piles perfectly aligned with the corner of tables or desks. Did I lock the door when I left? Did I forget something in the classroom? Did I take my pills this morning? These types of questions would take over my brain and torture my mind.
I would always be the last one out of class because my chair had to be perfectly pushed in, my backpack fully zipped, and my mental routine recited before I rushed out the door. If I missed even one of these things throughout my day, I would think that something bad was going to happen to me, my friends, or my family. Guilt would rush over me, forcing me to complete my ritual for fear of causing pain to someone I loved.
Even during tennis matches, I would be caught in a web of rituals. Beginning during tryouts prior to junior year, I would say "Me, A+, happy, healthy, varsity, playing spot, win, let's go" in my mind every time I was getting a water break, and eventually, this phrase was glued into my mind, even once I made the varsity team. Between points, serves, hits, etc. it was echoing within me. Even during school, this would happen, interrupting my thoughts and preventing me from really enjoying my life.
I have been imprisoned by these horrible routines for years.
Since I was a little girl, I have had obsessive and compulsive tendencies. The pressure from myself, peers, and teachers would consume me, and I would revert back to my habits to calm my nerves and sooth me. I always thought I was just crazy; I didn't realize that I actually had a disorder.
One day in the summer before junior year, I was feeling particularly anxious and googled OCD. I remember reading articles and taking quizzes about the disorder, and I started sobbing; everything was so relatable. Finally, the crazy, obtrusive thoughts that controlled my life had an explanation, along with the accompanying compulsions. I was relieved that I could be treated and felt a weight off my chest when I made a list of 100 things I did that were related to my OCD and gave it to my mom. She was shocked because so many of my compulsions I had hidden from everyone. No one truly really knew how much pain I was enduring.
Although with medicine and therapy I am doing much better, my case of OCD has always been severe. And if I were to be completely honest with myself, I know that it is still very bad.
At college, it is brutal to lose to my compulsions, because it means ultimately having to perform my rituals secretly for fear of people seeing them and questioning me. The smallest things set me off, whether it be the sound of people chewing or the constant stream of noise. I feel the urge to scream, and sometimes find myself silently crying into my pillow in the middle of the afternoon. At times when my stress level is particularly high, there is a constant pit of despair in my stomach. I constantly fear the worst but continue to put on a happy face. It isn't until I have a panic attack that people realize I'm sick. Until then, people just make fun of my anxiety and need for perfection.
I pretend that everything is fine, both for myself and my family. I don't want to admit that I'm getting worse because that means I'll have to adjust my medication and spend $1000s going to a psychiatrist who does not even understand me. But I know if I don't make a change, I'll continue to get worse. My obsessions and compulsions will become more severe, and will eventually be uncontrollable, just like they were when I was first diagnosed.
I have to remember that I am not OCD; my OCD does not define me. Rather, I have OCD and am able to fight against it to better myself and my happiness.
So the next time you catch yourself about to say "I'm so OCD," try and think twice about what it really means to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.