What it’s like living with OCD
Sitting in the backseat of my dad’s Toyota Corolla, I lean my head up against the window,
looking at the flurry of highway signs go by as I mentally try to group the letters of each word. Any word I can make out, I try to set into three. BOS-TON. Great. STA-TIO-N. That’s no good. We need to look for more. We need to start over.
Or when I would stand and pace about in my childhood bedroom, desperately trying to turn off a light switch the “right” way (is there really a correct method?) or else I couldn’t go to sleep.
As an eight-year-old I didn’t understand the term obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). To be fair, there were a lot of things I had yet to understand at that age — why my dad moved almost four hours away after a divorce, or how I got to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. Yet, nearly 14 years later, I still feel as if I’m a kid, looking for those three-letter groupings on highway signs or the need to shut off a light in a calculated fashion (it can be done, I promise).
In a way, it was comforting to have these compulsions, especially as I fit nicely into a category of children who experienced change at a young age. I was the eldest daughter. My dad had moved away. I had to grow up relatively fast.
For a while I just shrugged them off as habits. While compulsions and habits are quite similar as they both are repetitive behaviors, compulsions serve a different purpose. Compulsions can include consistent handwashing or checking on things — in my case counting letters in words — to offset obsessive thought patterns.
This is the “obsession” part of OCD. It’s more of an invisible issue where phrases, fears or intrusive thoughts replay in your mind. I always thought it was normal to think that something “bad” would happen to me if I didn’t touch a doorknob, a light switch or some random handle a certain way. Almost as if I would be cursed.
With OCD, it’s a cycle: a thought pops up, typically an intrusive one, which creates anxiety,
leading to a behavior to grant temporary relief. Despite the silent nature of distressing thoughts and even repetitive behaviors that result from OCD, they can significantly interfere with a person’s daily interactions with others. In my case, if I couldn’t say goodnight to my sister first, I was hesitant to go to bed.
OCD can also hobble individuals to a point where medication is necessary. I have never taken any kind of medication for OCD, but I’ve reflected a lot over the last few years about the stigma that disorders such as OCD can receive, and how social platforms such as TikTok can promote this stigma.
Ironically, I found community in an online space such as TikTok, as I had grown to despise the app for influencing a rise in OCD misconceptions. I started following Alegra Kastens, a New York-based therapist who specializes in patients with OCD. A few months ago, I viewed a video of her talking about how intrusive thoughts are common with OCD, and I felt heard.
I would spend hours through forums, like r/OCD, and to this day still see phrases such as “OCD is ruining my career” and “Has OCD ruined anyone else’s relationships in the past?”
Or I would look at studies about how women are at greater risk of experiencing OCD than men, trying to make sense of research on the disorder.
I’ve come to terms with the nature of OCD, and as I’ve understood more about what I’m up against, I’ve also started to understand what I’m capable of.
We are all prone to certain things that keep us up at night, but recognizing OCD as more than washing your hands a lot or folding your clothes just so, is the first step in destigmatizing the disorder for those who suffer in silence.