Living With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Taking The First Step Toward Getting Better

by Joseph Santaella Vidal for The Mighty
Originally Published: 
obsessive compulsive disorder
Marjan_Apostolovic / iStock

Dear friend,

I’m writing to you not from a place, but from a point in time — a zone, if you will — that I had no idea I could reach: a zone of calmness and peace. You see, I too had constant thoughts I didn’t and couldn’t understand, nasty thoughts that seemed to be transmitted into my brain by some heinous monster. I too felt the weight of anxiety on my chest squeezing the air out of my lungs. I too felt the fear of the illogical yet terrifying obsessions that make us yearn for some type of control. I too carried that inconceivable weight upon my shoulders, and I carried it alone for the longest time. I too have obsessive compulsive disorder.

Upfront I want to tell you this letter’s purpose is not to say it goes away with time — because it doesn’t. But what I will say is this: It can get better. You deserve better, but the only way to do it is by speaking up. You can’t do it alone.

I know your thoughts are frightening. I know they’re sometimes crippling. I know they’re not yours and you don’t want them, but they’re there and you have to deal with them. This is why I’m writing to you right now, friend. I want you to deal with them. I need you to take the first step — the first step I should have taken earlier in my life.

Let me take your first step with you because no one should do it alone. You, my friend, will seek out help. Whether you choose professional help or simply let someone in your family know the truth, that is your choice. But in joining you, I’m taking another first step in my life, which is something I’ve been putting off for 23 years: I will be completely open about my irrational fears, and I will share them with you and any curious eye.

These are all things I’ve never told anyone out of fear or embarrassment:

– As a kid, I would avoid knives out of fear of spontaneously stabbing someone.

– I would skip in place at the mall to ward off intrusive thoughts, breathing in when I saw a woman and breathing out when I saw a man. I would hold my breath in between.

– I washed my hands whenever someone I didn’t like touched me out of fear that I would become more like them.

– I washed my hands so often that, as a consequence, the skin from my palms would shed like snakeskin.

– Sometimes I would spend about 10 minutes staring at my car, walking away only to be pulled back to it repeatedly by the need to check if I left the lights on or if I left the doors unlocked. Some days I would check all of the lights and all of the doors four or five times each.

– One time I spent four hours trying to cook a simple meal (chicken and rice with beans on the side). I had to wash and disinfect everything multiple times between uses. I was scared I would get salmonella or give it to someone else.

– I feared someone would break into my house and hurt my mother, sister, and father if I didn’t check if the door was locked seven times before going to bed.

– Some nights I would have to get out of bed after being all snug and comfy and ready to sleep to go wash my hands in order to ward off intrusive thoughts.

– Sometimes when the anxiety would be too much, I would stare at myself in the bathroom mirror and pull my hair.

– I would avoid dogs and cats out of fear I would harm them in any way.

– I would avoid children for the same reason.

– I would do all of these things in secrecy and full of shame.

I’ve gotten over most if not all of these irrational fears and compulsions. Even on bad days when I’m mentally exhausted or agonizingly anxious, I still find the strength to let those intrusive thoughts be what they are: thoughts. I have them, and then I let them go. But I couldn’t have gotten here without the help of psychologists, medicine, and my beautiful family.

I’m done with hiding out of fear of humiliation. I’m done with the taboo surrounding mental health. But most importantly, I’m done pretending I don’t have OCD out of fear of making those around me uncomfortable.

Let’s stop pretending together. Please take that first step. Don’t do it for me. Do it for those you love. Most importantly, do it for yourself.

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