I am sure that there is a time when I didn’t have anxiety. I just don’t remember when that was. My name is Kate, and I am one of the millions of people in the United States who suffer from OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
The term OCD is quite common, and used often. Most people have probably heard the acronym, and connect it with someone who constantly washes their hands, or checks the locks on their door at night. While these things can very much be a part of OCD, there is far more to it than that.
I can remember when my OCD first came on. For me, it was triggered by a major shift in my life. At the age of 7 my parents separated and shortly after that I began struggling. Suddenly the life I knew was no longer. I was now going from one house to another and also from a comfortable home on a house lined street to a home I wasn’t familiar with in a rural area. With all that was happening in my life, the going and coming between parents was very stressful for me, and I began to fear being without them, especially in the country. What started as a tiny seed of thought in my head quickly grew into a nagging picture that I couldn’t shake. I believed that I would be left alone and be the only person to take care of my siblings (I am the oldest). I had visions of all the adults gone, everywhere, and my seven year old self attempting to somehow find someone to help me. I was terrified.
Now, is this irrational? Yes. Did I feel it was irrational? No. Deep down I knew that this isn’t something that would happen, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I did anything I could do to stop the fear it brought on, which generally was either be attached to an adult at all times or spend the nights staying up as late as I could, “checking” to see if my parent’s vehicles were still in the driveway. It would only bring a few seconds of relief however, as the thoughts would come back and I felt compelled to check again. And again. And again.
I dealt with this fear until I was old enough to drive. For some reason, by then, I was able to rationalize that I wasn’t going to be left alone, and, if it did happen, I could drive to get help if necessary. I was thankful as the gnawing started to fade and while I still had some pretty major anxiety, the nagging wasn’t as intrusive as it used to be.
That bombardment of thought returned at the age of 20, and it hit me like a freight train. I can recall the exact day that it happened. I went to bed fine and woke up terrified. I had this new found fear that I would unintentionally bring discomfort or harm to someone else, and the thought of that happening threw me into the worst anxiety I had ever known.
The biggest image that came to me was of our home burning down. Not just mine, but also the home of anyone I stayed with. I pictured myself cooking, using a hair straightener, leaving a candle lit, and because of my carelessness it would start a fire. Because of ME, everything would be lost. How would I live with myself if I caused a loved one this level of strife? I didn’t think I could. So, to lessen those intense fears, I checked things constantly. Stovetops. Candles. Outlets. I also feared leaving doors unlocked which would of course then allow someone full access to a home or car, and it would be my fault that things were taken or people were hurt. It came to the point where I spent not only a good portion of my time trying to combat these fears (or literally just lying in bed sobbing because I couldn’t make it stop) but I was also constantly “checking”. When the fear would rise I would have to stop what I was doing and “check” to be sure I wasn’t neglecting anything. However, at most this only brought me minutes of relief.
I fully believed I was crazy, and at that time in my life I didn’t have anyone who openly knew what was happening and pushed for me to find help. Finally, after a year or two of this constant cycle of thought, I reached out to a psychologist online randomly. They weren’t even from this state as I was so embarrassed that I wanted to be sure they didn’t know myself or anyone I knew. I sent an email and the response I got back I will never forget:
“Based on the symptoms you have given me, it sounds like you have a classic case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I highly suggest you speak with your doctor.”
I immediately googled OCD and found a plethora of information. No, I wasn’t alone. Yes, it is extremely debilitating (I specifically remember one post about a male who was studying to be a doctor and feared he would eventually have to drop out because of his fears of making a wrong move with someone’s life). I spent quite a lot of time that evening devouring every bit of information I possibly could about this life altering condition. My fear had a name. It was powerful. And for the first time I had an inkling of direction towards combating the thoughts that paralyzed me.