My house is a whole ass mess constantly.
I don’t organize my pantries. I never make it a point to color code my closet. I don’t put anything into alphabetical or chronological order, and in case you missed it…my house is constantly a damn mess. And I have OCD.
Are you confused yet?
You sound like me in November of 2019 with my recently appointed doctor.
“Are you familiar with OCD?” the doctor asked at the start of my second appointment.
I shrugged. “Um, kinda?”
My doctor nodded forgivingly. “Okay, well. After our conversation at your first appointment, I think it’s a possible diagnosis for you, and I selected a psychiatrist for you to speak to about that possibility. Are you open to that?”
A surprised laugh tumbled out of me. “I mean yeah, I want to talk to someone, but I don’t think — ” I paused, shaking my head. “I’m, like, really messy.”
A small smile touched her lips. “Always being clean is a common misconception about OCD. There are several different types of OCD and intrusive thoughts, as well as rumination, are two of them. You seem to have experience with both.”
“Rumination?” I asked incredulously. I’d never even heard of that.
“You’ll learn more about it when you speak to the psychiatrist.”
And fuck, did I.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s back up.
I was 16 years old.
I was in my junior year of high school and my father received a job offer in Washington, D.C. He moved our family from our sleepy little town in Northern Michigan to the Metro DC area.
It was an enormous change, and I remember feeling angry, sad, and resentful all at once, as most teenagers would have. But then I thought, no. There was something that was different between me and other angry teenagers—my thoughts. Something was off. Something was wrong. With me.
I could feel it deep in my soul, coursing through my entire body before it settled in my chest and began choking me slowly.
My thoughts were evil. I hated my parents for this move, and then it happened. I was behind my mom on the stairs, and I thought about shoving her down them. It instantly panicked me.
Why would I think that?
Would I do that?
Stop it, stop it, stop it.
I must be capable of it if I am thinking it.
My friends love their moms and they would never think that.
It wasn’t the first intrusive thought I’d ever had, but it was definitely the most terrifying one. I felt so wrong.
Something. Was. So. Fucking. Off. With. Me.
I stopped sleeping. I started ruminating.
Rumination: Rumination is one of the core characteristics of OCD that causes a person to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying, figuring out, trying to understand, analyzing or clarifying thought or theme.
I examined every conversation I ever had and every single moment I could recall, replaying all of it over and over again in my mind, searching for evidence that I was an awful person. I was devastated. I’d sob from the guilt. It was the first time I ever hated myself.
At night, I was no longer counting sheep or catching Zs, and instead I was endlessly searching my mind for a reason I was having such horrendous thoughts. I needed to take care of this before my parents found out, before I hurt them. I shouldn’t be having these thoughts, I continued to tell myself.
Then, after about a month of feeling these intrusive thoughts constantly, I of course had another intrusive thought.
I was losing my damn mind.
My uncle was schizophrenic.
Maybe I was schizophrenic too.
I was losing my mind, thinking I would hurt my own mom, so I must be schizophrenic, right?
And then, suddenly, less than a minute later, I was schizophrenic.
It happened quickly, and sure enough, another obsession was born.
I believed there was a high probability I was losing my mind and there was nothing I could do about it. I began researching that night, and my schizophrenia obsession became best friends with my new favorite compulsion. Google.
I learned whatever I could about schizophrenia, trying to convince myself I didn’t have it and I never would. I needed to be absolutely positive.
I felt immense amounts of guilt that I was so fearful of having an illness many people cope with and live a good life with. Just because my uncle had it and couldn’t cope didn’t mean I would share that same fate, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling.
I had it, and I couldn’t guarantee I would find the right help, so it continued to nag at me. It consumed me.
I needed to be 100% certain, but I couldn’t be, because nothing in this life is ever 100% certain, and that thought sliced through me like a rusty knife.
My parents heard me sobbing in my room one night, and they took me to the doctor a week later.
I didn’t tell the doctor about my intrusive thoughts because I was too scared. I didn’t want him to think I would hurt my parents, and I definitely didn’t want him to tell me I had schizophrenia. So I just told him I was crying a lot at night and I couldn’t sleep. I was scared, and I worried a lot.
The doctor asked if anything changed recently. I told him I recently moved there. He said I was experiencing night anxiety from the recent move. It was a big change, he had explained. Yeah, no fucking shit.
He prescribed me Ambien, which is a sleeping medication.
My parents wouldn’t let me take it, and I never saw that doctor again.
The next time I went to see someone about my mental health, I was 21 years old.
I finally wanted help for the anxiety I’d been experiencing for years, but I needed to see a doctor first, as my insurance required me to get a referral before I could see a licensed therapist. I told the doctor I was experiencing severe anxiety and wanted help coping with it.
She asked what I was having anxiety about and I explained I’d always had anxiety, but currently I was worried about my boyfriend dying in a car accident and other people close to me possibly dying somehow as well.
But unfortunately for me, I was fat, so she sent me to a nutritionist.
Upset and embarrassed by this, I broke down in the nutritionist’s office and confessed that I needed help with the fear of my boyfriend dying. I admitted to checking accident reports whenever he didn’t answer his phone, and sometimes even after he already had answered, because what if he got in an accident after our phone call ended five minutes ago?
The nutritionist was befuddled by my hysterical state and I left—with no therapist referral—and never went back.
Shortly after that, I got engaged, and moved to Ohio, where my then-fiancé received a job offer. My fiancé always tried to check on me and make certain I was okay, but I suffered silently in my own head, constantly ruminating and checking through my thoughts for reasons and certainty.
But still, life was looking better. I mean, I was engaged and we had a home that was ours together. Even better than that, my fiancé continued to come home from work, and when he continuously didn’t get into a car accident that killed him, I eventually started to think about it happening less and less.
I thought I was finally learning to cope with my anxiety. It felt good.
And that was my first positive experience with exposure therapy, whether I knew it or not.
Then I turned 22, and an obsession so volatile was born.
This is the obsession that finally broke me. It ripped me to shreds and sewed me back up, only to rip me apart again and again and again. It broke me in several moments, all of them excruciatingly painful, each in their very own nightmarish ways.
But I’m getting ahead of myself again, aren’t I?
It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was home alone.
My then fiancé was at work. He worked a lot back then. 60 hours for 6 days a week. That particular day, I was starting to feel anxious, so I decided I would call a friend to distract myself.
I dialed the number and went to hit the call button, but I must have missed it, because when I put my phone up to my ear, there wasn’t any ringing. I started to pull the phone away from my ear, but then I heard it.
There was a clicking noise in my phone.
Panic gripped my chest.
Why would there be a clicking noise in MY phone?
Here is where I protect my inner-peace by not telling you this specific intrusive thought or the devilish obsession it blossomed into.
And yes, I do feel guilty for leaving you hanging like that, but you see, I’m not writing this to divulge every sick intrusive thought that infiltrates my brain.
I’m writing this because I have OCD, and I’m bitter as hell about it.
Not bitter because I have OCD, either. That isn’t it at all. I mean, I’ve always had OCD. The only difference now is that I know, and trust me when I tell you that makes quite the difference in how to cope with it.
OCD is treatable, and I feel so fortunate to be currently learning that.
I’m truly not bitter that I have OCD.
I’m bitter because I thought my house had to be constantly clean in order to have OCD.
I’m bitter because I never color code my closet.
I’m bitter because I can never keep my shit organized.
I’m bitter because OCD is beyond misunderstood, and if it weren’t, then maybe people who have OCD would get help a lot sooner.
I needed that help so badly it hurts to think about it. Tears burn my eyes whenever I do. I was so alone, locked in the prison of my mind, fearing I was a disgusting and horrendous person all because of the thoughts in my head.
I’m only now starting to learn that I’m not a disgusting and horrendous person, and that’s the real reason I’m writing this, because now I know I was never alone in feeling the way that I did.
I’m writing this because I know that getting therapy is a privilege and that so many people like me are not receiving the therapy they need.
So no, I’m not writing this to exploit every intrusive thought or obsession I’ve ever had. I’m writing this for every person that is unknowingly struggling with OCD.
I want to tell them what my therapist told me, because everyone that has OCD deserves to hear it, whether they have a doctor or not.
A person who fears they would hurt someone just because they thought it is not a person who would hurt someone, because people who hurt people would never feel so torn up over the mere thought of doing so.
You are not a bad person.
You’re just a human with OCD and a messy house, and that doesn’t invalidate your mental illness.
If you can seek help, please do it.
It is treatable.