My alarm goes off. Once. Twice. I roll over in my groggy half-asleep state to snooze it for another 30 minutes. I’m tired, because last night I stayed up too late surfing through the web. Again.
30 minutes go by. Before my alarm can go off, pure panic jolts me from my slumber. My heart beats as fast as a hummingbird’s. All of the articles I was reading to appease my OCD’s hunger entered my subconscious in the form of a dream. I should know by now that giving articles as treats to my OCD to keep it quiet, only feeds it and makes it grow.
“Did I like the dream? Was I turned on by the dream?” In the dream, I had kissed one of my female friends. Anxiously, I tremble underneath my sheets. I review the images from the dream trying to make sense of them. “Does the dream mean something about my sexuality?” I desperately check my body for signs of arousal: quickening heartbeat, that warm feeling in my vagina, blushing, etc. “I can’t tell if I’m aroused. Why can’t I tell?”
Now if this is the first exposure you’ve had to sexual-orientation OCD, this may seem strange. This kind of OCD isn’t talked about due to its graphic sexual content. However, thousands of people around the world suffer from it.
I have what is called Pure O Intrusive Thought Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. What a name, I know. It is a mental illness comprised of sticky intrusive thoughts that cause me great distress every day.
These intrusive thoughts are common. Many people have them. Think about if you have every been holding a knife in your hand and have gotten the thought, “I wonder what it would be like to stab someone with it.” For most of you, when these thoughts occur, you think to yourself that was a weird thought and you move on with your day. However, for me, it is next to impossible to let them go. I ruminate on them, check how I feel about them, and obsessively try to figure out what they might mean about me. I can’t let the thought go until I’m 100% sure they aren’t true.
The theme of someone’s OCD always attacks what matters most to them. I want a family and a great love with a man; I’ve known that since I was very small. Because this want is so great, my OCD latches on to it. It tries to convince me that I’m gay and in denial, when deep down I know I’m just straight. People on the LGTBQAI spectrum can also have sexual-orientation OCD that tries to convince them their sexuality has changed.
There are other themes as well. Remember the intrusive thought about the knife? Well, that’s called Harm OCD. People can also have more than one theme at a given time. I have Relationship OCD too. Regardless of the theme, these thoughts target my identity and make me feel like I don’t know myself at all.
Back to the story: After I finish monitoring my physiological responses, the image of licking a vagina pop up inside my mind like one of those annoying website ad pop-ups. (you know, the ones that sometimes cause viruses?) I gag, shudder, and cover my head with my pillow. “Just go away. Please just go away.” To my chagrin, I check my body again. I can’t help it.
I finally get up to get ready for the day. The clock reads 10:00. “Shit.” I have to be in class at 10:50; I’m already running late. “Why can’t I stop obsessing? I’m such a horrible human being.”
As I get up, I trip over my shoes I forgot to put away in the closet the night before. “Your room only gets messy when you are not in a healthy state of mind…” “Yeah I know, thanks thoughts.”
Still mulling this over, I make a beeline for the bathroom to take a quick shower. As I close the door, the mental chatter starts again. “You need to take a 10 minutes shower or else you won’t make it to class.” “Thanks, self, for the reminder.” “You know you liked the dream you know.”
I turn on the bath and proceed to check my phone for the time. “He hasn’t texted you back. He loves her more than you. You are worthless.” My thoughts decide to remind me that my ex has moved on with someone else, and even though we are friends, his priority is her now. I don’t want to be thinking about this. I let out a horse’s sign and strip down to step into the shower. As I pass the mirror, I catch my reflection. “There are your boobs. Do you like looking at boobs? Are you attracted to your boobs? Are you attracted to your friend’s boobs?” I get an image in my mind of holding someone else’s breast. I shudder. I check my body for signs of arousal while replaying the image in my mind. “I can’t tell what I want anymore.”
I take my shower, all the while trying not to think about my breasts, or anyone else’s breasts to keep the questioning at bay. I shampoo and lather. An image of my ex and his new girlfriend pops up in my head. Oh boy. Anxiety churns in my stomach. I Rinse. I condition and lather. “How do you know you aren’t just gay and in denial?” I angrily soap my body. “If I was gay and in denial, I wouldn’t have had this theme of OCD for 11 years of my life.” That quiets the thoughts for a minute.
30 minutes later, I have barely made it to class. I take a seat in the back of the lecture hall, against the wall where everyone sits when they are late. A few students trickle in behind me, and I get a feeling of relief knowing I’m not the only one. Looking to my left, I notice that there is a girl sitting not too far from me. “She’s really pretty. Do you want to kiss her? Look at her lips, they are so glossy. You wouldn’t be noticing that if you weren’t gay.” I quickly avert my eyes and stare at the ground. Her lips flash before my eyes for a minute. “Am I aroused? Am I aroused? Am I aroused?” There is a deafening rush that drowns out any sound around me as panic courses through my body. Everything that’s happening externally of me falls away and all I’m left with is myself, my thoughts, my sensations, and my emotions. “It’s just a thought. It doesn’t mean anything.”
I pull out my notebook in an attempt to distract and self-soothe. My professor puts his PowerPoint up on the projector and begins the lecture. “Today, we are learning about Neanderthals in Europe,” he says. “Great, a topic that has no possible triggers.” I breathe a sigh of relief. He switches to another PowerPoint slide. A shockwave ripples down my body. Right in front of me, there is a very shapely and naked woman figurine right there for the world to see. “Boobs! Look at her boobs! Do you like looking at her boobs?” I look around frantically, trying to see if anyone else seems rattled by this imagery. If that’s the case, no one lets on. “There are her boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs.” I avert my eyes again. I check. My body doesn’t seem to have any signs of arousal this time. I check again and again. I need to be sure that there is no chance I was turned on. I feel like a crazy person. For the rest of the class, my attention is split between coping down lecture content and my mental game of ping-pong. “You should just come out already. You’re obviously gay. Gay. Gay. Gay.” I can’t hear much of what my professor is saying even though I know it’s interesting. The thoughts are just too damn loud.
It’s 1:10, and I’m back in the lecture hall for my second class. It’s a pretty big lecture hall with cushioned seats in rows. I always sit in the middle because it has the best view of the board. My friend *Layla comes and sits down next to me. It’s good to see her. She chats with me about her weekend and then asks me about mine. I half want to tell her about my hours of googling, but I don’t even know how I would begin that conversation. “I didn’t do much,” I reply. “She looks so pretty today. Do you want to kiss her? Are you attracted to her as more than friends?” I groan inwardly. This is not the time for intrusive thoughts. I just want to have an uninterrupted positive conversation with a friend. Dutifully, I scan my body for arousal. “Is my vagina wet? No. Wait maybe. I can’t tell.”
My body feels like a potion’s being crafted inside of me containing ¼ cup stomach anxiety, a tablespoon of nervous arousal, a dash of the shudders, half a gag reflex finely chopped, stirred with a spoon of uncertainty. Regardless, I need to act normal. Thankfully *Layla supplies conversation. “How’s your cat doing?” *Layla asks me. I answer somewhat enthusiastically “He’s such a good fluff!” “I am gay and attracted to you. I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay.” I check my anxiety levels. “That’s so good to hear. He’s so adorable.” *Layla replies. I focus on my breathing. “If you were straight, you wouldn’t be noticing how attractive other girls are.” I glance around the lecture hall trying to find an attractive guy. I find one sitting a couple of rows behind me. “But do you really think he is attractive though, or are you just making yourself think that?” I make a fist with my hand and dig my palm into my fist. “Deep breaths Winter, deep breaths. It’s going to be okay.” I pull out my phone to show *Layla my cat, and pretty soon it’s lecture time.
2:00 rolls around and class lets out. *Layla and I part ways at the bus stop. My apartment is so close that I usually just walk home. The fresh air is nice after a long day of classes. The familiar urge surges up within me. “Has someone with HOCD been falsely attracted to their friends before? Are the feelings of attraction real? Did I feel aroused when I was with her?” *Layla’s face pops up into my head. I imagine what it would be like to kiss her. My whole body shudders. “You shuddered, see that just means it’s OCD and not denial.” That piece of mental reassurance does me no good. I have to know for sure. I pull out my phone and start googling articles while I walk, to try to find one that will answer my question. I briefly look up from my phone and notice a pretty cute guy walk past. “Is he actually cute though or are you just saying that because you are in denial?” I glance back down at my phone screen again. I look through forums, HOCD blog posts, Facebook groups, anything that will provide me with a crumb of reassurance. Finally, one pops up that tells me that yes, in fact, it is quite common for HOCD suffers to get false attractions to same-sex individuals. A sense of relief washes over me and I feel okay again, for the moment.
I make it home and plop myself down on the couch to watch some Parks and Rec. I have three hours before I have to go into work, and, while I should be reading for class, I just don’t have the energy.
Those three hours fly by too fast and it’s time to go into work. I notice I haven’t had many thoughts since I read the article. “Does that mean that the thoughts are actually true, and I’ve just accepted them?” Shaking that thought out of my head, I put on my Starbucks approved clothing, grab my phone and purse, and lock my door behind me. It’s only a 10-minute walk from my apartment, but I’m running late again.
Managing to make it just in time, I walk through the café to the back where I punch in. My shift-lead *Ganesha is sitting in front of the computer. “They are looking very beautiful today. Are you attracted to them? Would you want to have sex with them in the back room?” I gag, smile, and ask them how their day is going. “You may not have been attracted to *Layla, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t attracted to *Ganesha.” I get an image of *Ganesha’s vagina in my head. My body feels awful and, in that instant, I want to go home; but I put on a brave face and pretend like nothing is wrong. “You haven’t been very attracted to guys recently. That’s probably because you are actually gay.” “I remember reading that an HOCD suffers attraction to the opposite sex sometimes goes away when their obsessions get really bad. That’s probably all that’s happening.” This time I don’t need to google. It’s easier to focus on my work that when I know I have a job to do. I go out on the floor and soon I fall into the rhythm of the café. It’s nice to be in a place that has a routine, as my thoughts create such a chaotic existence usually. My coworker, *Finnigan, comes up to me and suddenly I find myself laughing for the first time all day at his jokes. “Hey Winter, it’s good to see you,” my other coworker *Jane says to me. “I’m happy to be here,” I reply smiling. For the rest of my shift, when the thoughts come (even if I get triggered by coworkers or customers), they don’t seem quite as strong.
*All names have been changed