I have lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for as long as I can remember. It started when I was younger, my mother noticed that I needed to touch everything. This included the leather boots of a friend of hers who came over to visit. As soon as the woman sat down, I immediately laid down next to her and “petted” the boots à la Gollum. Thankfully I was young and the woman was a good friend, so it seemed less creepy.
The need to touch everything continued and my mother started to worry that something was very wrong. She found me straightening the fringe on our oriental rugs, separating out colours compulsively and checking on random things obsessively. I became increasingly obsessed with our dogs getting out, so much so that I would check the locks on the doors in the middle of the night. I scared my mother to death walking around the house at all hours. Whenever she would catch me out of bed and ask me what I was doing up at such an hour, I would respond with, “Just checking.” Just checking the locks. Just checking the dogs. Just checking that the lights were off. Just checking that everything was where it was supposed to be.
Around the age of six, my mother had finally had enough. She dragged me to a therapist who wouldn’t allow me to touch anything or rearrange his desk. It was torture. He made me sit still for the entire two-hour session and would even tie my hands together so I couldn’t fidget with things. When my mother found out he practiced this way, she immediately found another therapist. I started to learn ways to control my compulsions. Playing with rubber bands, strings and even reading books. When I didn’t show enough progress, however, the second therapist put me on medication. It zombied me out completely and my mother had them take me off medication shortly after.
It was around this time that I left for Vienna and without any sort of therapy, my compulsions began to get worse. I would spend hours perfecting my ballet technique, to the detriment of my growing body. Even at such a young age, I began obsessing over my weight. I would weigh up to four times day, often sneaking into the weighing room in-between practices. I would go long periods without eating very much and was constantly in the clinic due to dehydration. Ballet gave my OCD an outlet. I could control every aspect of dance and it was an obsessive compulsive’s nirvana.
When I left Vienna, my mother noticed how bad I had become right way. She put me back in therapy three days a week, but did not allow me to take any medications. Slowly I got better and eventually I was only attending 1-2 sessions a month. The last therapist I had in Poland was my favourite. She was kind, knowledgeable and would let me rearrange her desk. She realized that if she could teach me how to quiet my disorder and focus, I could motivate myself to excel at any task set before me. She pinpointed my worst obsessive compulsive meltdowns to periods of intense stress and she then tried to teach me different techniques to mediate stress. Leaving her behind when I moved to the States was difficult and I found it harder to control my disorder.
Throughout my years in school, I tried to hide my tics and compulsive behaviors from my peers. I was terrified that one of them would out me after seeing a tic or ask me questions about why I was constantly fidgeting with something. Thankfully I was never confronted about my disorder directly, though it did garner me some strange looks from lab partners. I managed to excel in high school, even though I had to deal with my obsessive compulsive behaviors. It did bother me when my friends would tease about having OCD. They would fix a spot on a poster and say something like, “Oh my G-d, I totally have OCD” or “She is so OCD about…” I never liked how OCD was treated so non-nonchalantly.
Throughout university, I began to extensively research how to deal with obsessive compulsive disorder and its subsequent tics. I spoke with my professors and physicians about treatments, attended weekend lecture series and spent a good chunk of my time learning to control my compulsions. By the end of medical school, I was well-versed in areas of OCD treatment and was able to deal with it.
All of my research led me to conclude that, while not curable, obsessive compulsive disorder can be controlled. I found that through a combination of medications, psychotherapy, physical activity and stress mediation, I could control the majority of my compulsions. I began focusing my energy on specific hobbies (which would often cause me to procrastinate in other areas) until I was an expert. By learning about how to treat OCD, I (ironically) felt more in control. This caused me to focus on “curing” my disorder and ultimately I was able to overcome a lot of my tics.
So what do I have to say to those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder? Don’t give up. You can learn to live with OCD, even though it may be hard, you can persevere. Actively seek treatment, learn what sets you off, teach yourself how to mediate stressful situations (or avoid them all together). Find support groups, look to your support system that surrounds you and learn how to live with your tics. You shouldn’t be ashamed of having OCD and you shouldn’t have to stress about hiding it.
Question(s): Do you know someone with OCD? Do you suffer from OCD?