Disclaimer: I would rate this post as PG-13
If I defined my relationship with OCD on facebook, the status would most definitely be “It’s complicated”. On one hand, it is the most manageable part of my mental illness. The medication prevents majority of the thoughts and the techniques I’ve learned manage the ones medication does not prevent. On the other hand, it can be the scariest and most disturbing part of my mental illness.
My struggle with OCD began at a very young age. I had several hamsters when I was younger. In true Nicole fashion, I liked the dwarf hamsters (the under dogs) and named them adorable things like Precious. I remember checking my hamster’s cage to make sure he had water several times before I would go to bed. Then I’d lay awake waiting for my parents to go to sleep so I could get up and check it again. While lying in bed, all I could see was my poor hamster lying dead in his cage from dehydration.
I remember having disturbing thoughts of cutting myself as early as the age of 10. I have very vivid memories of thinking of cutting my legs, but more often my female parts. I never understood why I was cutting these parts, but now I’ve learned that this is “normal” since most OCD obsessions relate to violence and sexual perversion. The thoughts would appear without warning and plague me throughout the day. Even at night I could not escape them, as I would dream about harming myself.
As I got older and learned more about sexual acts and self-harm, the thoughts became more graphic and more frequent. [Side Note: The increase in frequency is a typical pattern of untreated OCD]. I told myself I was simply hearing voices—it was like the imaginary friend I had when I was younger. Except this friend was mean to me! Hearing voices is not particularly comforting, but it’s definitely more comforting than believing the horrible thoughts were my own.
I then started obsessing that I had been molested when I was younger—it got to the point that I had to quit volunteering with the church youth program because being around young children caused significant amounts of stress and anxiety. As the thoughts became more frequent I started avoiding certain people and situations that triggered the thoughts, or I believed had taken part in the abuse. While it would have been a great excuse if the situations were things like cleaning the bathroom or doing homework. But they weren’t. It was spending time with certain family and friends.
The thoughts continued to plague me. While on a road trip in college, hoping to restore the memory of the abuse, I took a detour to South Carolina to see if I could find the house that I lived in when I was younger. Which if you know me is completely hilarious because sometimes I can’t even find my apartment now, let alone have a sense of direction for a house 15 years ago. I realized that, but the irrationality of the OCD thoughts had taken over.
I started to question if I was turned on when I taught young children swimming lessons, or took the Sunday school children to the bathroom. Was I going to hurt one of them? Otherwise why would I be thinking these thoughts?!
I researched “repressed memories” and tried several techniques to bring those memories to life, hoping that remembering them would allow me to treat them—but I couldn’t because those memories did not exist. I was never abused.
It took me over a year of therapy to finally discuss the issue with Rick; by that time I had done enough research on OCD to know the thoughts were obsessions and not true. I bribed myself with slushies for a week before I finally brought it up. But his response was perfect; “First I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do—we’re not going to go back looking for memories that don’t exist. What we are going to do is teach you how to handle/manage your OCD so it stops controlling your life.” I’ll discuss these techniques in a later post, but it was these sessions that finally freed me from the control of obsessions.
Opening up about my OCD is the scariest part of my illness. It makes me afraid that people will not want me around them or their children. Then I’ll have to turn into a crazy cat lady, and I don’t like cats nearly enough for that! I think it’s the one of the hardest mental illnesses to understand. After all, people without mental illness have feelings of intense sadness and stress, so on some level they can relate to depression and anxiety. But obsessions and compulsions are foreign to those who do not experience them.
Maybe at a later date I’ll share some of my journals when I was struggling with dark OCD thoughts…but the goal of this post was to provide an overview of my OCD experience.