It’s only been about five months since my first post on Breaking the Silence. Since then, I’ve been amazed at how many other people I’ve found who have similar blogs, other people who are trying to educate the masses on mental illness and help stop the stigma. I felt so alone as I started this journey, wondered if I really would be able to make a difference. Now I see that there are others, and if the many of us can affect even a few, a difference has been made, and that makes it all worth it.
I recently read a post on another blog from someone who doesn’t have mental illness, but was grateful for someone she knew who had been open about it and educated her on what it’s like to have OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m grateful, too, that people are coming to better understand, to see, to be more compassionate. Yet it’s such a big hurdle to jump, I’m not sure we’ll ever really be done. I’ve written about my depression and anxiety, and I had a friend share what it was like for her to live with OCD, but I haven’t gone in depth about my own struggle with OCD. I guess it’s time.
Despite understanding that has opened up about OCD, I think it is probably still one of the more misunderstood forms of mental illness. Someone hears OCD and the immediate image that comes to mind is a germaphobe who won’t touch anyone or anything and constantly has to wash their hands throughout the day. Or you may think of someone who won’t step on cracks, someone who has to do a certain thing a certain number of times each day. While this may be true for some people who have OCD it isn’t that way with all of us.
I’ve never cared much about the germ thing. I do take precautions when I go out, like wiping down a cart at the store before I use it, sanitizing my hands after I put gas in my car, washing my hands before I cook something, but I don’t obsess about it. It’s one of those things I just sort of throw from my mind. For me, OCD hits hard in the “obsessive” department. One of the biggest things I obsess about are things I say. I’m a somewhat socially awkward person. I definitely express myself better through the written word than the spoken word, and I feel like I say stupid things in conversation with others all of the time. It’s one of the reasons for my social anxiety. I often try to give myself excuses to stay away from social functions, not because I want to be alone or because I don’t like other people, but because I’m so afraid of saying something that I will later obsess about. Now I’m sure everyone says things at times that they regret, but I think about those things for weeks, months. Not just think, I obsess about it. I replay conversations or things I’ve said in my mind over and over and over and over again. I worry about what the person I was talking to thought of what I said over and over and over and over again. Did I offend them? Did they understand what I meant? Do they think I’m stupid now? Do they think I’m weird? Do they think I’m a bad person? Do they hate me? Will they ever talk to me again? Do I need to try to explain myself the next time I see them? Did I completely screw up my entire future because I said the wrong thing to that man in the grocery store? (Yep, that happened once.) The way I try to combat the obsessions, the compulsion, you could say I use, is to imagine up a different conversation. I imagine what I should have said, how they would have replied, with all ending in a much better scenario. But then I obsess about that for weeks and months as well. It’s like my brain thinks that if I think about it enough, if I replay it in my mind enough, it will make it true, or it will make it so the original obsession stops bothering me.
It might not sound so bad, but these obsessions mess with my life. I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about them. I often miss turns or exits when I’m driving because I’m so focused on the obsession. I don’t pay attention to my kids because all I can see and hear are the obsessions. That, in turn, makes me feel like I’m a horrible mom, and I’m wracked with such intense guilt.
It might be hard for someone who doesn’t have OCD to grasp just how intrusive and debilitating this illness is. I have, at times in my life, been able to manage my depression and anxiety, but OCD is one thing I still haven’t completely figured out. Maybe one reason I haven’t taken it more seriously is because of other people I have known who seem to have it so much worse, so I think mine must not be that bad. Yet I feel that it’s getting worse as time goes by. Perhaps this should be a new goal for me—to learn what I can do to get help for my OCD. Pesky goals. I just hope I don’t fail at this one.