I don’t think it’s an accident that I started showing signs of OCD in my early preteen years, right around the time I entered middle school and started wearing a back brace part of the day, in addition to the nights, to correct my crooked spine.
I was afraid of other illnesses and accidents happening to me or my family. I worried that if I didn’t knock on wood (a casual superstition to many people), that I could cause bad things to happen to my loved ones.
I became terrified about germs and washed my hands so often they bled. I showered after school and tried to keep my school things from contaminating my home.
I felt shame over all these things and tried to do all these things as quietly and superstitiously as possible. I felt that having these compulsions meant I was crazy or weak and I didn’t want anyone to know that about me.
Yet they also made me feel like I had some control over what was going on with me and to prevent further illnesses or negative things from entering my life.
These symptoms and needs ebbed and flowed during different times. No one ever thought of them as being symptomatic of OCD, or that OCD was an actual mental illness. It was just me being weird, just more of my quirks.
It wasn’t until I moved in with a partner and couldn’t cook dinner because I was panicking that I would poison us with non-existent mold on different vegetables that I couldn’t keep it hidden or at the level of a quirk.
I had to call my parents to reassure me that the vegetables were in fact just fine. They had to reassure me that the flour was also fine, the berries weren’t rotting, and the flecks on the bread were there because the bread was whole wheat.
I don’t know that many people could relate to that, but if you can, I’m writing this for you. It’s hard to feel and look crazy and have no idea why you’re crying and breaking down over green peppers.
OCD is mocked and joked about, but many people don’t get help for it. The symptoms are often experienced as odd and shameful. I have trouble admitting some of my more extreme moments to my partner.
When I first went to a psychiatrist, I cried out of shame.
My fear of being thought crazy is only balanced by my need for reassurance. I need to be told that things will be okay.
Sometimes that sounds like, no your migraine is not an aneurysm. No your computer does not have a virus despite an ad downloading flashplayer, your virus scan security says your computer is fine so it is fine.
Yes you are a good person even if you can’t go to the march.
Yes you can need alone time and still be a good partner. You are a good friend even if aren’t up for a late party today.
No, you won’t get tetanus after cutting yourself. No you are not a bad daughter if it is too stressful to visit your parents where they live.
Yes it’s okay to ask your parents to visit you.
Yes you are fine.
No you weren’t rude when you didn’t give up your seat on the train for an elderly person when you hurt.
No your friend doesn’t dislike you just because they didn’t have time to talk to you today.
No your advisor doesn’t think you’re an idiot because you didn’t remember the book they were talking about.
No, your students don’t think you’re boring (this last one might have been a friend being kind last semester!).
It’s sometimes constant, but it helps when the meds and the self talk do not, and furthermore, by reaching out I have to make the shame heard.
And Brene Brown teaches that this is the way to get past shame, to expose it to sunlight so that like a vampire it dies. Instead shame is replaced with openness and understanding that leads the way to true connection.
So by reaching out, speaking my shame-here and when I need reassurance—I am trying to connect and laying my shame to rest.
(I 100% recommend anything and everything written by Brene Brown! She is amazing).