I call my dad. I count to four.
His name then he’ll walk through the door.
He doesn’t come? Well, I’ll repeat.
One to four, counting with a beat.
If I count wrong, oh god that’s bad.
Things will happen that will make me sad.
So I bend my fingers each in turn.
One to five.
Do it on each hand.
My brain, it tells me that I can stop
But my hands, my voice, they do not.
On and on, and endless cycle.
It needs to be perfect or I’ll carry on.
For ten year old me, these thoughts didn’t seem unreasonable. If I didn’t count to four in perfect rhythm, each number the same, something bad would happen.
When I was young, people just thought that I stressed a lot, and that I was just an anxious child. Only in recent years with the access to Google that I finally found out about OCD and its symptoms.
OCD is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s classified by obsessions or ‘intrusive thoughts’ made by the mind that cannot be shaken, leading to the person believing bad things will happen if they do not complete this obsession.
For me, this manifested itself in many different ways. I had a really bad germ phobia on top of everything, and I would panic if someone so much as coughed near me. At one point, I was scared to walk on grass because of the germs the floor could be carrying. When I went to the bathroom to wash my hands, the soap and water had to go over my wrists and to the same point halfway up both of my forearms. If the water wasn’t equal, I would have to make it equal.
I would wash my hands for ridiculously long periods of time and would brush my teeth for a minimum of six minutes. I couldn’t touch things I considered ‘dirty.If there wasn’t a sink nearby I would sink into a panic.
As well as this, I had compulsions to touch items in very specific places, and if it didn’t feel exactly the way I needed it to, I would have to repeat the action again and again until it turned out right. I still do this to this day and it’s incredibly hard to fight the compulsion. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and starts to build up my anxiety.
A good example of this is with my computer mouse. I often tap it on the table when I’m bored or working, but if the whole mouse doesn’t tap all at once and feel exactly right in my hand, I have to repeat it. And since the outcome I want is extremely unlikely to happen, I can get wound up doing this for minutes, which can really make me look weird in computer classes at school.
I tried to hide my compulsions from others, I didn’t want anyone to know how I washed my hands for five minutes straight so I knew that they would be clean or how I rhythmically dug my fingers into my palms before I went to bed each night so something bad wouldn’t happen to me. Luckily for me, my mom saw straight through my weak attempts at disguising it and took me to a therapist. Therapy helped me so much. As a small child, I didn’t fully understand what I was feeling, and she helped me combat it subconsciously so I wouldn’t be consumed so much in real life.
Now, my OCD is a lot better. I still get compulsions often, but I’m more equipped for handling them. It’s amazing what understanding what you’re going through can do to help.
So how do you cope with OCD?
OCD is different for everyone, and someone else might experience completely different things to me, but the main things that can help - and what really helped me - are therapy, research and being open about what you’re going through to other people.
Compulsions can be scary, especially when you don’t fully understand why you ‘need’ to do something, but as soon as you start to understand OCD and what compulsions are, you instantly become better equipped for handling them, and it can even make them seem smaller, because of your newfound knowledge. Research is a good idea, but you need to make sure you’re being careful as well. The internet is super helpful, but can also spread lies. A good source for mental health advice and questions is the youtube channel psych2go, the link for which is: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkJEpR7JmS36tajD34Gp4VA .The information is reliable and covers a broad range of topics.
Being open about what you are going through is extremely important. I still struggle with this on a day to day basis because I ‘don’t want to inconvenience others’ or ‘seem weak’, but when your peers and family around you know what you are going through, the support you can get makes it a million times easier to cope with. Imagine the weight that has been on your shoulders for a while now. It’s big, right? Now picture sharing that with someone else and lessening the load. Doesn’t that feel better? That’s an accurate representation of what it feels like to talk about what you’re going through. It can be scary at first, but trust me, in the end it’s all worth it.
I’ve talked about therapy before in my article about anxiety, but it’s worth mentioning again. It’s very similar to being open to someone as there is someone there to listen to you, but it can actually help more as you know that everything you say is being said to a professional that knows how to handle what you’re going through.
I hope my experiences can help anyone else reading this who is experiencing similar symptoms in life. And remember, you’re not alone.