Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Is No Joke
People can’t conceive of primarily obsessional obsessive-compulsive disorder, where the worries never transmute into a physical compulsion but balloon instead inside the brain. Or of the false memory, the Frankenstein’s monster of an intrusive thought, one ruminated over so long that it solidifies into a grotesque imitation of the truth. Or of trichotillomania, the disorder so often co-morbid with OCD that compels me to pull out my hair.
My OCD assumed a recognizable form the first time around. By the time I was fourteen I was touching every item in my bedroom, while repeating a nonsensical phrase before I could go to sleep or leave the house. I ate, showered, and slept according to strict patterns, all governed by the number four. I couldn’t wear new clothes or allow a new item into my bedroom. Instead, I balled them into plastic bags and hid them under my mam’s bed. We screamed at each other every time she found them, because I didn’t know how to explain.
I ate exactly four Cheerios for breakfast. I tucked in every chair at the dining table four, sixteen, thirty-two times. I wore the same too-short school trousers every day, to the endless amusement of two snickering boys on my bus. I repeated every number I ever saw sixteen times. Before long, I could recite by heart the phone number from every real estate agent’s placard in my hometown.
After a brief round of cognitive behavioral therapy, my OCD returned, newly metamorphosed. I became acutely paranoid, compelled to ask every classmate if they were talking about me — which pretty soon they were, because I was demonstrably mental. Two years after I left that school, a boy sent me a mocking Facebook message, telling me he’d heard someone talking about me on the bus. I deleted the message. Then deactivated my account. And then I cried.
The third, and worst, iteration of my illness was primarily obsessional OCD, which bloomed like mold when I was twenty. My anxiety zeroed in on the Internet. I scoured Facebook for entire days, searching for half-remembered status updates that inexplicably made my brain itch. I messaged classmates I barely knew when we took math together, let alone six years later, and begged them to delete photos where I appeared only as a dim shape in the background. I lost friends because I couldn’t explain why I needed an ancient wall post gone — not to them or to myself. I felt as though something else was steering the ship; as though every day I woke up to a mind that was less and less my own.
I feared, too, that I was a bad person, who might have hurt people like childhood bullies had once hurt me. I agonized over things I’d said, and how they could have been interpreted. On the worst days, I tortured myself over things I’d never said at all….
-Emily Dixon, Time Magazine