Your entire body is submerged in water. Ice cold waves are crashing over your head, forcing your torso downwards. The strength of the tide is causing your muscles to ache with exhaustion. You’re barely able to swallow a breath before the next waves comes. You’re absolutely certain you’re minutes from death.
Then someone manages to throw you a rope.
You look up. Your family is waving frantically from the shore, your friends desperately pleading with you to take the rope into your hands. Relief begins to flood your veins. If you just grab it, then you can pull yourself to warm, safe land. You extend your arm, realizing that this is your one chance to escape the torment. But then…
“What if the rope snaps and I end up worse than I am now?” “Can I even make it all the way to shore?” “Are those really my loved ones or are they trying to trick me?” You recoil and drop your outstretched hand. The rope sinks. And you continue to thrash desperately in the water.
For me, living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can feel a lot like choosing to drown. I can see that there is a way to escape the endless onslaught of thoughts, but sometimes I just can’t seem to grab the rope.
Since I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until I was 24, I really struggle to determine whether my behavior is genuine or the result of an obsession. As a child, I experienced your stereotypical OCD symptoms (repeated actions, methodical behavior, counting) but, as I’ve gotten older, the vast majority of my symptoms have shifted internally. Now, I present as a perfectly well adjusted person who can laugh, smile and work a room all while secretly engaging in my compulsions.
Most of my friends are shocked when I tell them about my OCD. While they knew I had a tendency to fixate and had difficult dealing with change, my messiness seemed to preclude the possibility of actually having a disorder. [Fun fact, not every person with OCD cleans compulsively or fears germs…we’re not all Emma from Glee]
While some of my OCD does present in a visible manner (like having to walk in a specific way or laying out my clothes at night in the order that I put them on in the morning), I predominately deal with something called “Pure O.” It’s essentially OCD without the noticeable behavioral modifications. For instance, in high school I had a phobia of throwing up and all of my compulsions were centered around abating this fear.