I did a 3.2 mile walk in Oakland over the weekend with my therapy-boyfriend Matt to be a presence in the OCD community and show others (and myself) we are not alone!
Over the years I have been more open about having OCD and anxiety. In the past I thought if I did not tell people about it that maybe it would just go away or they would not pick up on it. However as guarded as I was, I let people into my life and had to open up communication and share my struggles.
I started noticing OCD symptoms when I was about six. I was in therapy at an early age but I do not think OCD ever came up: the focus was on interacting with others and anxiety, from what I remember. I have had a broad spectrum of OCD symptoms: from hand washing, lengthy showers and lock checking for the last 30 years. However what I struggle with most is Emotional Contamination OCD right now. Many people think OCD is just life with a Costco sized bottle of hand sanitizer and being super clean. That could be OCD for some and others like myself not so much.
Emotional Contamination is a term I learned recently and up until that point I believed I had Magical Thinking OCD (I do have a bit of that as well). Both forms are mostly mental, there are rituals to get rid of the fear that come with both. For me emotional contamination can be from people, words and even thoughts. A simple word can make me have a freak out session. If I am in a store and a certain word is said (I have a few triggers) and I am holding something to buy: I will put it back thinking said item is now dirty and might bring me bad luck or is full of 'germs'. I try to be discreet with my actions. I feel so much shame at times for my actions. I wish I could just get over it and if it was that easy I would have a long time ago. I do not expect others to understand this - I do not and I live with these thoughts all day and night - even in my dreams. I have been to doctors who do not even understand my fears - imagine that!
Having worries play in and out of my mind is tiring. I am tired a lot. I feel guilty for how tired I am at time. The average person gets up and goes to work, talks to people, interacts with society. To me that is draining. I get up, do yoga, see Matt off to work, do some house work and usually go back to bed. If I do not get extra sleep lately my eyes ache and my chest hurts. I get up up, eat, work on writing and answer emails. I try working with a schedule and planning my days to help me break things down and not be overwhelmed.
Sometimes I have my shit together! I can get things done, interact with people and not worry so much. Some days I am filled with so much panic that I need to shut down to even manage not falling apart. Having a conversation with me is useless on bad days - my mind is on another planet - full of doubts and fears. I feel this makes me a crappy person. Days like these I tend to avoid others so I feel less ashamed and not cause more harm than needed.
After all I do not have OCD to harm or hurt people. I did not choose to have OCD. I try to function withing my own set of rules just to make things less of a hassle for others. I feel like I let a lot of people down and this often brings on so much depression in me I just curl up in bed and cry. Last summer it was really bad and I had to fight so hard to just want to live. Everyday I struggled with not wanting to die. I feel so ashamed in even admitting this. I never want to hurt anyone and I know my sadness was making others sad. It took months to get out of this mood. I fear it will come back. I do have support now in the form of groups - both online and in person. I know others know how I feel and I can tell them my most offbeat thoughts and they have my back. It is comforting.
Please know that if you suffer from OCD that you are not alone. 40 million adults in the USA alone suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder. Even though at the OCD walk I stood out - lack of athletic gear + green eyebrows I know I am not the only one. At times when I feel my problems are bigger than the world I will hopefully find the strength to reach out to others for help and together we can share our stories. Within each story we are breaking down societies ideas of what mental health looks like and ending stigma. Maybe you are not ready to share your story yet but one day you will be and know that your story might just help another person.
My daily advice: take everyday as that day. Even breaking a day down by hours helps ease anxiety and the what-ifs that cloud my mind. Breathe, breathe, breathe! Hang in there!