I have OCD. Not many people know this about me because I fight hard to conceal it. Always checking and rechecking and then checking some more. It embarrasses me.
When I worked in law offices as a legal assistant or paralegal, I knew what I was doing was of high importance. Due to the stress of the job’s responsibility, everyday anxiety riddled my body from head to toe. If I had to mail anything such as a demand letter, settlement statement, a complaint, or a brief, the OCD would shut me down and take over my body.
Checking Something for the 10th Time Should be Against the Law
Due to the enormous amount of anxiety and fear I felt, I created check-off sheets for almost every task I had to do. Once the tasks were all checked off, I would go back through and reassure myself that each item was completed and received their mark appropriately in turn….multiple times.
On my desk, I would set up a sort of assembly line with the envelopes. I would not seal the envelopes after they were stuffed. Oh, no! I had to check each individual envelope to make sure I scanned the documents, made copies, and I had put the correct material in the correct mailer.
When I got to the stamp machine, I would always analyze a third and fourth time to see if all the material was properly placed in the precise envelope.
There were times when I did not get a resolution for my anxiety for weeks, maybe months. The angst ate away at my belly.
Who is Affected by OCD?
There are probably a small handful of people in your life who have OCD but you will never know. Right this very minute, someone you know may have the symptoms of OCD. Could it be your neighbor, teacher, best friend, mother, social worker, the lifeguard, your pastor, your fiance, CSR, or mailman? Yet somebody might not know the counting and the washing are part of a disorder which can be treated.
Millions of people are affected by OCD. Currently, in the U.S., there are approximately 1 in 40 adults (about 2.3% of the population) also 1 in 100 children have this condition.
Trying to Scratch an Itch that won’t Go Away
I have instances where I do not remember locking the back door. Even though I am already 8 minutes into my commute, I will turn around at the next exit off the freeway and go back home. 9.9 out of 10 times the door happened to always be locked.
Or it could be the stove that I thought was left turned on (and actually was never turned on by me or my husband that morning).
That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that you would rather be 10 minutes late to work then have your stomach spend the entire day in knots. The uncertainty that bubbles up from your gut telling you the stove was left on unattended compels you to right the wrong, scratch the itch or satisfy a desire.
I will not be completely and thoroughly satisfied until I drive back home and check the stove. Period.
The Anxious Questions in my Mind stick like Crazy Glue
Locking the car doors and putting the key into the ignition, I catch a glimpse of the front door. Did I lock it? Did I pull the door all the way closed? The questions of uneasiness reverberate in the space between my ears.
Unlocking the car doors and grabbing my keys, I jog up to the ugly burnt-orange door and giggle the knob. Locked.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid!” I said hotly under my breath toward the only person standing outside our townhouse. “Why can’t I stop this?!” fell on deaf ears and splashed unannounced on the concrete stoop.
Nearly turning back to the car and going about my day, is when a thick fog of disbelief enshrouds my brain. Did I REALLY lock it? I pulled out the front door key and slid it into the keyhole. With a firm grip on the knob, I turned the key to the left 1 time, 2 times, 3 times, and one more for good measure.
After I breathed a sigh of relief, I marched my way back to the car. As I pulled out of the parking space, I felt a twinge of doubt dribble down my neck. I could lock 100 doorknobs and I would never be truly satisfied.
Things should be tidy. For example, I want everything in its place when not in use. I am constantly picking up the three remotes and placing them on the TV stand. Or removing things from the dining room table. And putting shoes and clothes away. Even the dishwasher should be loaded up a certain way. And yes, I will unload and reload to get it “just right”.
On the flip side, I am not compulsive about cleaning. I get so overwhelmed with my mental illness, my work, and the house that I can’t do it all. Usually, the cleaning gets lost in the chaos.
Why do I get so anxious if I do not do these things?
One of the many bad things about OCD is that there is usually a co-occurring disorder that hitches a ride with OCD, and like an unwelcome guest, sets up shop in your spare bedroom for the long haul. It could be nearly any combination. For instance, I have bipolar 1 and OCD (with a bunch of other mental illnesses like ADHD and GAD).
Anxiety, major depression, and eating disorders are a few that can co-exist in your mind and body. As you can imagine, it is difficult finding a diagnosis for someone with a mental illness. I would like to suggest a few things that have helped me discover and embrace OCD in my life.
This single tool is the best thing I have ever used in my therapy. Keeping a mental diary has actually saved my life. Because I kept one, I was able to see that the decrease in one of my meds was actually causing me to be depressed. So depressed that I wanted to die.
I am afraid to admit that I do not use it like I should. Kicking myself in the pants each time my doctor asks questions about a particular drug’s side effects. What I will do is I will scribble notes on Post-It Notes which happen to be incomplete and without dates.
Trust me, this is something worth pursuing. It allows you to give the details your pdoc (psychiatrist) needs in order to treat you.
In all honesty, I do my best to stay positive. The worse thing to do in the middle of an OCD episode is to berate yourself. What would you say if a child was having similar issues? Would you yell at him or her? Would you tell them they are stupid? No! Of course not. Soothe yourself. Tell yourself it will be alright and that you are loved.
I practice breathing a lot throughout the day. Intentional breathing helps to focus me. It shuts out all the noise. When I do this, I usually pray and ask God to help me through the situation.
As you can see, OCD can come in different flavors. You have checking, counting, and arranging to just name a few. OCD may come into your life with another mental illness. Whatever the situation, you will need support from your pdoc, a therapist, friends, and family.
In this blog post, I also shared with you some tips that I have used to manage my OCD, et al. My favorite tool is to breathe. I know I can breathe because I do it all the time. I suggest when an episode comes on, start breathing normally. Then concentrate solely on your breathing. It would help if you closed your eyes. In and out. In and out. Begin relaxing the muscles in your face, neck, shoulders, chest, you get the idea. Keep breathing deeply as you relax more and more.
If you enjoyed this post about OCD, please leave a comment and share with your friends. Also, what kind of tools do you use to manage your OCD? Leave a note in the comment section. I would love to hear from you!