Written by anonymous
I developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when my sister had a seizure about a decade ago. She was in my bed with my mom while I slept on the floor, and around 4 a.m., she began convulsing. I flipped on the light and stood paralyzed at the sight of my mother screaming next to her flailing body, coming dangerously close to the wall.
I watched from a window in the neighbor’s house, over a mixing bowl filled with pancake batter, as paramedics loaded my family into an ambulance.
The panic that I felt in that moment has yet to disappear, and in an attempt to manage it, I’ve accumulated a number of rituals and involuntary compulsions. But they aren’t helpful – they’re harmful to me and those around me. They give me a false sense of security and make it very difficult for people to get close to me.
The Diagnostic Systems Manual (DSM) 5 states that the general components of OCD include obsessions and compulsions that interfere with one’s life. They could be excessive, intrusive, repetitive or persistent thoughts, and may not pose as a true threat. Furthermore, OCD includes ritualistic behavior and compulsions that take up to an hour and are done to reduce anxiety. The rituals and compulsions vary from person to person.
OCD can get worse when provoked. Lately I’ve been stressed, and the rituals are slowly creeping in, unbeknownst to me and my loved ones.
My back gets tight and my palms get fluttery. The room spins and I’m dizzy. I lose control. I feel helpless and I want to puke. I feel tired but I can’t sleep. I want to run but I can’t move. I create worst-case-scenarios to brace myself for unlikely situations, and throw myself into a tailspin at the slightest presence of uncertainty. I try to predict the future, but I can’t and often times, I end up ruining it.
Thoughts flood in. I create situations in my head and replay them over and over again. I could be staring at a television and they still play out. I can’t turn the thoughts off, no matter how irrational they are. And that’s where the rituals come in.
The week following my sister’s seizure, I created compulsions, or routines, to help me fend off any possibility of another seizure, as well as to prevent anxious thoughts and feelings. At the time, I didn’t know what they were and I had no clue that OCD even existed.
I focused on the rituals I felt I could control such as which lights are around, how many times I can get a stair to squeak or the cleanliness of my bedroom. My rationale was that if the world looked right, then my mind and the events that unfurled would follow suit. The rituals snowballed, but nobody picked up on them because I tried to keep them a secret. That changed in college, when the symptoms manifested as an eating disorder.
As a junior in college who was working 3 jobs, I was desperate to control something other than my grades. I began counting calories. I ran miles and miles and lifted weight after weight. I watched the number on the scale plummet. By the time I had widdled down from 145 lbs to 110, it was clear that I was trying to do something more than lose a few pounds. Many people with eating disorders also struggle with OCD, or other anxiety disorders.
I’ve since learned that the world is out of my control, with or without my rituals. My sister had another seizure as the years passed and I inevitably endured other hardships. I recognize that rituals are not helpful for managing my thoughts, and through therapy and mindfulness techniques I’ve learned how to control my own happiness in other ways.
Sometimes, in high-stress situations, the rituals come back. The thoughts and the feelings and compulsions return and I lose sight of reality. But those who love me understand that I’m doing my best, as are they.