Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD), as defined by Mayoclinic, is a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.
I have struggled with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder my whole life. I have often felt utterly alone and afraid. I cannot remember a time where I didn’t feel the pressure of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder or anxiety. I am not talking about feeling “so OCD” or being “anal retentive” or “liking things neat”. I am talking about the crippling mental health illness: Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD). Obsessive-compulsive Disorder is a beast. When you think you are free, it reshapes itself and shows up in a different way. It can be all-encompassing and overwhelming. It can be isolating and tumultuous. And for me, I have been very good at hiding my struggle. That is until I hit rock bottom in 2016.
Obsessive-compulsive Disorder is a topic I have debated talking about for a while. Most of my concerns come from worrying about what others will think of me if I share my struggles with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder and anxiety. Will I jeopardize my career? Will people think I am incapable of handling my life? Will people think I am crazy? Will this cost me a job? All of this is uncertain, a word and concept I have become very comfortable with after lots of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder therapy. I still wish I could shake those fears off, but after all, I do have anxiety and Obsessive-compulsive Disorder… so shaking it off is easier said than done.
I decided to channel my interests in discussing my experiences with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder into these personal comics. When I made these comics, I reflected on a time where I could barely leave my house. It was an intense struggle to get out of bed in the morning, but getting in bed at night was even worse. How could I guarantee I was safe? How did I know for sure the door was locked when it didn’t feel “right”? Sometimes it would take me three hours in front of the door before I finally was able to peel myself away and get in bed. I stayed up very late each night and was consistently late for work in the morning. I could barely handle getting through the day at my regular nine to six job, then I would go home and crash into Obsessive-compulsive Disorder spirals.
Before I crashed, I knew I had Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. The first time I saw myself on TV as a kid was when I watched Monk. I recognize it is a parody of the disorder, but it still resonated. In high school, I began seeing therapists for anxiety, and a few years later as an adult, I was finally diagnosed with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. Until that turning point in 2016, I thought I was handling it… I was not.
Seeking help when you have any mental illness is hard, and getting better is harder. It takes rigorous work, lots of time, and money. These are things that not all of us have at our disposal. For a while, I didn’t think I had them either, but I got to the point where I didn’t have an option anymore. I was drowning inside my brain and I had to find a way to get better. Luckily, I was able to get proper help in the form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Over months of intensive therapy, I became comfortable with the idea of uncertainty. Thankfully I had a support system of incredible friends and family who were able to be there for me while I literally (literally) faced all of my fears. Even luckier, I have two wonderful parents who let me leave my adult life and move home to take the time I needed to get healthy. My parents understood that I not only wanted to get healthy for now, but I was going to set up a career in which I could maintain my health long term. So at 23, I moved back home, changed my career path, and dove deep into CBT/ERP therapy.
I am not typically a person who likes to share deeply personal or traumatic things online, and those two things describe my experience with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. I keep these things close to my chest and hide them away. Like I said, I hid my Obsessive-compulsive Disorder from family and friends well for most of my life. As someone with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, I do not always feel like the world is manageable. But maybe, there is a person out there will read this and feel a little more capable or use this as a springboard to get help. I am not sharing this so you can diagnose yourself with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, if you are concerned about your health please go see a doctor who can give you a proper diagnosis.
Now, I take each day one by one. I take each moment as they come. I do my best not to think in absolutes and try to be gentle with myself on days that feel particularly rough. Having waded, fought, and cried myself through those long months of CBT/ERP therapy, I know getting better is worth it because it is possible. If I can achieve a quiet mind and find relief from the noise, even if it is not always consistent, I know there is hope in Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. If I fall back down again, I know I can climb back up.
Or at least, I hope I can. The future is uncertain.
If you would like to learn more about Obsessive-compulsive Disorder or find an OCD therapist/support group, please check out the International Obsessive-compulsive Disorder Foundation.
If you are concerned you might have Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, please research CBT therapy, ERP therapy, or DBT therapy to find someone who can diagnose your symptoms and guide you to proper help.
If you are looking for books on Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, these two books are great resources for you and for loved ones: Freedom from Obsessive-compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty by Jonathan Grayson and When a Family Member Has OCD: Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavior Skills to Help Families Affected by Obsessive-compulsive Disorder by Jon Hershfield MFT.