OCD: So Much More Than As Seen On TV
I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 18 years old. Which, even at the time, didn’t surprise me. I kind of already was aware that it was headed that way. What did surprise me was how they came to the diagnosis and what other forms it took. It was a challenge getting this diagnosis at all due to the fact that everyone insisted that I had an eating disorder, not OCD. It’s actually very, incredibly annoying, when you know something isn’t wrong with you but keep being told that’s the problem anyway and you are just “making things up”.
Around the time I was 15, I started to get overly paranoid about germs. Especially getting sick. Anything to do with any sort of illness (especially any variation that might cause vomiting) was terrifying to me. I started to show ritualistic behavior in order to avoid things I believed were contaminated and also avoid getting myself infected by anyone who was sick. The behaviors started as what people would probably see as rational. Sister has a cold, I stay away from that sister until she is better. Most people would do this if they also wanted to avoid getting sick. If my sister had some sort of stomach virus I would use a different bathroom than her until she was better. Once again, probably a bit extreme but nothing off the charts weird.
Then it started to get weirder and weirder. When my sister would get sick, I would refuse to even be on the same floor of the house as her. If she was on the first floor I was in the basement (it was a finished basement so it had a TV and all that) or I was in my room. If she was on the second floor in her room I would be on the first floor or the basement. I would absolutely refuse to get anywhere near her or anything she touched or even be on the same floor. Which led to a lot of arguments between me and my parents because they thought it was nonsense that I wanted to sleep on the couch or in the basement and I didn’t care what they thought because I didn’t want to get sick.
This eventually transformed into irrational paranoia that food would be contaminated. Once again, started as a normal thing where I just wanted to make sure my food was well cooked to FDA standards and had reached the right internal temperature. Most people do this, nothing to crazy, no one would see it as such. If anything, it’s the proper way too cook and just good and healthy to practice. Then it turned into fear of cross contamination, did that raw meat touch this other food? This utensil? How did I know who prepared the food? Did they wash their hands? Then I learned that you can get parasites and things even if the food is cooked. You can get ecoli from vegetables if they are grown in places with bad water….and so on and so forth. This took me from normal to the idea that literally all of my food was contaminated. I had “safe foods” which honestly were completely arbitrary but that’s how OCD works. It’s disordered thinking, it doesn’t have to make sense. The problem was that my “safe foods” were not enough to keep me nourished and I had this weird idea that if I didn’t eat I also couldn’t get sick. Yes I realize how crazy this sounds. I lost enough weight that at my height it became dangerous. I was hungry all the time and I wanted to eat, badly, but I was terrified all food except my “safe food” would make me sick. It was like thinking everything around you is poison.
Eventually this led me to being hospitalized because I refused to eat. Ever. I literally thought everything was going to make me sick. No one wanted to listen to me, and the doctors were insisting that I only said that was the case because I didn’t want to get fat. It was a “cover story” for being anorexic. So I was put in some help group for anorexics which, wasn’t helping at all, because I don’t and never have given a shit about getting fat. I’m not saying anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders aren’t serious or a problem I just don’t have one. It never became more apparent to me than when they all started to insist that was the problem. I’m sitting in these therapy groups wondering “What the hell” because nothing was relatable to me. Maybe I didn’t want to eat but it had nothing to do with gaining weight.
It seemed to take forever, but I was brought to one of the the leading specialists in eating disorders in my area because, as you can imagine, nothing they were doing was helping me since I wasn’t anorexic. This was the point when I was diagnosed with OCD as that doctor could instantly tell that even though my eating was disordered it had nothing to do with caloric intake or body image. Since that point, I was transferred from the eating disorder group to OCD counseling.
As I mentioned I did have my random rituals which got a lot better over time. To a point where they are now manageable. They are things you wouldn’t even notice about me unless I pointed out I was doing them. It didn’t always used to be like that but all of these things, the rituals I mean, are still there as some sort of superstitious luck that I don’t get sick. Another very daunting part of my OCD is intrusive thoughts. Something that is rarely if ever brought up in any TV Show portraying the illness. Obsessive compulsive disorder isn’t just the rituals and physical behavior, it’s the thoughts. There is even something called “Pure O” OCD where all you do is think obsessively.
These thoughts are always horrifying and can be a range of different things. The reason they are intrusive is you don’t want to have them, you hate them, but at the same time they are scary as hell. Especially when the thoughts are about harming yourself or others. A thought is not a compulsion, and people who enjoy the thought of hurting themselves or others aren’t driven to madness with anxiety that they fear they might act out these behaviors. OCD can make you feel like a serial killer, or fear that you will become one, when in actuality the fear you experience is the very tell tale sign that you are “normal”. You just aren’t able to let go of these thoughts and you believe having them makes you a bad person.
What is known by the general public about OCD is actually very little. It isn’t inaccurate to say that for some people it does have to do with being super organized, clean, or whatever they were showing Monk doing on that show. There are actually people who have that type of OCD. However, there’s just about as many types of OCD as you can think of and that’s just one of them. Honestly, in my personal opinion, the portrayals that you do see of the disorder on TV aren’t offensive, because it’s very hard to even explain everything I’ve just explained through a character in a show as well as keep it interesting. OCD can even be so bad that it can mimic things like ADHD and be misdiagnosed as such (mine actually was for a period of time). Something as complicated as OCD isn’t simplified into a character trope that you can slap into a one hour TV show or two hour movie.
Just like any other mental illness, it doesn’t fit in a nice clean box and it’s not the same for everyone. Depression, Bipolar, Schizophrenia…any other mental illness you can name doesn’t have a set list of things that it does. It’s impossible to tell how one might affect someone or not. Though I am very happy with the fact that mental illness is now being taken much more seriously these days it’s still not always enough. I get stupid questions a lot (which I don’t mind at all because I see it as a chance to educate people) but it also indicates to me that we have a long way to go in explaining not only what OCD is to people but every other disorder under the sun. Just try to keep in mind, just like humans who all have different personal preferences, a mental illness will not always be the same in everyone who suffers with that same label. Try to stay open minded, aware, and educated. It’s something we didn’t ask for and we definitely can’t control because believed me if there was an “Off Switch” on my OCD I’d have turned it off 20 years ago.