The Devastating Reality Of Living With OCD

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I am obsessive-compulsive about the way I take my OCD medication.

By Jenni Berrett

I take it first out of the other meds. I take each pill in the order of most to least hated (Xanax is always last. I don’t know how I feel about that). I take it with my right hand, drink the water with my right hand, and let exactly one drop of water fall from my mouth after swallowing each pill.

I have a thing about my right hand. It makes being left-handed very difficult. Everything important must be touched by my right hand. My car door must be closed and checked three times by my right hand. If I don’t set my phone down with my right hand, my alarm won’t go off and I will miss work and get fired and never write for anyone ever again.

I like the stereotypical OCD numbers: 3 and 7. Seven is the only prime number I like. My other numbers are 4, 10, 14, and 20. I like multiples of 5, but not the number 5, because 5 is a prime number. If I don’t know how many times to do something, I choose one of my numbers. The more nervous I am about something, the higher the number.

I’ve been using 20 a lot lately.

My OCD has not been this extreme in a very long time.

I practice compulsions everyday, but mostly as a habit — like brushing my teeth (which I also happen to have a compulsion for). Most of the time it’s manageable. The Zoloft I take stops my brain from circular reasoning and the occupational therapy I’ve gone through has taught me how to keep my most damaging compulsions at bay.

But when things get stressful, my OCD takes full stage. It’s a security blanket — the mental equivalent of going into fetal position. My compulsions are always the same, even when the world is not. Whenever the world changes more than I would like it to, I fall back into my obsessive-compulsive behavior.

It is the aspect of my mental health that I am most ashamed of. It is the part of my brain that sounds the craziest when I speak to others about it. It is the disorder I am the best at hiding.

Recently, I moved an hour away from my family. And life has made it hard to spend time with the people in this new city that I really, really care about. And I’m working full time for the first time in my life. And a new semester of school is starting in 2 weeks.

So I started ripping out my own scalp.

I don’t even think about it. I just do it — compulsively. Constantly. Skin picking is my worst compulsion, one that I haven’t practiced in almost 2 years. One that I thought I’d never need again.

So much of this new change is good. My new home, my wonderful job, starting up a new semester full of subjects that interest me — but those are still changes. Those are a lot of changes.

In the grand scheme of things, I am adjusting very well. Given my track record with moving and making big, life-altering transitions, I am doing fantastic. I’ll get my new routine in set and phase out of my compulsive one. I know myself. I’ve done this before. But I've never talked about it before.

I can talk about my anxiety in a general way pretty easily, especially because I can talk about many of my experiences related to that subject in the past tense.

But OCD? No-fly zone. That’s an acronym I like to keep to myself. That's something happening right now, in a very physical way. I can tell myself that everybody feels nervous sometimes, but I'd be fooling myself to think that everybody rips out their own skin. 

My compulsions feel like the manifestation of all my faults, rather than what I logically understand them to be: symptoms of an illness I happen to have.

I am so ashamed of them that I go to extreme lengths to hide them from the people around me. 

I refuse to practice compulsions in front of my therapist. It’s too embarrassing. Once, he asked me to turn his fan on the “right way” (with my right hand on the cord, facing the wall with the switch, and staring at it without blinking). I could not do it. I burst into tears and begged him to stop asking me. I could not let someone see me do something so deeply, horrifically personal.

And that’s pretty hypocritical of me.

I tell people to open up about mental illness all the time. I emphasize the importance of making the ugly parts of what we live with visible. And I believe in that, but I need to get better at practicing it. Because I know that somewhere, right now, a little girl is up at 4 in the morning, checking each lock on each door in her home 14 times. And I want her to see this.

I want her to know that it’s OK to not feel OK. That she actually is okay, just as she is, compulsions and all. That sometimes her obsessive brain is a superpower. That if she asks for help and works really hard, one day she’ll go to sleep without needing to check each locked door fourteen times.

That one day, I’ll set my phone down with my left hand. And my alarm will go off. And I’ll get up, write some more, and love the way things have changed.

This article was originally published at Ravishly. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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