I believe the only way to true happiness and self love is fully and completely accepting ourselves for who we really are. I had a rough road getting to the place I am today. It is important to me that people struggling with any mental illness know that they are not weird, they are not dangerous, and they are not alone. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is just a tiny piece of the amazing, colorful, lively puzzle that is me. It doesn’t define me. I want others to know that no matter their struggles, they can embrace who they are and learn to thrive from the struggle they face.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines : “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.”
There are massive misconceptions and glorified stereotyping surrounding OCD. Majorly due to TV shows and movies, often the only people we think of having OCD are characters that are strictly neat & tidy, engrossed with disinfecting surfaces, they are quirky, comical, even shown as the lovable buffoon. These people are either super smart and somehow able to save the day using their odd set of skills, or they are quiet and shy but extremely put together and would never break their routine. Rarely, if ever, are we shown the suffering and extreme loneliness that coincides with having OCD. The truth is, people that have OCD are a widespread and diverse group. And there are different types of OCD; obsessions can be formed internally (thoughts or ideas) or externally (actions or objects). OCD doesn’t discriminate on any level, which is why the disorder can be so life-consuming and scary for a sufferer when it is not properly treated.
Caught In The Terrible Circle of Doom
What happens inside the mind of someone in the thick of OCD? Well- I can only tell you what I know and what I have learned from others- but I like to call it the terrible circle of doom (cue the lightning). First, you realize something is off, or not quite right, or making you uncomfortable. For me, it was the undying belief that my friends were mad at me. I KNOW they are not actually mad, so I try to ignore it, but I can’t. If I ignore the thought, something terrible will happen and I am a deadbeat friend. I know in my heart there is no real threat- but my brain doesn’t trust my thoughts. So, to make myself feel better, I simply have to ask my friends “Are you mad at me?” Right? Wrong. My mind would go right back to the obsession all over again. They are lying and they are really mad at me, I didn’t apologize sincerely enough, there was more in the conversation that upset them and I just can’t remember, they looked at me funny so I know they are still upset….you see the cycle. (I could try to explain the science, but honestly these peeps do a better job.)
I had no clue what was happening to me. My mind was the scariest, loneliest place on earth and I could not escape it. I was always called sensitive and over-caring, but in reality I was becoming annoying and neurotic to even my closest friends. “No Lauren, I am not mad at you” and “Why do you ALWAYS think I am mad” were parts of everyday conversations for me at school. But the obsessions began to take on a life of it’s own and soon enough I was unable to look people in the eyes becasue I was so convinced that they would be mad at me. My obsessive thoughts turned and attacked other aspects of my life too. At one point I was convinced that I was going to kill my neighbor’s dog becasue I keep having repeated thoughts about it that I could not shut off. YOU GUYS I LOVE DOGS. I have two rescue dogs who I honestly worry about more than my husband. It was devastating and terrifying. I did not know who I could possibly turn to. So you can only imagine the hell that I was living in. Why was I thinking about this stuff? Who on earth obsesses about hurting an animal? I must be a terrible person. A freak. A never ending loop that kept bringing my worst fears to life.
I Found Self-Love Through My OCD
A 2016 study found that people diagnosed with OCD are 10 times more likely to commit suicide. This stunned me and saddened me, but it not so hard for me to relate to. When I was in the thick of my episodes, the things I feared were so real. I was scared to talk to anyone about it, I truly felt like I had lost my mind. But thankfully I did talk to my mom, and she helped me find refuge. With a mixture of therapy and medication, I was able to bring my OCD to a dull roar in the back of my mind. I can still remember my therapist reminding me that I will never eliminate the obsessions, but like a muscle, my mind would get better and better at acknowledging them, but then letting them die out. It was one of the hardest things I had to do. I literally had to face my fears and learn to ignore those feelings of doom, teaching my brain to trust realistic thoughts again. There was a raging battle in my mind!
OCD cannot be “cured”. It is something I know is a part of me forever. For a really long time I struggled with that truth. But I have made the choice to never let it define me. Instead, I just let it be what it is- a small piece of who I am. And still today, when I am overly tired or stressed, I still struggle. It is easier to deal with today becasue I have the “tools” I need to refocus my thoughts. But it is still exhausting and at times, terrifying so I have a little pity party for myself (yay cake). But I don’t let the party last long.
I have two choices: let this thing beat me down and turn me into a shell of who I am, or learn from it and use it to thrive. I had to make this monster mine. I had to find the humor in it all, the silver lining. The funny thing is, my OCD has almost been a great prepping tool for life. It helped me see a lot about myself: I am great at problem solving, I can help others see the realities of their situations, I can now catch myself from overreacting or jumping to conclusions on big decisions, and I can help others understand that people with OCD are not weird or a funny stereotype. Not to mention, I AM SO STRONG! When I am facing a challenge, I can easily look it in the face becasue I remember all the times I looked at my fears dead on.
I share my story because I know that there are people out there dealing with their own demons. They are alone and scared. I never want anybody to suffer alone, in silence. I have found self love in the midst of my mental illness, and I know that others can too.
All people suffering with a mental illness has a story unique and personal to them. This was my story and my experiences. If you or someone who love is having suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and know that you are never helpless and never alone.