So my therapy session yesterday was very enlightening. Being new to therapy as a client, I was only recently diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I’m still new to being aware of what is influenced by my OCD and what is me. Technically it’s all me, but for a long time I just thought I was crazy. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just stop thinking certain things or doing things. Little did I know these were intrusive thoughts and compulsions brought on by my OCD. It’s hard not to automatically react to something. For example, I would repeatedly check my straightener about twenty times to reduce my anxious thoughts about burning the house down accidentally. It sounds almost crazy to me even now as I explain it. Before my diagnosis, I was just me. Now I’m trying to mindfully pay attention to everything and continuously ask myself “is this me of my OCD?” Every thought and action comes into question. Where does the OCD begin and where do I end? Therapy yesterday was all about educating me on what OCD actually is and the many facets of my life it infests.
My therapist and I went over a “Y-BOCS Symptom Checklist (9/89)” for OCD. If you are new to OCD or just want to learn a little more about OCD, I recommend looking this up to educate yourself on the symptoms. Here’s a link if you’re interested:
(link requires a compute to open)
I’m going to go through each section and talk about my personal experience with the symptoms.
The first section was all about “Aggressive Obsessions.” Fear of harming yourself or others is listed. I tend to turn on myself more than others. I’ve had so many horrible thoughts about bad things happening to me or me accidentally harming myself just by eating with a fork and knife. Number 5, “fear of doing something else embarrassing” really shouted out to me. I’m terrified that I will do something to embarrass myself. This fear gets so big that sometimes it keeps me from going to social situations. I find myself avoiding people all together. If I’m not around people then I am the only one who can witness my embarrassment. This is the real world though… I can’t expect to lock myself up and away from people forever. Going back to self-harm, I have a horrible fear that I could act on impulse… For example when I’m driving I get flashes of crashing my car by driving into a tree of something. I don’t actually want to do that, but I’m terrified that I might… I’m just so terrified of being responsible for something terrible happening. Like my straightener burning the house down or something similar.
The next section is about “Contamination Obsessions.” I can honestly say that for my OCD, these were not large obsessions for me. I have a terrible fear of being touch by bugs but not for contamination reasons. More because I think bugs are gross little creature. Number 16 talks about being bothered by sticky substances. I admit that I am very bothered by them. I will wash my hands multiple times to make sure the stickiness is gone. I’m not sure if that’s odd for just the average person. Does anyone like sticky hands? I’m only me, so I can only speak for myself. I also have a weird compulsion were none of my food can touch on my plate and if it does, it’s contaminated. At that point I can’t bring myself to eat it.
I am going to skip the “sexual obsessions” section for this post. There are still some things I like to keep private and this section is one of them. So on to the “Hoarding/Saving Obsession.” I really had to think about this one. I save things like cards because I attach meaning and memories to them. This practice of saving cards could be considered hoarding in a sense. There are certain inanimate objects that I attach meaning to and can’t get rid of. I would fear losing something of importance. The best example of this is my notes from school. I still have all my undergraduate notes and papers saved just in case I need something. I’m terrified to throw them out and then look back one day and regret it. So I hold onto them… Most of the notes are just useless now but I’m too afraid to throw them out.
The next section is titled “religious obsession.” I can’t say I suffer from any of religious symptoms as much as my moral conscious. I’m not very religious but I am spiritual. I do have excessive concern with right/wrong, morality. I want to be what is considered a good person. Sometimes I obsess over the right and wrong things. Things aren’t black and white and it’s not always entirely clear to me, what the right decision is. I try to go with my gut but I’m tortured by thought of making the wrong decision.
Now the section on “obsession with need for symmetry or exactness.” This is entirely too close for comfort. I’m very particular about my things. I have been since I was a young girl. Everything always had to be arranged just right. I could tell if someone came into my house and moved anything around. Like I said, I’m very particular. I really do feel like something bad would happen if everything wasn’t just right. Sometimes I take this to the extreme. For example, when I was a teenaged I went crazy plucking my eyebrows one night. They had to be symmetrical or I felt like my face was all wrong. Sounds crazy, I know, but I ended up plucking them into oblivion. For a whole month I have to fill them in with eyebrow pencil so I didn’t look like a freak. I’m a little better at holding myself back now. I try to restrain myself from needed to be so symmetrical that I take my own eyebrows off. I also have a weird thing about my handwriting. When I have to do handwritten assignments, it take me twice as long because I have to write super slow and make sure it’s neat. If it isn’t neat, I’ll automatically fail! Or that’s what my mind tells me at least.
Now here’s where my perfectionism comes in. The next section is “miscellaneous obsessions.” Number 31 is the “need to know or remember certain things.” I have this belief that I should know it all right now. It drives me crazy in school. I feel like I should know all the material before I even learn it. Not possible, I realize rationally but I still pressure myself like I should know. I’m always scared I won’t say the right thing. I pick my words very carefully. Sometimes I rehearse what I’m going to say in my head over and over to be sure I have the perfect words used. It’s very time consuming actually. Most of the time I’m rehearsing my answer so long that someone else answers. Number 34 really spoke to me. I’m terrified of losing things. Sometimes I’ll put down my glasses and from the moment I take them off, I fear that they will be lost forever and I will never be able to see again. Totally irrational because I have contacts so I could totally see again. Plus it’s not like I don’t put them in the same spot all the time. But there’s this fear that I will lose them. When my fiancé and I got engaged we got tattoos. Part of my reasoning for this was if he got me a ring, I thought I would lose it. I was too afraid of losing that ring to ever accept it so tattoos were a perfect option for us. However, I realize that my OCD drove this decision. Number 37 was about being “bothered by sounds/noises.” My mother never used to be able to stand the sound of someone cracking their knuckles. She said it would send shivers down her spine. I wonder if that was OCD? For me, I can’t stand grinding teeth of the sound of like sandpaper rubbing together. I just can’t stand it. I get what my mother was saying now, it makes my skin crawl and I want to escape or stop the noise as soon as possible. Number 38 makes me smile. It’s about having “lucky/unlucky numbers.” Anyone that knows me, knows I’m a huge fan of the number 22. My birthday is on the 22nd of September. I have a very strange pattern and thinking around this number. For example, even numbers are good because they are divisible by 2, but 3 is just a bad number. So I avoid 3. I don’t have any rational evidence behind this, but it’s been the way I have thoughts since I was a kid. I can’t remember thinking any differently. I’ve also always been obsessed about the meaning I place on colors. Number 39 covers “colors with special significance” For me every color has a meaning and every shade if different. I wear certain colors depending on the mood I’m in each day. Colors signify feelings and enact certain emotions in me. I’m also an artist. I love to draw and paint with acrylic paints. Colors are significant in portraying the mood and the spectrum of shades to choice from is overwhelming at times. So I can see how this applies to me and the way I think. It’s scary how accurate this symptom measurement tool is.
In the “somatic obsessions” section, I find number 41, “excessive concern with body parts or aspects of appearance. I’m not the biggest fan of myself. I know it sounds whiny to say I believe I’m a hideous person, but it’s true. I have never been able to look at myself and be satisfied. There’s always a flaw I see of something I need to work on more. Sometimes makeup doesn’t even help… I’ve been reassures the opposite. My fiancé believe I’m beautiful and I try to see myself through him. I’m not saying any of this to be reassured by anyone reading. I know my image of myself is morphed and I’m working on that. I just never realized that my OCD was a part of this process until reading this.
I don’t have any “cleaning/washing compulsions” so I’ll be skipping that section. I do have “checking compulsions.” I’m on medication for my OCD. Since I started taking the medication my checking habits have gone way down. I used to check the door 10-12 times before I could leave the house. Sometimes I had to turn around after getting half-way to work to make sure the door was locked. I had a lot of little compulsions like that. I also feel the need to check that I haven’t harmed anyone without having knowledge of it. Sometimes I’ll text my friends just to make sure they’re ok because I’m terrified something I did will hurt them. After I handle sharp objects I also have to check that I haven’t harmed myself without knowing. I avoid the new because I’m worried I will hear something and blame myself for it. It’s extremely illogical but it’s how my mind works. It’s frustrating! I’m lucky to have a medication that works for me and lowered the anxiety I feel to do my checking rituals. One checking ritual I haven’t conquered is number 52, “checking that did not make a mistake.” I drive myself crazy with my assignments for school. Reading and writing them over and over to make sure everything is just right and there are no errors. My mind tells me that if I make a mistake I’ll fail and even worse I’ll be an embarrassment. Others will look down upon me for my failures. Sometimes it brings me to tears just writing a paper because of the pressure and scrutiny with which I place on my work. I’m also always “checking my somatic obsessions.” I carry a mirror around so I can make sure everything looks right with me. I’m always catching my reflection and I’m super conscious of body odor. I carry deodorant around with me just in case.
“Repeating rituals” are the most time consuming for me. In graduate school you get a lot of reading and huge writing assignments. I identify with number 55 “re-reading or re-writing.” Sometimes it takes me hours just to read a few pages. I get stuck in my own head thinking I didn’t understand what I just read so I reread, over and over again! It takes up an enormous amount of time. Sometime I repeat activities like going in and out of a doorway or looking a certain way. Sometime it takes a certain number of times before I feel like I can stop.
I don’t really have “counting compulsions.” I also never personally experienced “ordering/arranging compulsions,” but my father did. Everything had to be just so in our house. If the arrangements was disturbed you were screamed at. I never understood why my dad would get so upset. Now I wonder if it might have been his OCD. My father was also had “hoarding/collecting compulsions.” He would see something on the side of the road and pick it up to store in the basement because “one day we might need it.” That’s always what he would say. He had tons of junk stored in the basement, attic, and even our yard. There came a point he ran out of room to store things in the house so we took over my aunt’s garage with things. I don’t personally have difficulty with this issue myself, but now I can recognize it in my father. It helps explain some of the odd things he did that I didn’t understand before now.
The final section is “miscellaneous compulsions.” The first one in this section, number 61 “mental rituals (other than checking/counting), applies to me exactly. When I have horrible thoughts I try to counter them with a positive thought. My thinking was that it would balance out and I would feel less anxious about the negative thought. Reading the example given, for this I can’t help but laugh because it talks about that exact process I just described. “Thinking a “good” thought to undo a “bad thought.” Number 62, “need to tell, ask, or confess” made me squirm a bit. I was always looking for reassurances from others. Things could be going perfect with my fiancé and I until I have this need to be reassured of his feelings. Sometimes I feel like I just need to hear it. If I hear it from them, I’ll believe it and my anxiety will be reduced. If I’m being honest with myself and you the reader, I have to admit to number 63, “need to touch, tap, of rub.” This is about the urge to touch things like a hot stove or a rough surface. Touching, tapping or rubbing reduces the anxiety. I carry around these smooth and rough stones to reduce these urges in public. If I feel the urge to touch, tap, of rub, I take the rocks from my back and do just that discreetly. Friends have asked about the stones before and I tell them that they are my worry rocks. I talked earlier about my “ritual eating behaviors.” Everything had to be arranged just right on my plate and nothing can touch. Sometimes I even use different utensils for different foods. This leads to a lot more dirty dishes then I want but it’s how I reduce my anxiety. In the past I struggled with number 67, “hair pulling, Trichotillomania.” The time I basically plucked my eyebrow off qualifies. I don’t experience this symptom anymore though.
So if you’re reaching this point I want to thank you for coming with me on this journey to explore my OCD using the “Y-BOCS symptom checklist (9/89).” I know I’ve learned a lot about my OCD and I hope maybe you learned some stuff about OCD too. It’s a tough mental disorder but the thing to remember is, there are medications and ways you can get more control of your symptoms. OCD has been found to be treatable through the use of medication and therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective method. Medicine can’t cure it all, but it can help immensely. It has in my case at least. Therapy has been helping me educate myself about my mental disorder. Therapy has also been helping me get more control over my life. I’m lucky enough to have a very dedicated team of health professionals on my side to support me through this period in my life. The more I learn, the more control I have over my OCD.