Okay, so this is going to be super super uber personal and stuff, and I might chicken out of posting it anyway, but someone’s got to talk about it because no one else will.
Until I was 13, I only had a very vague idea of what “that OCD thing” was. I knew someone who worried a lot about germs, but I never really understood why, and never TRIED to understand what it was like. Some people worried about stuff, but I didn’t think I ever would. To me, life was neutral: nothing bad ever happened, but nothing good happened either. And that was the way things were.
OCD ambushed me. That’s the most effective way I can think to say it – it sprung up out of nowhere, and I had no time for defense or anything with which to defend myself anyway.
A bit of explaining first: obsessive-compulsive disorder usually starts (in my experience) when your brain has a thought it reads as “bad.” No, not just bad. HORRIBLE. Terrifying. The worst thought you’ve ever had. A thought that makes you feel dirty just for thinking it.
Now, everyone has these thoughts. Most people have them, shake their heads or roll their eyes, and they go back to whatever abyss houses unthought thoughts. But some people cannot shake them, and the more they try the more firmly rooted the thought becomes. (A simple way to test this is to try sitting alone for 1 minute and try your hardest not to think about geckos. Think about absolutely anything in the world except geckos. When I try it, my thoughts go like this: “Oh what a pretty tree (gecko) this rock is shiny (gecko) I wonder what that sound is (gecko)…” and so on. Obsessive thoughts are that x1000000.)
Usually, but not always, the person suffering from OCD starts using a ritual or an action, something that tells their brain the thought is gone, or something that removes the fear of the thought. This is the “c” part – the compulsion. The problem with it is, compulsions don’t just stay the same – the urge to do them ramps up with time, and suddenly 2 showers a day becomes 5, which becomes 10, etc.
(I’ve never had a consistent compulsive action, but it’s a big part of OCD so I decided to explain it.)
So, my journey into mental health problems began where so many do: babysitting.
My first and only time babysitting by myself was for about four hours. I was watching a younger cousin of mine (old enough to talk a bit, young enough to still be in diapers). I was keeping an eye on two older kids too, but they don’t really matter in this story.
I will add the relevant parts of that sentence up there were “first and only time,” and “by myself.” I had no idea what I was doing.
I didn’t even know the youngest was still in diapers until it was too late to back out, and my stressed-out queries to various family members about what the hell I was supposed to do were good-naturedly blown off.
Okay, so keep in mind I was barely 13, and my hormones had been raging for a while. Being hormonal and unfortunately intelligent, I’d had a burning curiosity about all the things the “adult world” had kept from me.
So, for about a year, I’d been “researching” sex on the Internet (purely academic, I swear…). I was bored as shit and a smart kid, so I’d been researching quite a bit.
So, to recap, we had: Confusion about what was required of me, stress about screwing up, and on top of all that, a year’s worth of sexual information I was old enough to react to, but too young to really understand.
The fears were floating around in my head: What if I do something wrong by accident? I don’t know the protocol here. (Knowing me, I was probably actually thinking the word “protocol.”) I could mess up and not know it.
Now, here my brain was, floating in a sea of panic, but my idiot teenage body only heard: Hey! She’s got a sex thought happening up there! Time to go!
x100 stress is added.
So what happened? Absolutely fucking nothing. The sitter coming to replace me got there before it was ever a problem, and I never needed to learn how to change a diaper.
But the fear was still there (only made worse by the fact that I never faced it, learned it was irrational and everything was okay, and then dealt with it).
So now the OCD kicks in full throttle. I kept having horrifying thoughts I couldn’t stop, but my body only reacted to the sex aspect (remember what it was like to be in high school?), which amplified the panic, which only made the thought keep coming back, and it just kept looping around.
For the next six or seven months, I didn’t go a day without thinking about suicide at least once. I was always crying, praying (I was really Christian back then), cutting myself, or waiting for the opportunity to do one of the above (usually the last).
The cutting was, in a way, my compulsion. I didn’t think it was sufficient atonement for the thoughts, but it was all I could do. It still never felt like enough.
But then even in the ebbs of the OCD, when it receded enough that I could almost remember what living felt like, the misery stuck with me. And in the absence of the obsessive thoughts, my depression latched onto anything and everything. I was also embroiled in an unhealthy relationship the likes of which I could never have imagined, which gave the depression PLENTY to go on.
A couple suicide attempts and a really long winter later, I was tentatively dealing with it. I had proved to myself, time and again, that I wasn’t a bad person. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. The thoughts were just thoughts, the feelings were just feelings (and my body being a nasty bitch); I had never acted on them and I never would.
Most of the time, I’m still there: I understand the problem (which always helps me) and it isn’t beating me.
OCD has waves, though: sometimes the memory of it is like remembering some bad dream you had after eating too much cake, and sometimes it’s sitting right beside you, poking you in the head and laughing at your efforts and your hope.
Actually, the latter one might be my little brother.
I guess I felt like I had to write this out because OCD (especially when it involves violent or sexual thoughts) is seen by most sufferers as shameful and something to be hidden, and the result is that no one knows how many other people have gone through or are going through the exact same thing. (By the way, MILLIONS of people in America alone struggle with frightening, obsessive thoughts.)
Talk to a counselor with experience in OCD, find a support group; hell, even looking it up on the Internet helped me.
And remember – there’s no such thing as normal. We’re all crazy. In the end, it’s just a matter of degrees.