What It’s Like Living With OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

by matheen

According to UOCD (Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) website’s facts and figures, there are 3.3 million people living with OCD in the U.S., of which you have 0.3 to 1% of the pediatric population and 2% of adult population. In Canada, approximately 1 to 2% of the Canadian population will have an episode of OCD with slightly more women experiencing the disorder compared to men in adulthood. Over 90% people with clinical OCD will have both obsessions and compulsions. Some people would often joke about having OCD casually; they think it’s a cool quirk to have. Unfortunately, it’s neither a joke nor a cute quirk for those who are clinically diagnosed to be one. Au contraire, it is distressing and causes anguish for those who live and deal with OCD on a daily basis.

I’m clinically and medically diagnosed as having obsessive-compulsive disorder — I belong to the 25% to 50% with reported multiple obsessions and compulsions. I take daily medications — Escitalopram, Risperidone, and Quetiapine. I cannot afford to miss taking my medications; otherwise, the consequences could be life-threatening for me. On top of my medications, I also see a registered psychiatrist for monthly treatments and counseling. I’ve been living with OCD since my early teens. 

Below are a few of my obsessions and compulsions:

Washing Hands and Grooming Rituals (Compulsion)

I wash my hands all the time! This is an understatement — I probably wash my hands at least 50 times in a day! I keep hand sanitizers in my bag all the time. In the past, I refused to shake hands without my gloves; I would often pretend that I have the flu to avoid shaking hands with anyone. If I weren’t wearing gloves, I would immediately wash my hands and sanitize. In my youth, I took frequent showers during the day and sanitized my whole body with isopropyl alcohol. I don’t like sweating — sweat glands freak me out. As I got older and thanks to my medications and counseling, my grooming ritual had been toned down — I no longer sanitize my whole body with isopropyl alcohol; I’m not afraid to shake hands anymore, but I still wash my hands frequently and I still carry hand sanitizers wherever I go. Nowadays, I only take a shower twice a day! Also, I`m now able to handle or touch cash without shuddering!

Having Unwanted and Repetitive Thoughts (Obsession)

I have these lingering fears about germs and contamination. I’m absolutely petrified of germs. I also have major trust issues — I always fear that men are out there to hurt me or ruin me. I’m slowly working on my trust issues with regular counseling. I also have myself tested every year on all kinds of incurable diseases — I have this fear of being infected with an incurable disease and I’m frightened by the thought of passing it on to others.  I’m also scared of cats — there was a time when I refused to go out of our flat because there was a cat outside our door (from our old place) hence I moved into a new condominium where pets aren’t allowed. On a brighter note, I love dogs! 

Excessive Cleaning and Organizing (Compulsion)

Our flat is kept immaculate at all times. I vacuum every day. I clean the whole flat every Saturday or Sunday morning — it takes me 3-4 hours of excessive cleaning. I also clean as I go every day. Everything that I buy at the store or at the groceries is washed with antibacterial soap and neatly organized in the cupboards and fridge with the logos facing front. They have to be neatly aligned. In the past, I refused to go out if our flat is not cleaned. With this particular compulsion, I’m still a work in progress. Again, thanks to counseling and medications, my excessive cleaning has been manageable of late.

Controlling Issues  (Obsession and Compulsion)

I thought I was just a perfectionist — until our middle sister pointed out that I’m actually a control freak in disguise. My inner control mechanism is my mind’s way of telling me that I’m safe. I used to get really bothered whenever my sisters would change our plans at the last minute. I used to micromanage those around me. I set unreasonable high standards for myself which often leaves me either feeling frustrated or disappointed! I don’t paint as much because I’m such a perfectionist — I’m never satisfied with any of my paintings; I will finish a painting only for me to re-do the whole thing and paint from the scratch — a ritual that I find frustrating. But thanks to combined counseling and medications, I’m not as much of a control freak anymore! Whew.

Mental Rituals (Obsession and Compulsion)

Once, I went out on a date. My date took me to a fine dining restaurant. When the Maître D’ sat us by the entrance – I politely asked my date if he could ask the Maître D’ to move us to another table because I find that it’s bad Feng shui if my back is facing the entrance door. The Maître D’ obliged and moved us to a table near the washroom. Again, I politely requested that we move to another table because it’s bad luck to sit near the toilet — your fortune will flush down the drain! The Maître D’ moved us to a table near the open kitchen — I told my date that’s it’s not good for our souls to be sitting near the fire. That night was the last time I saw my date! 

Depression and Anxiety (Obsession)

Two of the most common illnesses to occur with OCD are anxiety and depression. In 2011, I was six months away from graduating from my 3D Animation course when I suffered a major depressive disorder. I felt that I wasn’t doing my best — I used to be an A+ student when I took my Hospitality and Restaurant Management Course in the 90’s. When I went back to school in 2010, I was juggling single motherhood and working part time with my studies. My  quest for perfectionism took its toll and I had a breakdown. For two months, I just stayed in bed, I couldn’t go to work; I lost interest in things that I found enjoyable; I ate and slept very little. 

Eventually, after losing a couple of jobs, I sought treatment. As mentioned, I take three different medications and I go for monthly counseling. These combinations of treatments have made such a huge difference in my life. I sleep better. I have a healthy lifestyle. I have a great job. I have a social life; I’m recovering well and my OCD has become manageable. 

OCD is just one of the many mental illnesses — there’s bipolar, depression, anxiety disorder, paranoia, schizophrenia, eating disorder, addictive behaviour — to name a few. Unfortunately, the mental health systems across the globe need fixing. Too many people don’t get the help and treatment they need for their mental ailments. The lack of treatment causes violence amongst families and eventually, communities. Mental illness destroys lives and livelihoods all over the world. 

However, the understudied challenges of STIGMA have left many sufferers ashamed and afraid to come out and seek help. The stigma of mental illness is widespread. Most governments think that focusing on developing better counseling therapies and medications are the solutions to combatting mental illness. Sadly, that’s not enough. To combat mental illness, governments across the world must tackle the stigma’s crippling social grip. 

We’ve done it with HIV and AIDS. I’m positive that with the help of influential celebrities and society influencers — we can also eradicate the stigma on mental illness. A healthy mind is a key to a healthy life; a healthy life means a healthy individual that can contribute positively to a community. Mental wellness is vital to a better world.

For someone like me who is living with OCD — I sought help because I’m a mother and a positive human being — I strongly believe that my other side is a lot brighter than my dark side. This is why I decided to come out and share about my illness — to encourage others to do the same — reach out for help. You are not alone. Your other side will always be a lot brighter than your dark side

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