Living with OCD

NumbersWritten by Shana Herron

When people hear the term “OCD”, they may visualize individuals scrubbing their hands clean, using their elbows to turn faucets on, and fretting over the placement and cleanliness of things. While this is true for many, it doesn’t do justice. Obsessive compulsive disorder manifests itself in many different ways for people; no one experiences the same struggles nor do they face the same demons. It stretches far beyond germophobia and being orderly. When people hear the term “OCD” they often do not visualize the internal battle, the root of the rituals and the fixations. They don’t visualize the torment that leads people to say things repeatedly, to write things repeatedly, and to turn lights off and on repeatedly, in order to achieve a sense of relief from the responsibility of ensuring that something is done “just right”. To quiet the anxiety of doom. I want to shed light—to pull back the curtain–on this aspect of obsessive compulsive disorder. I want to reveal my struggle.

The signs of OCD crept up when I was fairly young—not long before I was in the fourth grade. I had to say “I love you, you’re the best, be careful” to my parents and my sister every time they left the house. Every. Single. Time. There was a gnawing fear that if I didn’t, they would never come back. Somehow, I was responsible for their fates. My family thought it was an endearing trait of mine, a part of being an innocent child and took no mind to the ritualistic farewells. Neither did I, at first—the fear was easily overlooked. I tried to ignore how crazy I felt for needing a certain amount of hairclips in my hair in the morning and for writing the date repeatedly to gain a sense of security.

It wasn’t until I was a preteen when the anxieties began to worsen. I used to stay awake for hours at night, praying relentlessly because the words never felt right the first dozen times. I would make the sign of the Cross in the darkness of my bedroom, over and over again. God would take away my loved ones if I didn’t thank him accordingly, or if I mistakenly left out a name in my prayers. He would punish me if I didn’t say Grace properly at the dinner table, causing me to begin my meal minutes after anyone else. I would come home from school and watch the same exact YouTube videos every day, in the same order, or else something bad would happen. For quite some time, my days mimicked each other almost precisely. It just didn’t feel right. Was it normal to feel that if I didn’t do the exact same thing that I could bring misfortune upon myself? Upon those that I loved? It ate at me, day in and day out. I felt a deep shame when I asked my mom about this and her answer reflected the absurdity of it. So I never brought it up again.

The fear that something bad would happen blossomed into something much uglier. In class, I was always the last kid to finish writing notes because if the letters weren’t perfect or if the words weren’t read the right way from the projector, I would fail at something in the future. Somehow, my day would be compromised. So, my copybooks became full of scribbled out, repeating lines. While getting ready, it got so frustrating to count “one, two” on one side of my head and “three, four”–back and forth and back and forth—on each side that I would smack myself in the head with my brush. But I couldn’t stop. I feared what would happen if I did. It HAD to be right. So many times I fought back tears and screams—who was in control at this point? I felt propelled by something other than myself. I hid from the truth for so long, terrified of what it might look like.

Junior year I had found the answer after bringing myself to do the research. I remember crying once the reality had hit me, but I couldn’t be sure if it was from relief of knowing it wasn’t all in my head or from shame of having this disorder. This year, I was officially diagnosed by my psychiatrist. Having OCD, for me, is a lot like having a backseat driver. Only that they’re in the passenger seat and grabbing the wheel from me to make sure I do exactly as they say. I am constantly anxious that someone will wake up and walk out of my life—or even be forced from my life. So, I do what I can to make sure it’s not my fault. I try to control what I can. I try to grasp the idea that I don’t have power over certain things in life. I turn my intangible fears into actions and rituals.

I’m scared that if my sister, Bethanie, and I don’t do our special handshake while saying goodbye that I’ll never see her again. I don’t wear clothes older than a year or a larger size than I wear now, because I don’t want the past to make itself known again. I never get rid of stuff. I repeat, “seven, eight, nine”, twice, three times, until it feels right, when I start to drink something so I can have a good day. In the morning, it may take me almost 10 minutes to brush my teeth because it has to be done in a specific fashion. I touch my hair while styling it until it feels right. I scrub dishes and rinse them out until it feels right. I pump the soap dispenser until it feels right.

Today, I have been suffering from intrusive suicidal thoughts. I walk down the street and an image of walking into oncoming traffic yanks me from the song I’m listening to. I religiously and reflexively tell myself that I’m going to end it. I have visions of cutting myself, of shooting myself, of overdosing, of jumping from a building that cloud my mind when I am overwhelmed with anxiety that I’m doing something wrong. I have these thoughts even when I am happy and enjoying the sun. I walk into a room and see objects that could harm me. I steer clear of them. Dark day dreams plague me with endless ways that my loved ones may die. Sometimes the suicidal thoughts and urges to self-harm are so powerful that I’m scared I can’t keep myself safe—sometimes they’re so powerful I don’t want to be kept safe, because I want my mind to feel right.

That is my battle, and like a fingerprint, it is unique to others. Along the way, I’ve learned that it does not define me. It is only a fragment of who I am, and I can’t let it take over me. I’ve also learned that there are “good” days with OCD and there are worse days. Some days, I am able to do my routines without fail. Other days, old routines surface along with the new and the day is long. I am much more accepting of my disorder and taking small steps in coping with it. That’s why I’m writing this–talking about it helps me. Reading stories from other perspectives helps me, too. So, I want to make others feel like they aren’t alone. I want them to know that I, and many others, are their ally in this war. I want to show the world a broader image of OCD—an image that is not focused on the physicality of it. To break the mold and bring clarity to misconceptions. To give a glimpse into why I do things and not what things I do.

 

Image credit: Heather aka Molly

 

Shana HerronHey everybody, I’m Shana. I’m a college student at Temple University. I love dogs and city skylines. And I’m here–holding up my light in this darkness–to make sure you and I are not alone. 


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Comments

  • Pam

    What an honest, beautiful, articulate portrayal of an ugly vicious demon. Your bravery and insight, Shana, will surely help others, and your awareness and insight are a huge step on your road to coping with your OCD. Stay strong. You are amazing!

    • Shana

      Thank you so much for your kind words and support – they mean so much to me. 💜

  • Krissy Brown

    Wow!!
    THANK YOU COR SHARING!
    So brave of you to share for the sake of others. You are beautiful inside and out. I hope you often have days that go well and on those long days, that you are strong enough to get through them, and quiet the voices in your head. You are worth the fight!!!
    ❤️❤️🙏🏻❤️❤️

    • Shana

      Thank you so much!! I can’t express how much I appreciate hearing this. My heart’s got that warm, fuzzy feeling. During those dark times, I will remember your words of encouragement! 💜

  • Angel

    That article was absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for finding the words that explain what you, myself, and many others experience. <3 thank you

    • Shana Herron

      Thank you! I appreciate your support. 🙂 I hope you continue to find the strength and light in this battle! <3

  • Kathi

    How brave of you to share this story. I hope that others will share theirs as well. If we are honest about issues like OCD, then others will not have to suffer Aline in the darkness. Thank you for sharing your light!

  • Shana Herron

    I hope so, too! It’s definitely not easy, but each voice makes it easier for others to raise their own, which is what I hope my story does. Thank you!!

  • Alison

    Apparently we have some mutual friend because I saw this posted on Facebook earlier today by two friends of mine and I can’t tell you the delight I felt when I read the title. I have been living with OCD for all my life, and it never felt like anyone understood what it meant when I said I had it. I am one of the messiest, most disorganized people I have ever met so no one ever believes me when I said I had it. Also My OCD came in the plagues of disturbing thoughts that I could not control. Like what you said about the suicidal thoughts. Just constant repetition until I got thought of it enough to make me cry. I never relaxed.
    I have never connected so much to something I read on the Internet. Thank you for telling me I’m not some because that’s all I’ve felt all my life because of this. Thank you for writing this.

  • Shana

    Wow, what a coincidence! If you want to reach out to me on FaceBook, please do. I’m so glad I could make you feel less alone. I’m also extremely messy and disorganized, so I never opened up about my OCD because I felt like people would take one look at my room or my school papers and tell me I’m full of it! Hearing that you are the same way makes me feel better about that. I can’t express enough how much it means to me to know that I’m creating a positive affect with my article. Continue being strong and fighting this battle – you certainly aren’t alone. Lots of love.

  • Kim Lenherr

    Shana, It’s Jeff’s mom. I was touched by your story. You are a lovely young woman. Stay beautiful and strong. XxOo

    • Shana

      Thanks so much! I really appreciate your kind words 🙂 ❤️❤️

  • Neurotic Nelly

    What a terrific and informative article. As an OCD sufferer, I am always delighted when I read other people being open and honest about how OCD works. We hear so many people say that they are OCD when describing just being quirky and it is people like you that show the world that OCD is so much more than that. Thank you for this post!

    • Shana

      I’m so glad you liked it! Exactly. I know that people don’t understand the harm of saying that they are OCD when talking about quirky traits, but it does feed into the mental stigma surrounding obsessive compulsive disorder.
      I wish you the best on your journey with OCD. ❤️

  • Paul

    The best portrait of OCD mentality, Shana. My favorite line, which caused me to break out laughing, was “I pump the soap dispenser until it feels right.” I had filled the sink with last night’s dishes, read your blog while I was letting the hot water cool to just the right temp.

    Went back after I’d finished reading and gave the soap dispenser a few more pumps.

    It felt right!!

    • Shana

      Hahaha!! It’s so refreshing to hear a comical reaction to this. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself and know that you aren’t the only one pumping those soap dispensers til it hits the right spot! 😆

  • Robert Brotchie

    Hi Shana. I echo the the sentiments of all those commenting to date.
    You are clearly a beautiful soul, and an exquisite writer! You have, I think, opened the door and ushered in that which challenges you – and others, and I believe that in finding some level of acceptance, this can take some of the weight off.

    It must be exhausting, I can only imagine.

    My heart goes out to you and all those who live the most challenging of lives and truly hope you will continue to share, educate, and help reduce ignorance around OCD and the associated behaviours.

    With love and light.

    Bob.

    • Shana

      Thank you so much, Bob, for your incredibly kind and thoughtful words. I wish I could express how much they mean to me! Receiving compassion from others like yourself help me–and many others–so much.

      Lots of love,
      Shana
      ☀️

  • Adele Deegan-Tindell

    Shana you have touched me deeply. I am sure you know , from Craig, that my dad suffered from OCD. It was so difficult and sad to watch my dad struggle day after day with this and only be able to help him to a point. My dad was diagnosed with this 4 years ago after a few different illnesses triggered OCD. This is a difficult illness that many people don’t understand. You are such a strong, kind, beautiful and loving young woman. I am so proud of you for putting this out there for all to see and to give people an understanding of this illness that creates such anxiety and hardship for those that have it. You know how much we love you. You are such an extraordinary person and we are always here for you. You have so much to look forward to.
    Adele Tindell

  • Ela

    I do not have any experience with OCD but I just wanted to tell you that you are a brave soul and you are not alone.

  • Allison

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are such an inspiration. I have OCD as well, and know firsthand how tough it is. You are so brave. Keep fighting and keep sharing your story. You are definitely making a difference. <3

  • tricia

    what treatments for this.i have a hurting mind too

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