The toll OCD takes

Written by Shana Herron

Since I’ve opened up about my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder two years ago, I felt I should only write about my diagnosis if I had something enlightening or educational to say about it. Something positive to mention about my journey. Something that inspires hope. I haven’t felt I was worthy enough sharing the darker sides of my OCD (namely the effect it has on me) and the fact that since my last article, I haven’t gotten any better. As my OCD takes a much tighter hold on me, though, I find the need to be honest—honest about my frustration and my pain, so you can be honest about yours. One of the most powerful things for me is the solace found in knowing you have allies when you feel lost and helpless—when you feel out of control.

Now more than ever, I feel hostage to my OCD and overshadowed by resurfaced compulsions. I have few moments where I can recognize the person that I used to be. These fleeting moments manifest themselves in belly laughs with my roommate, in solo jam sessions, and in walks with my dog. Sleep is no longer an escape, as I’m held awake by intrusive thoughts that eventually bleed into nightmares and jolt me back awake with a tight fist on my heart long before my alarms are due to wake me. Making plans with my friends or my sister is no longer therapeutic. When I’m with them, I have to bite back the urge to compulsively and selfishly tell them everything going on in my mind—over and over again—until something positive breeds from my words just as if they’re a prayer.

And I am so, so tired of it.

I am tired of not being able to get ready like other people. So badly do I wish I could just throw on clothes and brush my teeth without having to carve out an hour and half of my day for those two things alone. I’m tired of wanting to cancel plans because the idea of having to get ready and go through another ritualistic round of actions until they are done just right is about as appealing as sitting on an airplane with a wailing infant. I’m tired of this being misconstrued as me being flakey or disinterested in those that I care about.

I am tired of doing everything just right and still having something bad happen. The feeling of never being in control of myself or those around eats away at me and my days. I wish my self-worth wasn’t contingent on how I tie my hair up or how I read a line in a book. I wish I could shake the idea that the only reason why my friends stick around is because I count “5, 6, 7, 8, 9” three to five times as I drink water out of a glass—not because I truly have something to offer them. When I’m with them, I wish I wasn’t silenced by the fear of saying something wrong and that my lips didn’t carry constant traps for seeking reassurance.

I am tired of hearing people say they are “like so OCD” about something such as their space being neat. A statement like that makes me feel as though my daily battle isn’t serious or even real for that matter. The reality of being “like so OCD” is this: I brush my teeth for 10-15 minutes every morning because I’m haunted by the idea that someone I love may die or decide I’m not worth their time. I have to wash silverware once, twice, three times—meticulously flipping the fork or knife around so I get each side—or else I might jeopardize my reputation. I let my room turn into a mess because I don’t always know what compulsions may be hiding from me beneath my scattered books and how many times I’ll have to touch a t-shirt sleeve before it can be properly folded and put away. As understanding as I try to be, I doubt these people that claim they are “so OCD” feel a threatening, invisible hand guiding their actions and commanding their obedience. I doubt they have to tug on their window 5 times to make sure it’s locked, despite it not having been opened in the first place. I doubt they must avoid anything with the number two as they count repeated number sequences as they wash their hair. Abusing the phrase “I’m so OCD about that” regarding orderliness perpetuates the notion that having OCD means you’re simply a germaphobe and a neat-freak, when the reality of having OCD is much more than that.

Most importantly, though, I am tired of letting this disorder consume me. I am tired of it taking the beauty out of autumn days with all the ways that things could go wrong for me. I am tired of the ache in my back caused by hunching over the sink while I brush my teeth for long periods of time. I am tired of running out of spaces to store things because I hoard. I am tired of not being able to stop myself.

That’s why I write this—now without the expectation or concern that I’m being inspirational. I tell myself that I’m not inspiring enough to write because I’m still struggling. But, how do I expect myself to become better if I am only willing to share, to accept, certain aspects of my disorder? If I’m not willing to acknowledge the toll that having OCD takes on me? I’ve felt that I can only discuss OCD in the frame of how it works and manifests itself, because no one would want to hear about the actual toll it takes on someone. Perhaps, I felt guilty for letting my disorder take so much out of me.

Living with OCD involves a constant forfeiture of control in order to gain the impression that you have any at all. It’s self-inflicted pain in an attempt to draw your mind away from the relentless stream of “could have’s”, “should have’s”, and “what if’s”. So, I write this for catharsis. I write this as an attempt to regain some of the power that I’ve lost. I write this for all my friends and family members that have now become a part of the collateral damage to my ever-changing mood and hypersensitivity to crumbs on the counter. Most especially, I write this, too, for all that struggle along with me—for those that are tired of feeling out of control.


Image credit: World of Oddy


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. 

You may read all of Shana’s MHT guest posts here.

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  • Anon

    I love this article and I love this human! Stay strong girl, you haven’t lost your muchness yet! x

    • Shana

      Thank you so much! 🙂

  • Pam Yohlin

    Beautifully written, Shana, and so honest. Just so you. Beautiful and honest. Your observations about your disorder reveal that you do have some kind of control over something that defies control. Your insights into this difficult and devastating disorder “hold up (your) light in this darkness, which in and of itself show a step on the road to recovery. Explaining the unexplainable. You do it so well, and I pray that that gives you hope. Keep shining a light on this, Shana, and on your amazing self, as you continue on your journey to help yourself and others. You are something special!!

    • Shana

      Thank you so much, Mrs. Yohlin! 🙂

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for writing this. It sometimes feels like you’re the only one having a voice in your head telling you what to do or something bad will happen. Or if I don’t do it I will have “bad karma”. I hate it so much. I’m so tired of living with this disorder and I’m glad I found this article. It just makes me feel better knowing that someone else out there knows exactly what I’m going through and understands the toll it take on you and it also makes me feel less crazy. So thank you, again.

    • Shana

      I know exactly what you mean about the bad karma. It can be (and most often is) so exhausting having OCD. I’m so happy that you benefited from this article, it means so much to me to hear that. I wish you all the best.

  • Paul Illidge

    Sad to hear you “haven’t gotten better” since your first article, Shana. Do you have no idea why? I wonder why it’s “tightening its hold”? There has to be an answer for that, wouldn’t you say? Was there a time when you weren’t “lost and out of control”? What has caused the change?

    Maybe you should analyze that, if you haven’t. Why do you spend so much time ruminating about yourself? It almost sounds like you get high on feeling low. That’s part of a compulsive disorder in many cases. It can become feeling sorry for yourself: produce a victim mentality.

    It’s hard to get a feeling of “hope” when you tell us that you’ve surrendered to your compulsions, and allowed them full control in your life. That they’ve defeated you, and maybe they will defeat readers like me too.

    I wish there had been more assurance that there’s a way back from illness to health!

    Wonderful writing.


    • Trish

      *** I’m sorry this comment comes a little late. I responded right after Paul’s comment came through and then forgot to approve it! ***

      Hi Paul,

      Thank you for your feedback.

      Unless I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying in your comment — and if so, please correct me — given how I understand your comment what I want to say is that I don’t ask my guests to give assurances, but to do their best to write honestly about what’s going on with them. And to share their wisdom; Shana is very clear that her purpose for writing this article is so others feel less alone in their struggles with OCD because she has found it helpful to know she has allies who share the same kind of experiences.

      I love her honesty in this piece and was so excited to publish it so that others may see that recovery is a long road — which is to say that where Shana is with her OCD right now is exactly where she should be because it’s the truth. It is a glimpse in time that I’m so glad she captured to share with us.

      Much love,

    • Shana

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your comment. In my personal experience with OCD, I often go through waves where it’s easier to get through the day and other periods where it’s extremely hard. Right now, I am in one of the tougher periods. I wrote this with the intention to shed light on the darker times, so if others are going through the same thing, they know that they aren’t alone in their struggle. I am still in my own process of healing.


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