The Secret Shame of Having OCD
“Do you have everything?,” a friend will ask as I spend an inordinate amount of time looking through my purse.
An innocent question that sometimes disrupts my OCD ritual. And then I have to do it again.
Over the years, I’ve decided to come clean with close friends and those I spend a lot of time with…because when we’re out, they’ll likely see me rummage through my purse, while I’m silently listing everything I have in a specific order to make sure it’s all there.
My friends and family know to let me be while I complete my ritual. It’s annoying for sure, but something I cannot control. If I could, I would.
If this was my only ritual, I wouldn’t feel that bad. After all, it’s a somewhat helpful one.
But there are others.
I have to check that the door is locked a certain amount of times. Sometimes it’s 3 times, sometimes it’s 9. I feel embarrassed, as it looks like I’m trying to break into my own apartment. My ex-boyfriend at one point was worried I was going to break the door.
Whenever I change locations, I do more rituals. The other day I was leaving a coffee shop and stared at the empty space that I occupied. I was making sure I didn’t leave anything and was counting in an obsessive way.
I felt the barista’s eyes on me, wondering what the hell I was doing. I am sure it looked very odd. In that moment, I wanted him to understand. I wanted him to have compassion. But I felt shame that I had to do that.
Sometimes I repeat certain phrases in my head a specific amount of times. Sometimes I replay things that I’m worried about again and again, to convince myself that everything will be okay.
I used to ask my ex-boyfriend all the time, “Everything will be okay, right?” His “yes” was a moment of comfort. But at times he told me that I shouldn’t use other people in my rituals and didn’t answer my question.
The lack of response would make me increasingly anxious and frantic. It’s like I couldn’t let go until he said “yes.” And usually, I didn’t.
The first instance of OCD behavior occurred when I was a child. In elementary school, we had to wear white polo shirts as part of our uniform and for some reason, I had to pat each part of my shirt and say “Clean, clean, clean” as I touched each part. I didn’t know why I did this or where it came from, but looking back it was definitely the start of this behavior.
I know that it gets worse when I’m anxious about something but sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere.
The past few months — with my breakup and everything else going on, my OCD has surged. It’s been trying.
I have been late to appointments because I’m doing these rituals. I spend an inordinate part of my day doing rituals, when I could be using that time to work— or hey, even relax.
I don’t like it one bit. But the way OCD works is that you have to do these rituals in order to feel okay or to move on.
In a way, it’s me trying to have a semblance of control in a world where many things are out of my control.
At this moment, where it is affecting my life in a significant way, I am working on treating it through therapy and medication. I would love to be free of counting, obsessing, and doing rituals.
I would love to reclaim my time.
Let go a little and not be trapped in a vortex where I feel forced to do rituals against my will.
If you know someone with OCD, please don’t tell them to “just stop.” That’s not how it works and it’s not helpful. It’s hurtful, actually.
I would do anything to not have to do the rituals — have them occupy this space in my brain.
But I try to practice kindness with myself. Not beat myself up or hate myself for my behavior (which I’m really good at doing).
I am not so interested in where this came from or why I do this but rather on ways to minimize it or get rid of it completely.
It’s a journey. And in many ways, one I am just starting. For many years it’s just been another character in my life. My silent friend sitting right beside me, casting its shadow.
Part of me thinks I’ll always be this way.
And I very well might.
But I’m ready and eager to work through this with the mental health professionals I see.
I wanted to write about all of this because it’s so rarely talked about. It’s misunderstood. And there is a lot of shame for people who suffer with OCD.
OCD is more visible—you may be able to mask depression or anxiety, but when you’re forced to do a ritual in public, you are at the mercy of being judged by strangers, or even your friends.
For all of those suffering with OCD, I empathize with you. I understand and see you. For people who have to live with or deal with people with OCD, practice compassion and understanding.
You never know what someone else is going through or what’s going through their head.
We’re all doing the best we can.