OCD Is Far More Than Sorting Skittles

My disorder is not a quirky personality trait

Jeff Sheldon/Unsplash

What sort of quality of life do you imagine is possible when your fight or flight response is triggered by children and men? When your own family brings on incestuous thoughts that will make you hate yourself? When proximity to a knife makes you quiver with fear and anxiety that you might plunge it into someone, and when sexual encounters are defined by sudden taboo images taking you out of the moment and into your head? Picture a life where a good day is simply to keep functioning, and where a bad one is complete paralysis and self-loathing. This is OCD.

The world is one great diverse threat, and nothing is simply enjoyed; joy is quickly hijacked by anxiety, anger weaponised to give substance to intrusive thoughts, and lust twisted to make sexual thoughts convincing. A family gathering is a hotbed of triggers, a play park is source material for disturbing intrusive thoughts, and plaster on the floor is a life or death threat to be avoided.

You beat yourself up over a groinal response, and try to avert your gaze from anything that’s a threat, which is almost everything. You try desperately not to look at or think about a taboo, and white bear effect, you look and think about it, because by fighting unwanted thoughts, you empower them. You crumble inside and then retreat and over analyze every detail of the crime scene moment to make sense of it. You never resolve it, more often it is just superseded by the next trigger. Hours can be spent trying to justify a thought that needn’t be justified and passing intrusive thoughts- which we all have- are perceived as damning indictments of our moral character. The OCD mind is constantly pinballing over triggers, tying knots as it tries to untangle them.

You say rituals trance-like for hours on end, but none of them feel right; chasing an elusive perfection and scratching a mental itch that never gets better. Saying or completing rituals is like trying to fill a sieve with water, but you keep doing them anyway. You are tormented daily by doubt; a big, bold question mark over everything from your sexuality to your beliefs, all of which define your character. Indeed, OCD is one great tragic irony where the anxious persons solution to intrusive thoughts (compulsions), becomes the problem, consuming their time and thoughts entirely.

If all this sounds like a horror film, it’s because it often feels so; waiting for a jump scare moment, walking around with a dull ache in the stomach, and a feeling that disaster is around the corner. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t spend hours performing rituals to alleviate the maelstrom of anxiety and fear; not a day where I don’t think I am depraved or corrupted. My mind is constantly “on” so to speak, and can find as much to fear in moments of contentment as it can its moments of melancholy.

In short, OCD, in my case Pure O, is a constant weight I carry on my chest; like a workout vest that athletes train in, it makes the simple arduous and the arduous impossible. Pure OCD quite often means a sufferer doesn’t present external signs of compulsions, but performs mental rituals instead; in place of hand-washing or checking rituals, sufferers will perform mental checks such as analysing a thought, a feeling, or a bodily sensation. (note: those with Pure O may say rituals out loud or repeat phrases or prayers also.)

Moreover, this lack of “symptoms” can make it near impossible to identify for those looking inwards; it is, in every sense of the word, an invisible illness. In this article I have alluded to many different forms of OCD; Contamination OCD, Harm OCD, Paedophilia OCD, and Homosexual OCD to name a few. This should be a clear sign that far from a one-dimensional personality trait, OCD is an adaptable and many-headed monster. Like a Hydra, you can cut off one head, and soon enough another, equally as terrifying, will replace it.

I suffered in silence for years with this disorder, and once, upon disclosing it to someone, was told I didn’t have it, namely because this person believed OCD was what the cultural image said it was; a fastidious personality trait that manifested itself in orderliness.

Hopefully, this piece has conveyed that Pure OCD is debilitating, constant, and far more than a quirk of character. If you line up your pencils or colour code work, you’re organised, not “a bit OCD”. OCD doesn’t do half measures, it colours your entire life. Think before using the word.

Politics graduate and aspiring journalist. Passionate about mental health awareness. Hoarder of odd historical facts.

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