Obsessive Compulsive Disorder effects 1.2% of the population and is regularly used loosely in conversation as people explain why they do that weird-thing, but does that really constitute to suffering with OCD? Olivia Alexandra explains how OCD really feels…
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has shadowed my whole life. It is a vast mass which clouds my judgement and rationale, engulfing me to then drag me to the depths of my own self. This may seem melodramatic, but I have spent twenty-one years fighting against the instinctive notion I possess which taunts me to perform bizarre actions. I say they are bizarre, but that’s from an outsider’s perspective; to me, they’re logical. If these traits had not been recognised by those around me, I would be none the wiser and content in assuming I was normal. Everybody touches doorknobs when they pass, right?
As a child the weight of my impulses felt all consuming. I allowed it to inexplicably control elements of my life, always beaten by the need to comply to my compulsive rituals. Rarely did I fight back against myself: it was easy to succumb to the simplicity of performing an act which satisfied that section of my consciousness. I struggled to comprehend the realisation that these desires were unnatural when my mother became irritable at the fact that I had thrown the bathroom hand towel to the floor again, simply because I couldn’t bear the fact that it may come into contact with the door. (The bathroom towel phase would last for around five years). I became devious in my attempts to appease my nature by trying to hide my habits; I was desperate not to be caught and chastised for something I couldn’t control. Admittedly, I wasn’t very good at it. My mother watched with a keen eye whilst I continued my idiosyncrasy’s on the sly. She never failed to recognise even the most subtle devious traits and constantly berated me to put a stop to the nonsensical madness.
As I got older, and my OCD could no longer be an ‘immature phase’, I began to struggle. I started to see the irrationality of my behaviour. No, it’s not normal to always have to sleep naked because you cannot bear the feeling of your pyjamas on the cotton sheets. No, it is not normal to touch the corner on pieces of furniture as you pass. No, it is not normal to have to leave a drawer approximately two inches open. No, it is not normal to have to wear your underwear skewed to the side because…..well, why? These quirks began to dominate my life and I started to lose touch with the reasons as to why I needed to perform these rituals. Mindlessly adding more and more obsessions to my endless list, I began to loathe myself and question what it was that ever triggered this abnormality within me. I just couldn’t understand why?
Psychologists and studies attribute the onset of OCD to stress. My first sign of OCD flared at the age of four, an age I vaguely recall. I refused to wear socks and as I was forced into them I would tug at the ends so that the material folded in reams at my toes, restricting the movement of my feet within my shoes as a wad of sock lay in the depths. To this day, I will not wear socks. My development years were halcyon, my family adored me and in my juvenile view, we were all blissfully happy. In light of this, I relentlessly search for the event that triggered my desperation to perform peculiar rituals, because until I can place my finger upon the pulse of that memory, I can’t understand my own head.
Based on my own experience, I think control is a large factor for those plagued by OCD. There is a visible correlation to my mood and my habits, and when I feel threatened, upset, angry or even just exhausted my compulsive patterns thrive as I try to restore the balance. To me, touching the corners of a book, or moving my shoes so that they do not touch each other will magically resolve anything sinister. Over twenty-one years, it’s gone from habit to addiction. Strangely, there is an up-side; the ability that OCD has given me an admirable ability to cope. I don’t recall ever experiencing the feeling of spiralling hopelessly out of control. It’s second nature to perform a routine of compulsive acts, to cure my hopeless feelings that I now do it without even realising and quietly reinstate my control, all the while trying not to create a spectacle.
My mother worked furiously through the years to subdue my urges. She started by questioning my reasonings. Why do you do this? I don’t know. Why can’t you stop? I don’t know. Why this specifically? I don’t know. She saw her perplexed face mirrored in mine, as I failed to justify myself. Over the years, my OCD would be blamed for items within the house being moved, removed or materialising. What is this doing here? The logical assumption was that it was my doing. Sometimes I felt all too aware that my mother might think I was a freak. She sent me for therapy, but they didn’t help to explain to me why I did what I did, but rather how to stop doing it. To me this seemed counter productive, without the ‘why’, no solution would be permanent. I stopped going shortly after.
Over the past five years I’ve developed a love for exploration and this has calmed my OCD tendencies. Travelling and meeting new people, putting myself beyond OCD and reaching out. Building friendships on trust creates a kind of equilibrium, and makes it unnecessary to feel out of control. My OCD urges become redundant. More and more, the importance of control seems to diminish and with that, my OCD is mellowing. There is light at the end of the tunnel that is mental health and that light is blinding me as I re-adjust in my twenties. OCD isn’t something I’ll ever be completely rid of, but right now I’m just focussing on grasping the why.
Follow Olivia on Twitter: @wildthingsgrowhere
Illustration: Nina Schulze