is it just me

Is it Just Me?

October 19th 2016

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts...or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something. Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts...Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety. A person's level of OCD can be anywhere from mild to severe...If severe and left untreated, it can destroy a person's capacity to function.

“High five my other hand as well,” my friend said to me. “Otherwise it will feel weird.”

“O-kaaay.” I high fived her again whilst secretly thinking what a weirdo she was. Then I went home and showered because I’d been in a public place and done about three hundred things that were on my ‘require a shower afterwards’ list. I spent the rest of the evening avoiding all smells, dirt and any activity that could make me sweat. Then I climbed into bed, all nice and clean, and switched my bedside light on and off until it felt right.

I genuinely thought what my friend and I did was the same thing. She had to high five me twice, I had to switch my light on and off thirty times. What was the difference? We were both just going through a weird phase that we’d grow out of. That was what everyone said.

The difference was, she went on to graduate uni, travel the world, make new friends and memories while I couldn’t leave the house and scrubbed my hands to the point where they bled.

It was all too easy to justify behavior as it seemed everyone around me had their own set of “quirks.” My dad liked to load the dishwasher a certain way and would reorganize it if it wasn’t done right. My mum binned milk still inside it’s sell by date because she was worried about getting ill. Even celebrities I watched on chat shows talked about things they did that were “a little bit OCD.”

Another thing that made it easier to explain away my problems was that my disorder constantly changed appearance. My earliest memory was of putting my clothes on in a certain order but over the years it changed to checking, excessive washing, counting, tidying and repeating routines. Every time it changed form it gave me the excuse to say, see it was just a phase. That was what I’d tell myself when I was drowning in the next obsession.

But it never really passed. It just changed form and the effect it had on my life remained constant for more than a decade. I had to accept the fact that I didn’t have “quirks” like everyone else. I had OCD and I needed help to overcome it.

Now that I’m further on in recovery I find myself facing a dilemma. OCD no longer dominates my life. But, I still have things I like done a certain way. For example: I like to drink my tea from certain mugs, my nail varnish is always immaculate and my bedroom is a lot tidier than your average 21 year olds. But sometimes I worry that these are lingering compulsions or warning signs that I’m heading for a relapse.

It’s where recovery from OCD becomes complicated. With drug addiction you either use or you don’t. With alcoholism you’re either sober or you’re not. But with OCD it’s not that simple. I didn’t know to what extent I had to challenge these behaviours or if it was even possible to not have any routines or rituals.

I sat down with a cup of tea (in the right mug, obviously) and journalled about it until my thoughts became clearer. The fact is, I’m very happy with my life. I’m making new friends, building a career I love and I even have a crush on a guy! I’m living like a healthy, normal woman. To look at me now you’d have no idea that a year ago I was curled up in a ball sobbing my guts out.

Maybe I do still have a few lingering routines but I’m okay with that. They don’t stop me from being the person I want to be. So for the first time in my life, I’m not going to obsess about them.

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