Originally posted on The Sobriety Collective.
I promised you a three-part series. I know, I know.
But it’s like, where the hell do I even begin?
When people say, “OMG, I’m soooo OCD about [X, Y, Z]” I don’t really think they realize what the eff OCD actually does to a person.
I’m not a scientist or a psychiatrist or a psychologist or really anything with a couple of extra letters after my last name—but I *did* stay a Holiday Inn Express once.
What these well-intentioned people are probably saying is that they have some element of Obsessive CompulsivePersonality Disorder (OCPD), a la Monica Gellar or anyone other super uppity Type-A person (mad props to my Type As here!). I’m not discounting the possibility that said well-intentioned folk could, in fact, have OCD.
All I can speak to is my own experience and life. Call me the resident subject matter expert on that topic.
So…remember this picture?
Yep, this is about when I first started to notice the symptoms of my OCD.
But of course, I was completely lacking in the vocabulary to articulate what was going on with me and what I was feeling. True story: I didn’t realize I had OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER until my Psych 101 class in college. Thanks, Professor Haidt! For realsies.
Where were we? Ah yes, Laura as a little gal.
I remember, at about 6 or 7, suddenly being conscious of swallowing. And then I’d have to swallow a certain number of times to “feel right.” I don’t know what the number was; but I *do* remember feeling my throat get dry after swallowing my saliva so many times and still needing to continue. It wasn’t because I was afraid anyone would get hurt or the stereotypical obsessions many sufferers have (those would come in later years, don’t you worry). I just knew, somehow, that I had to swallow (the compulsion) until I felt “right.”
And so it began.
Repetitive actions, thoughts, phrases. Constant worrying.
(As my current therapist says, I’m fond of catastrophizing (aka living in an alternate reality of what my future could be). I definitely focus on a made up scary future way more than I regret the past, but I think about the latter too. A fair amount.) But yeah, the repetition. Constant repetition. See that fancy little graphic over yonder (aka at the top of this post)? It’s a bit of a double entendre because I know that things that my OCD makes me do are just that, my OCD and not me, Laura. But at the same time, I’ve tried to replace some of my mental repetitive compulsions with that very phrase. First out of belief, that yes, it WASN’T ME. And then, the OCD kicks in and it becomes a new compulsion.
The delicious irony of it all.
Childhood continued. I always felt a little off, like I didn’t quite belong.
Shy, sensitive, combating OCD without realizing it, and some serious generalized anxiety (that again, how could I recognize at age 6?). Middle school brought out the compulsions even more, and I would do some of them at school. Case in point, I remember sitting on the concrete steps at my school and being aware that I might have sat on some mud. I immediately craned my head back to check the ole arse. A normal person might do that once or twice just to make sure and then go about their day. Yet that small action triggered something in me and it became a constant compulsion. Every day. And some of the kids saw me do it—and because I was different (definitely the runt of the pack—flat-chested when all the other girls were starting to develop, with a nose I hadn’t quite grown into and a somewhat squeaky voice, sparking, “Rat” as my newest nickname du jour)—I was ripe for bullying.
Cue the kids imitating me and pointing at me and again, the years of middle school that are normally so cruel for just, well, ANYONE GOING THROUGH PUBERTY became a living hell for me.
Some other random OCD compulsions I had between middle and high school:
- Playing a certain chord on the piano after EVERY SINGLE PIECE I played. For all you music geeks out there, imagine finishing “Moonlight Sonata” (hello minor key!) with a middle C chord. It was that middle C. I just had to do it to feel “right.”
- After reading a scary ghost story about a girl who was literally scared to death (I was like 11, be nice—it scared the bejeezus out of me!), I would put my hand on my heart and say something akin to “my heart’s still beating.” Or something like that. Yeah, of course it is. *ga-gon; ga-gon*
- Once, little superstitious Laura had no wood to knock on so she knocked on her head….and the merry-go-round of OCD took over. God, I remember being at my Gramma’s for the summer and my brother definitely didn’t get what I was doing—so he made me sit on my hands. SHEER TORTURE! Well, that helped. Got rid of that compulsion right quick. But I swiftly and handily replaced it with another one, just one that I could easily hide (up in the ole noggin’).
Meanwhile, high school began.
I wasn’t bullied as much, although I was definitely still teased. My OCD wasn’t as bad in high school, thankfully, but the generalized anxiety started to really kick in. I always remember not just nerves on the first day of school, but, like, TERROR. When it got bad, it got
(Anyone seen “The Trip”? I’m writing a la Steve Coogan’s imitation of Michael Caine)…
…it was the summer that my brother and closest group of friends went to off to college.
I was a junior when they were seniors—which basically meant I’d start my senior year friend and brother-less. Something hit me REALLY hard that summer and when I started my senior year, I was, in a nutshell, clinically depressed. I cried every day. EVERY day. Didn’t have any friends anymore and I went to an international high school, so my class was pretty small and while everyone knew me, none of the kids were my confidantes. So I had to navigate my senior year, in essence, as a new kid.
Meanwhile, the anxiety would wash over me, in school, daily. Not in a soothing wash; we’re talking a massive downpour of panic and terror.
Before all that happened, I was a summer intern at an American Embassy abroad, and the crowd interns I hung out with were the “popular kids” from older grades. The kids that had come back from college who I was SURE didn’t remember me, since I was a nerd. A drama geek. But they did. And they invited me out one night. And that’s when I had my first drink. CUE THE SOUNDS OF ANGELS. I finally could quiet the noise in my head. No more OCD, no more anxiety, just bliss. And I felt sexy. And popular. I know, all in a beer and a half. My tolerance was low. A sign of what was to come: the next morning at work, the college kids announced upon my walking into the cafeteria, that “the alcoholic” had arrived.
Let it be known that my parents raised me EXTREMELY WELL and always talked to me about the dangers of drinking and drugging.
They were very present parents and were (and still are, when we’re all able to get together) the family to sit down for dinner, every night. So they warned me that there might be drinking and that I, of course, should say no and stay strong. But I caved to peer pressure, and also, not knowing how to articulate it then, to my mental illness. Having OCD is exhausting. It’s a freaking Olympic sport trying to swim through all the crud that’s in my brain. I’ve referred to broken records before, GIFs on repeat, etc. You get the point. Not fun.
Anyway, the night I tried booze for the first time was probably a clue of what was to come. But I didn’t drink again until high school graduation, and then, not until college. That’s when the horses were really off to the races. *Neeeeee*
(Can I just say that the sheer act of writing this is incredibly therapeutic for me? Not just cathartic by getting it down on paper, but because I’m in a groove right now and a lot of my usual OCD compulsions aren’t bothering me. Ack. That is, until now. Just by saying OCD, it’s like HELLO. Triggers the monster).
The way my body physiologically internalized my anxiety was basically giving me an overactive bladder, at age 17, along with anxiety that I’d have an accident (even though I hadn’t actually had one since I was a little girl). Um, that’s not a typical worry of a high school senior. TRUST AND BELIEVE. I treated every class like a road trip, going to the bathroom before and after—and sometimes having to excuse myself mid-class for a sojourn to the girls’ room. I’d skip on assemblies and field trips because feeling “trapped” exacerbated the symptoms. I went to the doctor and they prescribed Motrin, which was supposed to help (they said; not entirely sure it did anything except temporary damage to my kidneys).
They suggested counseling; I told them I wasn’t ready.
Half of the symptoms were physiological—I felt an urge and frequency of urges, to go #1; the other half were in my head and of course, when anyone has anxiety or nerves, they’ve gotta go. Vicious cycle.
It actually still continues to this day but I’ve learned to manage it. It’s just part of who I am. I discovered Dear Kate undies and while I’m imagining Sofia Vergara in her latest trailer, saying, “That’s not underwearrrr! That’s a diaaaaaaperrrrrrr,” I feel more confident.
Yep. Hi, I’m Laura. I have a tiny bladder. And anxiety. And OCD. But they don’t have me.