By Christian MacArthur.
I reckon that throughout my life, I’ve endured a single worry - Worry A - over 50,000 times. And I have a fuck ton of worries. Worry A can pop up once a month or a hundred times a day. And the best part? Worry A isn’t real.
I - along with at least seven million other Americans - suffer from OCD. Now, I’m sure you think you know what OCD is: excessive cleaning, washing one’s hands dozens of times a day or checking to make sure the front door is locked 50 times a day. Unfortunately for us, it goes a lot deeper.
With OCD, the possibilities are endless. Someone with OCD can literally worry about anything. My first memories of OCD surround a seemingly random series of panic attacks I endured as a five-year-old. Soon after, I became hyper-aware of the number of times I performed daily routines. Symmetry and even numbers were of the utmost importance: I had to write everything twice, and if I touched one side of a doorway, I had to touch the other side, too. I despised doing these rituals, but I felt like I had to because if I disobeyed these orders, bad things would happen. Like really bad things. If I performed a compulsion wrong, my family would die or the world would be obliterated. Deep down, I very well understood that these thoughts were ridiculous, but I just could not help myself.
I want you to think of the OCD brain like a broken record player that repeats the same three-second interval of a song. The people listening to the record despise it for doing so, but they are powerless to do anything about it because the record player is untouchable. And that three-second interval is someone screaming in anguish. Doesn’t sound fun, does it?
Before we revisit Worry A, I want to go over what OCD is. At its essence, OCD is a disorder in which obsessions - thoughts, images, and impulses - occur over and over again and feel outside of the victim’s control. In order to neutralize such obsessions, the victim performs compulsions - repetitive behaviors, thoughts, and rituals. As noted by the International OCD Foundation, “compulsive behavior is done with the intention of trying to escape or reduce
anxiety or the presence of obsessions.” An important thing to understand about OCD is that the victim does not enjoy thinking about and performing these recurring thoughts and urges - in fact, this stuff terrifies them. There are five main types of OCD: checking, contamination, symmetry, hoarding, and ruminations. The first four may consist of both physical and mental compulsions, while the lattermost is primarily psychological. As a kid, I had a combination of checking, symmetry, and ruminating OCD symptoms. Through years of therapy, mental exercises, medication, and changes to my lifestyle, I’ve beaten the first two.
Remember Worry A? Well, it manifests itself through ruminations. Ruminations are basically intrusive thoughts that occur wherever and whenever they so, please. Every single human being has intrusive thoughts from time to time, however, the OCD sufferer cannot get rid of them. They don’t reflect the sufferer’s true intentions - as I’ve said before, the sufferer is terrified of them and is actually less likely to act on them - but they have a knack for scaring the hell out of the person.
I’ve had intrusive thoughts since that pre-adolescent panic attack. They range in subject and intensity but usually focus on violence and harm. I’ve never planned, much less carried out acting on these thoughts, because I realize how outrageous and nonsensical they are. Regardless, I sometimes fall for the OCD’s tricks and send myself back down the rabbit hole.
Some people with OCD view themselves as freaks, crazy persons, or outcasts. I’ve never once felt like I fall under one of these categories because I was made aware of my OCD as a young child. In addition, I understand that it is an incredibly common and easily treatable condition. Much to my friends’ entertainment, I meditate, go on walks, drink matcha, listen to bossa nova (check it out), and bike around campus at 2 am. Maybe I appear like a granola Yogi as a result - I could care less. These routines, alongside medication and therapy, keep my symptoms at bay.
I understand that it is incredibly difficult to talk about mental health, but I promise you that there is ZERO shame in doing so. We are a bunch of high-achieving young adults with a lot weighing on our shoulders, and we must support each other if we want the best. I try to be as open as possible about my OCD because I have nothing to hide! Why hide a normal human condition? I’m not perfect, but neither is anyone else, and to be honest, I’m glad. What’s the fun in being perfect?
Acknowledging that I have OCD and anxiety has allowed me to accept myself for who I really am - a tall, lanky kid with a big nose, a camera, a weird-ass taste in music, and a self-proclaimed gift for making people laugh (both uncomfortably and genuinely). I know that I will always experience OCD symptoms to some extent, but I also know that I have complete
control over my relationship with it. I cannot control the thoughts it plants in my head, but I can control my reaction to them.
Before you finish this, take three deep breaths and give yourself a hug - you may not feel like it, but you deserve it. Now, go grab a matcha latte and tune into some bossa nova.
Peace and love,