Trigger warning: Article contains mentions of illnesses, both mental and physical, that some individuals may find triggering. Should you need assistance with your mental health, you may contact the National Center for Mental Health or refer to this list of hotlines.
My stuff at home is in constant disarray — books stacked like sloppy towers on the living room table, yarn trimmings from yesterday’s project scattered all over the couch (and the floor), a drawer looking like a bottomless pit of clothing that could possibly give tidying expert Marie Kondo a heart attack… You can say that I’m not the most organized person around. But I’ll tell you what: I also have obsessive compulsive disorder, which is more commonly known as OCD.
A condition often associated with neatness, OCD is more than just having the preference of keeping things orderly and pristine. In fact, obsessions and compulsions caused by OCD don’t develop out of mere preference. We have them because we feel like we’re being pushed towards the brink of our sanity and we don’t have any other choice. It’s almost always between doing the action or risk having a negative intrusive thought — no matter how irrational it may be — come true.
This World Mental Health Day, allow me to give you a glimpse into my life as an OCD warrior. This will hopefully not only help you understand the condition better, but also prompt you to take action if you think someone dear to you could use help to overcome this debilitating mental illness.
OCD comes in many forms—and it’s possible to suffer from more than just one type at a time.
OCD may be used as an umbrella term for a wide range of obsessions, compulsions, and urges. But if you want to get into the specifics, the condition actually is subdivided into different kinds and a professional can determine which type or types your symptoms fall under:
- Symmetry and Orderliness – probably the best-known type of OCD, this involves arranging things in a certain way to prevent discomfort or harm from occurring. Unlike those who just want things to look nice and neat, people with this type of OCD take organization on a different level, as dictated by their intrusive or obsessive thoughts. For instance, one has to keep their school notes upright in their bags otherwise they would fail.
- Checking – this compulsion is driven by the obsessive fear that something may cause harm if a certain task is not done. Those with this type of OCD constantly seek reassurance, review past memories, or go over menial tasks over and over again, like checking doors if they’ve been locked or gas stoves if they’ve been turned off. Checking may also involve constantly or overly checking one’s body for signs of illnesses or health conditions.
- Rumination or Intrusive Thoughts – this type of OCD doesn’t usually come with a compulsion. It mainly involves repetitive, disturbing, or even downright horrific thoughts, like inflicting violence on a loved one or, for those who are brought up in a religious environment, coming up with unwanted blasphemous thoughts and images.
- Hoarding – many are familiar with hoarding but they do not realize that it can be a type of OCD, too. Not to be confused with hoarding disorder, where one keeps an excessive number of objects in a chaotic manner, hoarding OCD pushes the sufferer to hoard items for very specific obsessive worries and fears.
- Contamination – either mental or physical, this type of OCD involves thoughts of being dirty or getting sick because of getting exposed to bacteria or chemicals or even people. Contamination OCD sufferers may be seen repeatedly washing their hands, disinfecting surfaces, or avoiding places, objects, and activities that might cause them or their loved ones harm.
Personally, I have three types of OCD — what a party, right? I didn’t develop all of them at the same time, but as one type worsened, it resulted in another form of OCD. I started with checking OCD — constantly obsessing over my health (multiple trips to the doctor’s office, begging them to test me for every possible illness to “make sure” that nothing’s wrong), which then led to contamination OCD (I wouldn’t change batteries if someone else could do it for me), and eventually, intrusive thoughts.
Along with OCD, I was also diagnosed with anxiety, for which I was prescribed medication by my psychiatrist. It’s not uncommon for OCD sufferers to have other mental disorders. Some may also develop depression. This is why treatment for OCD is essential.
OCD comes with a vicious cycle.
This cycle typically begins with an intrusive thought or obsession. For example, you came across an article about some rare disease and after a while, a thought pops up in your head: “What if I have it?” This caused you so much anxiety, you research more about the illness, you start to develop its symptoms (or so you think), and you check your body for more signs of the disease — you’re pretty sure you have it.
To get a proper diagnosis, you go see a doctor, who checks you and orders some tests that come back fine. They tell you there’s nothing wrong with you and send you on your way. For a moment, you feel a sense of relief. You are okay. That’s fantastic! Then another thought comes to haunt you—“What if the doctor missed something?” And so the cycle starts all over.
This has been my reality for more than 10 years before being diagnosed with OCD recently, in my mid-20s. What I thought was just a fear-filled phase in my teenage years turned out to be something more serious that I could have resolved sooner, had I known it was my mind that needed treatment and not my body.
Yes, most of the time, we know we are overreacting.
“Ang arte mo naman!”
“Grabe! Ang OA mo!”
“Sa kalinisan mo, lalo kang magkakasakit!”
“Praning ka talaga!”
“Papansin ka na naman!”
These are words that have been hurled at me so often, I’ve always felt bad for causing inconvenience to others because of my obsessions and compulsions.
I am aware that most of my fears are irrational and I also know that the things I do to get a little relief from the debilitating thoughts my mind seems to churn 24/7 may be seen by others as an overreaction. But overcoming OCD is not as simple as just shrugging off the thoughts that have plagued me for so long.
Individuals with OCD could use some compassion.
As though having scary thoughts in our minds every waking second of our lives isn’t enough, we are to deal with inconsiderate people almost on a daily basis. The toughest part? Those people could be friends or family members.
Having a strong support system during one’s battle with OCD is crucial to achieve lasting relief and freedom. So if you think someone close to you is struggling with OCD, show some compassion and kindness. If you can, go the extra mile and take the time to make your relatives or other people in your circle of friends understand the condition.
We are TIRED.
People would think we, OCD sufferers, enjoy organizing things or that we are trying to seek attention when we try to do things our way. Ha! Nothing is fun when it comes to OCD. It’s a distressing and debilitating condition that affects about two percent of the general population.
I, myself, am tired of all the thoughts. I am exhausted from performing all the rituals to counteract my obsessions! I am even annoyed by remarks from people who don’t know me too well, praising me for always keeping my health in check.
Gosh, how I wish I no longer have to deal with hospital trips and soaring medical bills. I wish I didn’t have to avoid things that other people enjoy. How I wish this nightmare of a condition will be over soon so I can just live my life.
We have good days, too.
While OCD can take a lot of our time, energy, and headspace, many of us have experienced some sort of a break from our symptoms, or periods when we find OCD completely manageable. This usually happens when we’re in a state of preoccupation or elation.
Back in college, I felt like I was on the brink of insanity, constantly checking myself for signs of cancer, avoiding the color purple and certain numbers, and having repeated visions of pulling the trigger of a gun against my head. But the following year, I went on an exchange program in Europe, and the sudden change of lifestyle, coupled with the excitement of the experience put a pause to my symptoms.
I felt so great, I thought my nightmare was over. However, the stress of my final year at university and finding a job as a fresher sent me right back to my obsessions and compulsions two years later.
OCD flare-ups can be triggered by a wide range of factors. In a 2012 study by Italian researchers, three traumatic events were identified to precede most OCD flare-ups, especially in women: the hospitalization of a family member, a major personal physical illness, and the loss of a personally valuable item.
It takes a while for many OCD sufferers to seek help.
The International OCD Foundation says it can take 14 to 17 years from the onset of symptoms for someone to consult a professional to discuss their obsessions and compulsions. This could be due to a variety of reasons, ranging from the cost of regularly seeing a psychiatrist (let’s face it — it’s expensive AF) to having the confidence that they would be just alright.
Needless to say, the pressures of adulting and, now, the pandemic made everything worse for me. I found myself in the office of my psychiatrist just before Christmas last year out of desperation. I knew I needed serious help and I was dead set to begin my journey of healing
There is hope!
There is a wide range of therapies used to treat OCD. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of talking therapy that trains the patient to manage their issues by changing the way they think and act upon an obsession or intrusive thought.
While recovering from OCD may take some time (it really feels like taking two steps forward and one step back), it is possible for people with the condition to lead full and happy lives.
I’m not there yet, but someday, I will be.
To my fellow OCD warriors, hang in there and don’t stop trying to find the right treatment that will help you achieve freedom and happiness.
For more mental health resources, visit Breathe.