People often ask me how long I’ve had OCD, and it’s a little hard to answer. I was diagnosed a couple months shy of my 27th birthday, and soon after I started to think back to my childhood, wondering how long all the obsessing had been going on. While I can’t be 100 percent positive when my symptoms started, I do remember being preoccupied with irrational fears when I was nine. I can thank the handy IMDB.com for that. I remembered that two 1988 TV movies had triggered different obsessions: One was that I’d be caught in a fire but survive, and the other was that I had breast cancer—quite possibly the youngest breast cancer sufferer ever. (I mentioned that the fears were irrational, didn’t I?)
Nearly two decades passed between my first memory of intrusive thoughts and the day I was diagnosed in 2006. That’s a tragically long time, and what makes it even more tragic is that it’s common for people with OCD to live in confusion for years, even decades.
I’d ask why this happens, but I already know the reason. Since I didn’t wash my hands compulsively, I didn’t think I had OCD. Even when a friend planted the seed, I wasn’t convinced. I thought I had to have the C in OCD in order to be diagnosed with the disorder, and I didn’t realize that I was actually engaging in mental compulsions every time I tried to neutralize my thoughts or pray for them to go away.
I was recently trying to explain pure O to someone who’d never really heard of it before, and she asked, “So what did you think you had all those years?”
“I just thought I was bad,” I said.
I didn’t think I had anything. When I was struggling with HOCD, I thought I was a lesbian. When I had blasphemous obsessions, I thought I was a bad Christian and was going to hell. When I was obsessed about child abuse, I thought I might actually abuse a child, that maybe I already had, or maybe I’d been abused myself and repressed it all because it was too painful.
Being diagnosed with a disorder felt like a dream come true compared to what I thought I was. A disorder is treatable. There are medications for it, and therapy. Lots of books and support. There never seemed to be hope for the deviant person I thought I must be.
Talking about my taboo obsessions, including in blog posts like this, isn’t easy. Each time I do it, though, I’m a little less afraid and not as embarrassed. Being honest helps me, but that’s really the secondary goal of it all: I’m open to help anyone who’s feeling the same way I used to feel—guilty, ashamed, doomed, empty, and terrified.
If you knew your story could help someone, would you share it?
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