Life with OCD: My First Visit with a Psychiatrist

My appointment wasn’t until four o’clock, so I had to go to work and sit in anticipation all day. I told a coworker that I had an appointment with a psychiatrist and how scared I was, and she told me she had seen one when her parents got divorced and that I wouldn’t have to talk about anything I didn’t want to.

“They’re not going to judge you,” she said. “Just think of all the horrible things they hear every day! You’re normal.” Yeah, I thought, that’s what you think. I felt like I was pulling the wool over people’s eyes and fooling them into perceiving me as a regular, everyday gal.

Dr. Grant’s office was more like one of those you would find when you visit your general practitioner than the psychiatrist’s office on TV and in movies. There was no leather fainting couch, no bookshelf-lined walls, no framed degrees hanging.

I sat in a small office-like chair as Dr. Grant thoughtfully paged through the questionnaire I had filled out. The silence was nerve-wracking—I watched him read through my answers, wondering when he’d recoil in disgust, but he never did. He only nodded now and then and scrawled notes on a pad. He assured me that the notes were for his personal use and that no one else would ever read them.

“All right,” he said as he flipped through the last few pages. “Tell me why you’re here.”

I had been chewing gum on the way to the appointment because my mouth was dry, so I took a tissue out of the box on the desk beside me, wrapped my gum in it, and then clutched the bunched-up wad in my hand to absorb my nervous sweat.

“It’s hard to talk about,” I said, suddenly afraid I had waited all this time and wouldn’t be able to tell my would-be savior what he needed to save me from. “I . . . I . . . let’s just say the article I identified with was called ‘Thinking Bad Thoughts.’”

“Okay, okay,” he said, nodding along patiently. “There are three so-called taboo obsessions. They fall under the categories of religious, violent, and sexual obsessions. Would you say your obsessions fall into one of these categories?”

“Yes,” I answered slowly. “Religious and sexual, but not violent. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been so ‘good’ about sex. I wasn’t going to have sex until I got married; I was always very into church.”

I began to cry softly. Warm, salty tears were rolling down my cheeks and coming to a point on my chin, where they dripped off. I dabbed at them with my wadded-up, gum-filled tissue, then grabbed a clean one.

“I can’t tell anyone because they’ll stop loving me if they know.” My throat tightened and another hot tear escaped my eye and began to roll down my cheek.

“I know it’s easy for me to say, and I’m not telling you you have to tell anyone,” Dr. Grant said, “but I am certain they would understand. They would still love you.”

“Yeah, maybe my mom would,” I choked out, feeling a bit more hopeful.

“You’re not a bad person,” he said in a convincing tone before he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I don’t know you. Maybe you are. Maybe you kick puppies or maybe you’re a bad friend, but you’re not a bad person because of this. What I’ve found about people with OCD is that they’re some of the brightest people; they are very conscientious, so much so that they worry needlessly about things their morals would never allow them to do.”

I had never thought of it that way. The reason my obsessions sent me into such a spiral of shame was that I was a good person, and I did have strong morals, I knew the difference between right and wrong, and I truly cared about doing the right thing. The people to worry about, Dr. Grant explained to me, are those who fantasize, rather than obsess, about violent behavior or taboo sexual acts like incest or molestation.

“It’s almost as though whatever I think is the worst possible thing a person can be at that time of my life—that’s what I believe myself to be.” I struggled through my explanation, but Dr. Grant understood.

He nodded emphatically, sympathetically, as though he were saying, “Yes, yes, you’re exactly right, this is what I’ve found in my research.” I could tell I had hit on something that was common in OCD sufferers, which calmed me considerably.

After we chatted for a while longer, Dr. Grant made a teepee with his hands and said, “So what can I do for you? The answer, I think, is a lot.”

I had never heard such sweet words. He could do a lot for me. A lot!

Excerpted from Being Me with OCD: How I Learned to Obsess Less and Live My Life by Alison Dotson, copyright © 2014. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; All rights reserved.


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