Life with OCD: Why the Themes of Our Obsessions Change

Ask me what my obsessions are, and I’ll tell you that right now I really don’t obsess much about anything anymore—which isn’t to say I don’t get intrusive thoughts or feel any anxiety—but in the years leading up to my diagnosis I had many different obsessions.

While some people obsess over just one thing, many of us move from one obsession to another. Why is that? OCD is tricky and really clever, so it attacks what we cherish the most.  People often say things like, “All I’ve ever wanted was to be a mother, so why am I having these horrific thoughts about harming children?” That is why. If you care about it, OCD will target it.

When my OCD first started, or at least as far back as I can remember, I was convinced I had any number of diseases I read about in books. I loved to read, so I suppose OCD attacked me in a couple of ways: It didn’t want me to enjoy reading anymore and it wanted me to think I’d die before really living life at all.

A few years later, when I was really into things like church, youth group, and fitting in at school, I obsessed about the idea that I might be gay. How on earth could a 13-year-old in a small town fit in as the only lesbian ever?

Once being gay didn’t seem so terrible after all, I started to question my faith in religion across the board. I wasn’t just rejecting the idea that being gay was a sin, I was rejecting the whole kit and caboodle—but not without an obsessive fight. On the one hand I found many passages in the Bible to be unbelievable, and on the other hand I believed my incredulity meant I was destined for an eternity in hell. Surrounded by devout Christians at the Lutheran college I attended, having doubts of any kind felt inappropriate and inexcusable.  It wasn’t until I graduated and moved away that I was able to shake this obsession. Whew. What a relief.

But not for long. An undiagnosed and untreated obsessive mind will always find something to sink its teeth into. I’d always seen myself getting married and having two or three kids, and I imagined I’d love it. I loved kids, especially babies (and I still do, even though I don’t have kids), and once I’d graduated from college (check), moved out of my parents’ house (check), and gotten a job (check), my romantic relationships held more promise of lasting longer than a few weeks or months and turning into a lifelong commitment. My brain simply couldn’t have that! I couldn’t just be happy. I had to latch onto the idea that if I got married and had a baby I’d be a terrible mother. The worst mother. The kind of mother even serial killers would spit on.

Since most of my obsessions lasted for years at a time, it took nearly two decades for me to see a pattern. And the day I finally met with a psychiatrist, I said, “It’s almost as though whatever is the most important thing to me at that time in my life, I have bad thoughts about it.” Bingo.

This doesn’t mean you can’t love things. It doesn’t mean OCD will always win. It does mean OCD is a liar, and every time you think you must be the worst person ever because you can’t stop obsessing about XYZ, which incidentally used to bring you joy, you can cut yourself a whole lot of slack. Honestly, if OCD is telling you you’d make for a terrible veterinarian because suddenly you’re having sexual intrusive thoughts about dogs, I’d say you’re going to make the best vet ever. If OCD attacks it, it’s because you already know how important it is.

How about you? Do your obsessions tend to change based on life circumstances?


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