Since I was a kid, I’ve had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). OCD and intrusive thoughts can manifest in a variety of ways.
Here’s what mine looks like.
This house isn’t clean. This house isn’t clean. I need to write. I need to work. I need to make money but it’s not clean it’s not clean it’s not clean it’s–
I have to clean.
Did I lock that door? I’m sure I locked it. I should have taken a picture of it like the therapist said. I should have I should have stupid stupid stupid I’m going to be late if I turn around I can’t be late I can’t be late I have to be right on time screw it I’m turning around.
Did I lock the car? Press the lock button. Press it again. Did the car do the little honk? Press it again.
Press it again.
Press it again.
I touched the door. I touched it. I should have opened it with my foot but I touched it I touched it stupid stupid I can feel the germs on me gotta get it off gotta get it off wash wash wash where is the goddamn hand sanitizer where–
You can imagine what the pandemic did to me. And is still doing to me.
OCD and Intrusive Thoughts
Everything I walked you through up there is what I lived with every day of my childhood, every day of my 20s, and a significant portion of my 30. Today I can say that my OCD has been reduced thanks to a variety of mental health medications, but it’s still there, just like my anxiety can still pop up despite the non-narcotic meds I have to take, just like my addiction can still rip me apart if I’m not very, very careful about working a 12-step program.
Those thoughts up there are the intrusive thoughts that OCD fills my brain with on bad days. They define my OCD. You can see how much anxiety is in them. This is more than just everyday fear–this is something I don’t want anything to do with yet fills my mind anyway, something I can’t expel through prayer or meditation.
Those thoughts are obsessions. They won’t get out of my head. I can’t stop thinking about them. When I think I’ve gotten a contaminate on my skin, I literally feel the contamination, even though it’s probably not there.
A compulsion is something I do to make the obsession go away. I compulsively wash my hands over and over, or I slather my hands with hand sanitizer, or I check a door over and over to make absolutely certain it’s locked.
OCD is on the anxiety spectrum, but the way it manifests is different for everyone. I’m grateful that I don’t compulsively count like many people with OCD do, but I could do without the obsessive cleaning and hand washing.
The hypochondria is equally bad. I become convinced that I have this illness or that or the other, and this is exacerbated by the fact that I actually do have quite a few illnesses, both mentally and physically.
The strangest part of all of this is the role memory plays.
OCD and Memory–When Short-Term Memory Shorts Out
Fortunately or unfortunately, I have really good long-term memory. I say unfortunately because it meant I was able to remember just about everyone I’d ever wronged in my entire life.
I had a long list of amends when I was working step 9.
When it comes to my short-term memory though, things don’t look so great.
When combined with OCD, it’s practically non-existent in these bizarre little episodes that I experience where my mind is convinced that no, that door is not locked, despite the fact that I’ve checked it three or four or five times.
Numerous studies have shown that people with OCD have a number of memory issues. Basically, my memory doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, which means that, no matter how many times I turn that damn lock and rattle the door, I need to do it once more.
Dealing with OCD
I take a multifaceted approach to dealing with my OCD, but it’s important to note that what works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for everyone.
That’s one of the biggest problems with mental health issues. Some people have treatment resistant depression that requires them to take more severe actions than simply taking the medication that works for me, so I’ll talk about what helps me, but it might not be what works for you.
Medication helps. Mood stabilizers have done wonders for my OCD, but they certainly haven’t cured it.
Exposure therapy helps, though it’s pretty shitty. Basically, I had to do the things I didn’t want to do so that my mind could see that they weren’t as bad as it said they were. For example, that meant not showering for a few days (believe me, if you think it’s gross, I was basically freaking out).
Pray helps. The 12 steps help. Working with other alcoholics and drug addicts helps. Talking to other people with OCD helps. Exercising helps.
None of these things are a cure. The OCD isn’t something that goes away. It’s just one more demon that sits around and hopes I’ll be stupid enough to get lazy, slack off, and stop taking my meds.
And today that’s not something I’m willing to do.
Read More About Anxiety Issues
OCD is on the anxiety spectrum. If you suffer from anxiety and have struggled with addiction, check out my article on drug-induced anxiety.