Understanding my OCD

Over and over and over and over and over again. Since the fourth grade, my life has been a series of repetition. Coming home from my school environment, I would always feel the immediate impulse to shower — a way of washing off every uncomfortable feeling my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) hand delivered. 

OCD comes in many different forms that will likely morph throughout a lifetime. According to The National Institution of Mental Health (NIMH), OCD affects 1.2% of the U.S. adult population, or about 2.5 million people. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men. The average age of onset for people who will experience OCD during their lifetime is 19, with 25% of cases occurring by age 14.

OCD has become a casual descriptor word for a perfectionist: “I’m so OCD about …” However, that is a limited scope of the reality of this disorder. When I was younger, I didn’t understand that some adults were misinformed; it only confused me more when they didn’t understand what I was going through. 

Now that I’m older, I realize a large part about understanding my OCD is being able to communicate the way I’m feeling and how I want to handle different situations. A few years ago, I might have gone into whirlpools of thought about my OCD being a burden or being wrong, but I’ve realized that’s just a part of the process of learning how to handle my OCD feelings.

The American Psychological Association (APA) describes OCD as “a disorder in which people have recurring unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions). To get rid of the thoughts, they feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).” Five common types of OCD include organization, contamination, intrusive thoughts, morality and checking. 

When overhearing individuals talk about OCD or other mental struggles, I’ve found that most of the time, people don’t understand the full picture. OCD sticks with a person for their entire life — it’s a challenge to work through over time as it continuously puts obstacles in your path. It grasps onto what you care about and transforms normal situations into unbearable moments. I wish people could truly empathize with how difficult it is to get through daily activities, and how OCD infiltrates almost all aspects of my life. 

This doesn’t mean that people with OCD can’t overcome their struggles. 

I’ve participated in two different therapy groups that have changed my perspective on the disorder in unimaginable ways. I attended a month-long group last year at Emory University. We met every weekday except Friday on Zoom for 90 minutes. While I was there, I began learning different methods of managing and understanding my experiences. One useful method for stressful circumstances I discovered was TIPP: temperature, intense exercise, paced breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. 

For years I didn’t understand why I couldn’t handle feeling the texture of the car upholstery on my skin, overwhelming me with a shriveling sensation. Knowing I would have to feel what was adjacent to nails on a chalkboard would make me want to use compulsions that my OCD voice found helpful. When I felt unable to overcome the unwanted feeling, I would rinse my hands or shower, using what I thought was a coping skill. After going through intensive exposure response therapy (ERP), I began to understand that there was a difference between compulsions and coping skills, and how they communicate with my OCD.  

According to the APA, compulsions are “a type of behavior (e.g., hand washing, checking) or a mental act (e.g., counting, praying) engaged in to reduce anxiety or distress.” In my experience with contamination OCD, I used hand washing as a compulsion to lower stress. Compulsions initially relieve OCD, but over time, it becomes a habit and appears like the only way to release the uncomfortable feeling.

Compulsions don’t help in the long run. According to NOCD, a company dedicated to helping individuals with OCD through meetings in an online chat, “The success rate for ERP is approximately 65%-80%,” while medication alone is only about 40%-60% effective. ERP helps people comprehend how to properly quell their compulsions.

OCD has been a flood of experiences throughout my life, but the circumstances I’ve endured have taught me strength and how to face my condition. I’m learning to not allow it to interfere with activities I care about. It has taken me years to scratch the surface of comprehending my disorder, but I have traveled far from where I started. Though I’ve had help along the way from therapists, having faith in myself has always kept me going, and for these reasons I am exceptionally proud of myself.

Sophie Meile

Sophomore Sophie Meile is a staff writer for her second year with Cedar BluePrints. She hopes to become a marine biologist or physiologist. She enjoys playing the guitar outside of school as well as drawing. Meile also appreciates the strong community and connections that she has made with the staff.

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