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Everyone was asleep and all the lights were off. It was time for me to sneak out of my room. No, there wasn’t a boy waiting for me outside the house, and I wasn’t going out to drink beer with my friends–I was about 6 years old, so there were other things on my mind.
Careful not to make a sound, I ran to the kitchen, quickly turned the lights on–if there was someone in there who wanted to kill me, they wouldn’t have time to hide–and immediately turned to face the stove. It was quite clear that the burners were off and a gas leak was pretty much impossible. Still, I stood there, staring for several minutes, not only to make sure it was off, but also to make sure I was sure it was really off.
I went back to my room, exhausted just thinking about the other rituals I had to do before finally allowing myself to sleep.
I thought about not doing them, but what if my house caught fire? What if my family died? Yes, I knew it was irrational to think my grandmother would get sick if I didn’t open and close my bedroom door repeatedly 18 times. I was also aware my house wouldn’t explode just because I didn’t turn the light switch on and off 10 times. But hey, better safe than sorry, right? So I went ahead and did it.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder was one of my not-so-little secrets.
It went unnoticed because I was great at hiding it, at least most of the time. (I once filled a whole room with yellow Post-Its; needless to say I freaked my mom out.) I wasn’t diagnosed until my late teens though. I decided to speak up and see a psychiatrist–and also, my mom made me, because she suspected the Post-Its incident was only the tip of the iceberg–not because I couldn’t handle the disorder anymore, but because I was tired of doing it on my own.
So there I was: I was officially OCD. And not in the careless way people often refer to themselves as “a bit OCD” because they like things clean and organized. No. I was now utterly and irrevocably obsessive-compulsive.
On the one hand, the moment I was diagnosed came to me with an immense, inexplicable wave of relief.
What I had been going through all those years finally had a name other than “crazy,” which meant I wasn’t the only person in the world who had to fight a daily battle against themselves. The truth is, anxiety is so much more than feeling upset or uneasy; it’s like being on a roller coaster and suddenly realizing part of the tracks are gone.
On the other hand, however, I felt like a failure. I would take my medication late at night, when no one could see me–except for my family members–and if anyone ever did, I’d say it was only Vitamin C. I was ashamed of myself. I always had been.
People who struggle with OCD are painfully aware of how irrational the condition is.
We do not expect our thoughts and behaviors to make sense to others, as they might not even make sense to ourselves.
To be honest, I am still coping with how difficult and embarrassing it can be to explain the illness; I still wonder if I will always need medication to function properly, and I’m still adjusting to the little obsessions and compulsions that remain despite treatment. Nevertheless, I’m proud of myself. Not only because I was brave enough to ask for help, but also because I can be completely open and honest about it.
Now I am stronger than ever.
I have come to realize Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is not something I am, but something I have.
I am not the little blue pill that I take every night, nor am I the number of symptoms that have disappeared thanks to said medicine. I am neither the years I’ve lived with the disorder nor the amount of time it will take for me to get rid of it. I am my loud, raspy laugh when I think something is really funny and the sarcasm I add to almost everything I say. I am the two little moles above my lips just as much as I am my dance moves in the middle of the supermarket when a good song comes on.
Above all, I am free.
Oh, and I am also my need for the volume on TV to be on even numbers–after all, we can’t expect little blue pills to fix absolutely everything, now can we?
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