What It’s Really Like Living With OCD

Occasionally, I will walk past someone and hear, “Ugh. I am feeling so OCD today.” Other times, someone will say to me, “Sorry. I am just really OCD about that.” As someone that actually has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I think to myself, “When did my mental illness become an adjective?” The thing is, it is not just OCD that has transitioned into the world of adjectives. I have overheard people throw the words “bipolar,” “depressed,” “anorexic,” and “insomnia” around as if those words have no meaning behind them.

Since I only know what it is like to deal with OCD and anxiety, I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like for those that live with other mental illnesses. With that being said, I would like to describe for you, in the best way that I can, what it is like to cope with OCD. I hope that this article will help you understand that having a mental illness does not make me adjective-like or any less human.  

1. I will say things, out of the blue, that seem irrational.  

So much of what I feel and think is internal, mental. Over the course of a day, everything that my OCD causes me to focus on builds up. I cannot look at something that appears to be out of place and forget about it. To rectify this feeling of internal pressure, I try to release my thoughts with words. I try to describe what I am going through, to alleviate the pile of random thoughts in my head.

That is why I may say seemingly weird things like, “I touched a dusty bookcase today. I am going to have an allergic reaction.” Or, “I did not write in my journal. I am a failure.”

Essentially, when I do or see something that my brain interprets as “imperfect,” my mind grabs on to that moment and holds on for dear life. That is why you may hear me release weird thoughts. It is only because I am trying to pry them away from my brain.

In response, all I ask is that you patiently, and calmly, remind me that everything is going to be okay. And yes, if you feel that the situation is getting out of control, you can show me some tough love. 

2. I may repeat things. A lot. 

When I care about something, you are going to hear about it. Repeatedly. When my brain focuses on something (that appears normal to you), you are going to see me look at it or touch it. Repeatedly.  Sometimes, I will get frustrated. I may get choked up. It has nothing to do with you. It has to do with the fact that I cannot control what is happening. When you react to me, during such times, I would appreciate it if you would listen to me or help me try to fix what I am harping on. Treating me as if I am behaving irrationally is the worst response that you can give me.

3. I count differently. 

When you see me counting on my fingers, making weird movements with my tongue, or counting out loud in a unique manner, it is because I am having, what I like to call, an “OCD attack.”

What happens during an OCD attack is my brain is trying to express itself. My brain wants me to trace words on the roof of my mouth; to figure out all of the ways that I can count to ten in eclectic patterns; and to unleash its need to accomplish “perfection.”

Honestly, there is nothing that you can do to help me during an OCD attack. If you interrupt me, I will only get frustrated and will have to start over. When it seems as if I have calmed down, you have permission to suggest a relaxing (and distracting) activity. Until then, please be patient with me. 

4. Everything in my life must be neat, clean, and organized. 

My room is going to look like a spotless sanctuary. I will have no “junk drawers.” Everything will be organized in a specific way. For instance, my closet is color-coded. Yes, I am going to talk a lot about germs. I am going to worry about getting sick if everything is not squeaky clean and in its rightful place. Don’t treat me like I am different. Don’t comment on how “proper” or “hospital-like” my room looks. Even though it may seem funny or bizarre, it hurts my feelings when people laugh it off or treat me like I am different. Oh! One more thing — I cannot sleep soundly if my room is a mess. For some reason, I feel like you should know that.

5. I worry a lot about my health. 

If I get sick, all hell breaks lose. A minor cold, in my mind, is equivalent to a life-threatening illness. If I eat something unhealthy (I do love ice cream), I will complain about it excessively. I do feel bad for worrying others when this happens. I do feel like a burden for complaining. And yes, I am sorry. “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay,” is a great way to respond. Letting me know that life goes on is the best thing that you can say during such a time.

6. I will get anxiety about, basically, everything. 

I will get anxiety if my handwriting does not look perfect. I will get anxiety if my skin feels oily.  I will get anxiety if I do not disinfect my phone or laptop every night. When I get anxiety like this, it is all encompassing. I become scared. I think irrational thoughts. Life feels never-ending.

If you can, try to distract me during this time. Tell me that the best thing that I can do is pick myself up and move forward. This quote has helped me immensely during such times: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

Although my OCD has become less aggressive, it is still there. It is something that will never go away completely. Because of this, I am still offended when people throw around the word “OCD” like it has no weight to it.

Also, you may have noticed that, throughout this article, I referred to my brain as a separate entity. I did so because having OCD makes me feel as if, at times, I cannot control my brain. Occasionally, it feels as if I am a slave to my thoughts and feelings. When I truly want to be happy, I feel sad and it feels as if there is nothing that I can do to change this. 

Having OCD (or any mental illness for that matter) does not make me less of a person. It does not mean that I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. It does not mean that you have to show me special treatment.

To put it simply, having OCD means that I think differently. I do not consider myself to be “mentally ill” or “weird.” Rather, I consider myself to be just another unique individual on this planet. 

Anna Gragert is an eclectic writer, photographer, blogger, and Audrey Hepburn enthusiast. Some of her many writings have been featured on: Thought CatalogHope Inside LoveWhite Ash Literary Magazine, You & Me Medical Magazine, The Horror Writers Association’s Horror Poetry Showcase, Listicle, and Hello Giggles. Follow Anna on Twitter to keep up with her adventures in all things creative. If you would like to read more about what it was like growing up with OCD, you should check out her article on the subject here.

(Image via HBO)