Life with OCD

November 22nd, 2020

As far back as I can remember, my grandmother had been pretty sick. And from the time I came to understand the concept of mortality, I was worried about her. At some point, a switch flipped in my brain and I thought to myself "maybe if I knock on wood every time a thought about her mortality enters my mind, I would be able to postpone her death." And it was just like Pascal's wager: if I knocked on wood and I was wrong, I'd have wasted a bit of time, but if I didn't knock on wood and I was wrong, she'd die and it would be my fault. So, justified with twisted logic, I saw it as low-cost insurance.

Slowly, this ritual of knocking on wood came to expand to knocking on other materials as well. I had convinced myself that knocking on metallic objects would have the same effect. Then glass objects. Then mirrors. Then rocks. And so on and so forth.

At one point, I convinced myself that if I "knocked" on things with my head, the "effect" of the ritual would be doubled, and so I started doing that instead. I'd just go through the day, and any time an intrusive thought entered my head, I'd touch my head to the nearest object made of wood/metal/glass/etc. I'd look like a madman if I didn't try to be discreet in fear of being seen as one.

Sometimes, other crazy things came to my mind. Like, "if I don't lick this wall, my grandmother will die" or "if I don't say something this instant, something bad is gonna happen."

The rituals came to expand to other worries of mine as well. For example, I used to play a game where the objective was to land a plane. I'd play it for 20-30 days leading up to a real flight I had, and I was convinced that if I didn't manage to successfully land the plane in the game every single day, my real flight would crash.

I'd made a whole pseudo-religion in my mind, in which I believed my bad thoughts could lead to bad effects in the real world, and the only way to deflect them was by doing crazy rituals. It was essentially a process of:

Have stressful thought -> Do ritual -> Feel as if I've done something effective -> Calm down for a short amount of time

And I had rationalized to myself that my rituals did in fact deflect harm. After all, I only thought stressful thoughts when something bad was going on (like when my grandmother was very ill), and so I only did my rituals when things were really bad. And because of regression toward the mean, things usually end up getting better, and so I'd attribute that to me doing my rituals.

And when things were bad and I did my rituals and things still got worse, I'd convince myself that I hadn't done my rituals properly (and since I was convinced of that, I could easily find the "evidence" for it).

There was no "reasoning it away." I was able to rationalize that it was working, and hey, spending a few minutes doing the rituals every once in a while when a stressful thought pops up is nothing compared to the death of my loved ones because I neglected in performing my rituals, right?

I thought I was the only person in the world with such thoughts, because I'd never seen people with OCD in the media or in real life. Also, if I was the person whose thoughts brought about or deflected people's deaths, then it wouldn't make sense for there to be two of us, right?

I knew that if I told anyone about my rituals and their justifications, they'd think I'm crazy, so I now understand why there isn't much publicizing by people with a similar condition. And also since I fully believed that my rituals were effective in deflecting harm, why would I tell someone else when they might try to intervene and stop them, thus causing the death of my loved ones?

This all started when I was in 5th or 6th grade.

When I was in 10th grade, I came across an answer on Quora. The gist of it was "OCD is nothing like how it's portrayed in the media. It isn't about being tidy or wanting everything to be organized and perfect. It's a mental condition where you're constantly plagued by stressful thoughts and you perform irrational rituals to get rid of those thoughts" and at that moment I realized I wasn't the only person with this "thing" going on in my head. I did more research into it and realized that what I had was definitely OCD.

I finally gathered the courage to tell my parents about all of the rituals and underlying thought processes, at the risk of being seen as crazy (which was clearly an unreasonable worry in retrospect). I asked to be taken to a professional to talk about this and they took me to a psychiatrist.

I essentially entered the psychiatrist's office and said "Hello. I have OCD. What do I do?"

He asked me a few questions and confirmed that I did indeed have OCD.

He prescribed some medication.

However, I don't think the medication was as effective as what he told me.

He told me that whenever I think those stressful thoughts, instead of resorting to my rituals, he wants me to say "to hell with it". I obviously took issue with that. I can't just think "oh no, what if my grandparent dies?" and then follow that with "to hell with it!"

I told him "but on the off-chance that I'm right, doing what you told me is gonna kill people" and he basically went ahead and told me with authority that I have to do as he said. Part of me was looking for something like that: someone in a position of authority telling me to do what I knew had to be done. I was determined to go ahead with it.

At first it was easy saying "to hell with it" to every bad thought, but after a few months, the "but what if I was right?" thoughts came back. I still pretty much persevered.

In a few months, after a few "relapses" and more meetings with the psychiatrist, my OCD had receded and I was living a pretty normal life.

I was saving extra HOURS every day by not performing my rituals. Hours that I could now spend doing useful things instead of constantly worrying and calming myself down.

In the following years, the OCD came back for short periods during very stressful times, such as when a grandparent was very sick or when an important decision was being announced. But overall, the OCD rituals' time and energy drain is now several orders of magnitude less than it used to be.

My suffering could've been cut years earlier if only I'd known there were other people in the world that thought the same crazy thoughts that I did, and who were also 100% sure that they were correct in their beliefs just like me. I wrote this so that maybe it would be seen by someone else with undiagnosed OCD. Finding out you're not the only one with these thoughts and getting help could could change a person's life. I know it did for me.