My OCD began to manifest through simple hand gestures. I would walk around with my palms pressed against my cheeks, hands closed around my mouth and nose to protect myself from other people’s germs. It sort of looked like I was praying.
I vividly remember the day when I first realized other people, like my mother, found these simple hand gestures embarrassing. I was eight years old, still unaware of my own actions. Once it hit me that my mother was embarrassed, I made my OCD invisible, which meant that the hand gestures turned into counting. I didn’t know at the time that what I perceived as embarrassment was actually my mother attempting to protect me from the world. She was worried about what others would say about or to the little girl who walked around praying to her face.
I’ve always joked that my character complexities come from my ability to draw mathematical equations from any and every situation. My counting helps me to ease my bodily tension from strenuous situations I’m going through.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, more than two percent of Americans live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an anxiety disorder that usually develops during adolescence. Living with innumerable obsessions can easily become consuming, sometimes crippling one’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Alongside obsession is compulsion, which has been categorized into these behaviors: cleaning, checking, arranging, ordering, repeating, and intrusive thought patterns (Tristan Gorrindo, M.D., Jul 2017).
I remember feeling the satisfaction of actions like these, starting as early as when I was four years old. My OCD is an accumulation of life-long patterns that I use to keep my body at peace with itself. Imagine thoroughly lining the toilet every time you use it, or sorting potato chips and fries to distinguish the good ones from the “burnt” ones before eating them.
My creativity outworks itself by generating fears that don’t make sense to anyone else besides me. It seems quite irrational and exhausting, though, ironically, living with this disorder actually helps me put everything into an order, not the other way around.
I was diagnosed with OCD when I was thirteen years old. Throughout my life, my mother would get me tested for various conditions because I’d always been noticeably different from my siblings and my peers. When I was thirteen, one of my 8th grade teachers found out that I was bulimic (another condition that I had no idea existed until then), and she encouraged me to speak to family about it, or she would have to do it herself. It was a difficult task, but I mustered the strength to do it on my own.
It took me visiting with a few medical professionals at Duke before they were able to put a name to my condition. As Frederic Neuman, M.D. writes in Psychology Today, “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that expresses itself to a greatly varying degree in different individuals… The response to treatment of patients with OCD is also varied and, I think, unpredictable.” Because of this, OCD can be difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat. Those living with OCD have already found ways to fit their disorder into day-to-day lifestyles, and have heavily internalized their OCD with the aim of staying in touch with a “normal” reality. Altering their habits can feel very disruptive and wrong.
In part two of this blog post on my OCD, I’ll discuss my treatment and how my OCD affects my creative practice. Stay tuned!