What it’s Like with OCD

Anthony Hopkins, in Magic (1978)

Remember that scene in the 1978 movie Magic, where the dummy has full control of Anthony Hopkins’ character, and is making him move around and touch the ceiling? That’s what OCD felt like to me. Like I was a puppet, ordered about by an irrational entity.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder takes as many forms as there are sufferers. In my case, it controlled all of my thoughts and movements. I came to believe that I was powerless to resist. Imagine getting ready to go out to meet friends, only to have your puppet master force you to walk in circles touching the same objects over and over and repeating lists of names. Having no idea how or if it will ever let you go as the excruciating minutes turn to hours.

And no one can help you. At best, the people who care about you, if you’ve let them in on your condition, will tell you to “just stop doing it.” It’s as if you were falling to Earth from a plane and someone was helpfully shouting at you to defy gravity and float back up to the plane.

For whatever chemically adaptive or psychically protective reason your brain has manifested these annoying symptoms, they have grown to control you and you hate them.

Imagine a trip to the store to pick up cereal taking half the day because you can’t stop reading labels. When you think you are free and on your way home, you are compelled to go back to the store to read the same labels again; your puppet master didn’t think you got it quite right the first time.

That describes the first half of my life, to age 51. (I figure it’s only fair that I should get another 50 years or so without OCD.) A therapist once gave me a workbook on behavioral therapy to reduce my symptoms, but it’s a little hard to make use of a book when you have to re-read the same word hundreds of times before turning the page. I was once prescribed a drug for OCD. It had unintended consequences on my personality. Years later, I still get brain-zap sensations from withdrawing from the drug.

But, I did indeed free myself from the prison of OCD. I cut the puppet-master’s strings. As best I could, I described my journey to mental freedom here. OCD is common. Many people have mild cases — they have to re-check locks or wash their hands for more than the CDC’s 20-second rule. But there are a lot of people with crippling OCD. They might be good at hiding it from the world, as I was. The person sipping coffee next to you, your employee, your sister…. People suffer in shame and silence.

Of course, there’s a lot else going on beneath the surface, with the people you encounter every day. The guy you scream obscenities at because he made a driving mistake: His mother may be dying; his cousin may have just been arrested. Or maybe he has his own OCD puppet-master. I’m just saying cut him some slack. The people around you have problems and challenges, just like you, or maybe ones that you can’t begin to imagine.

The world shouldn’t be divided into “good” and “bad” people. People have complicated lives, and they grow and evolve. Amazingly, they are all made out of the same matter and energy as you. They are basically you in a different body. Love them as you love yourself. And yes, love yourself.

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OCD-Free

OCD-Free

Essays, stories & poetry about OCD, culture and society, by Eric