Living With OCD—How I Control My Disorder
Yes, I have OCD. No, being a neat freak does not mean you have this condition. And most importantly, it's not contagious.
Now that we've gotten the important stuff clarified, let's get to the point of this article: how to live with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). This condition is a strong disorder with the potential to destroy lives. The good news? It's controllable. The even better news? It's controllable even without the expensive meds that are so commonly prescribed today.
My story begins as a small child. OCD came to my life when I was 8 years old, and for a while it controlled my every breath. It dictated what I could eat, how I could eat it, and how at ease I should feel with myself. It also dictated the smaller stuff in my life, such as how many times I should close a door to feel tranquility, and how many times (and how hard) I should wash my hands to feel as if I had defeated death. Silly? Absolutely. Serious? Even more.
But let's get to the point. With the help of my ever-loving mother, I learned to "shoo" away the burning, anxious thoughts that frequently came to my mind courtesy of OCD.
How to Control OCD
What my mother taught me has stuck with me like melted gum. She taught me that while I am not 100% responsible for my thoughts, I am 100% responsible for my actions. What this means is that no matter how crazy and uncontrollable things get inside your head, you don't have to act on your thoughts. This made me feel powerful and gave me a sense of control. She compared thoughts to friends. If you like a friend (thought) you can do what it is asking of you. If you don't like a friend, you can say, "I don't want to play with you right now," and ask it to go away. I knew I didn't like my OCD "friends." I hated them for making me do silly stuff I didn't want to do. But an OCD thought is not easy to shoo away. They're very stubborn, and they'll persist until you make it very clear to them that you will not give in.
Let me give you an example. One day, while watching television, a car wreck scene suddenly popped in the movie I was watching. Right away, OCD told me: "Go wash your hands, or else this will happen to a person you love." To a person with normal brain activity, these two things are completely unrelated, but a person with OCD knows how absurdly real these things can feel. I remembered what my mother told me: there is always more than one choice. I could either listen to my OCD, or I could decide to not be "friends" with this ridiculous thought. I decided on the latter. However, the thought persisted, and persisted, and persisted. What to do now?
Have an Escape Activity
My wise mother promised that if I had a bad thought I wanted to make disappear I could choose to do any of my favorite activities. She had me write a list of my favorite things to do. I was to carry this list with me at all times and take it out whenever the bad thoughts refused to leave. The purpose of this list was to engage myself in an activity that would distract my mind from what was going on inside. When it came to this, my mother became rather indulgent. She allowed me to do whatever would help me rid my head of those silly thoughts. I think this was partly because she was also suffering when she saw me engage in these very abnormal behaviors.
Although having a list is helpful, my advice is that you have a specific activity as an escape route. My favorite escape activity as a child was running and yelling (at the same time). This helped me release some of the burning sensation and anxiety I felt in my chest while experiencing OCD thoughts. Of course, there have to be different specific activities for different times. Why? Because I could not run and yell while I was in class or anywhere else that required complete and utter silence. So while I was in school, my escape activity was rapidly flicking my fingers, and concentrating on the movement and how it felt on my hands. The more anxious I was feeling, the faster and stronger the flicking became.
Sometimes, I gently hit the side of my head to symbolically push the bad thought out. I imagine the thought yelling and screaming, holding on to whatever it grabs while coming out of one of my ears. Then I picture it on the ground, begging for mercy, and asking to return to my head, since it is the only environment where it can live. And then I smash it with my foot. I kill it mercilessly with my entire weight, and then I twist my foot. I quite enjoy imagining bad thoughts suffering an inevitable and painful demise.
Imagine yourself also killing these bad thoughts. Make it funny—make it feel real.
Ignore, Ignore, Ignore
The most important aspect of controlling OCD is ignoring it. Treat it as an annoying friend. Ignore its calls, emails, and voicemails. Whenever it tells you to do something crazy, tell OCD how you feel about it and how ill you think of it. Write it a nasty letter and insult it as much as you want. But always make it clear to it that you will not give in to its ridiculous requests.
OCD has largely left my life now. But it still makes a comeback every now and then. It shows up with its ridiculous, whiny voice, and tests me with a small, but preposterous request. And just like an annoying friend, if I give in to that small request, it will start asking bigger, more preposterous things. My advice? Don't listen to its request, regardless of how minute and small it seems. Sometimes, OCD asks me to check if I locked my door, or if I unplugged my iron, even though I know I did. I kick the thought out, and smile while telling OCD "I am bigger and better than you. You can't live without my help. So die, idiot, die!!!"
The fight With OCD
Learning to control OCD is not easy. It is probably one of the hardest things I have done, and in fact, I'm still working on it. It is a constant fight. And yes, sometimes you may fall and give in to it. But don't give up. The fight is completely worth it, and life is a lot more livable after this terrible enemy leaves your head. Continue, and know that you are not alone. There are many of us suffering with this terrible monster. Never give up fighting. Never give up hope.