Note: This blog originally appeared on the International OCD Foundation’s blog. The International OCD Foundation aims to help everyone affected by OCD and related disorders live full and productive lives.
A lot of people claim to have “OCD” without really understanding what it is. Because of that it took me a while to accept that I had obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The symptoms at first started to appear slowly, but eventually they became overwhelming.
It began when I was in college. I had a pen that I placed on my keyboard and it had to face a certain way, otherwise I was sure something bad would happen, like failing a test or a quiz. This behavior continued after I graduated. By then, I was a substitute teacher and I was afraid I would get a bad class or have a really difficult day. I recognized this as a compulsion and wondered if it was OCD, but since it was just the one compulsion, I figured I was safe.
I moved into my own apartment and began working as a teacher full-time. After that, things slowly got worse. More intrusive thoughts and symptoms began to emerge. The picture on my glass had to face a certain direction in the cupboard. The items on my bathroom sink had to be arranged in a particular way. The towel in my bathroom had to be folded a certain way on the towel rack. My teeth had to be brushed a certain way otherwise I would have to brush them again. I had a routine for the shower, and if it was not followed then I would have to shower again.
I was no longer afraid of failing a quiz or a test. I was now afraid that I would be fired or that my class would act up and misbehave; these fears persisted despite being told by the principal and other teachers that I was good with the students.
I was still in denial about having OCD. I did some research and found that none of the information I read matched my symptoms. To me, OCD mostly meant extreme handwashing. There was information about people that needed to repeatedly check on things. But there was no information about people that liked to have things arranged a certain way or who had several rules regarding simple routines. Additionally, there was no mention of any obsessions regarding getting fired from a job.
During the summer, my symptoms would disappear for a few days when I would go to live with my aunt and uncle, and work at an amusement park operating rides. On first arrival, I had no set rules for how things were to be arranged. I loved these few days that I was free from OCD. However, after a while, new rules would emerge about how things needed to be arranged, and I continued to be afraid of being fired.
I continued my research and I learned about another condition affecting many people that suffer from OCD: an impulsive control disorder called trichotillomania. The disorder involves people pulling out their hair, consciously and unconsciously, resulting in bald spots. I had always thought that it was odd that I pulled out my eyebrows, but I only now understood the connections between this and my OCD.
After accepting the fact that I had trichotillomania, I did more research about OCD. When the compulsions and obsessions became worse, I told my doctor and she prescribed me a medication that was to help with the symptoms. The medication did not help. It only made it harder to sleep. I eventually stopped taking it because I valued my sleep and did not find it effective at relieving my symptoms.
In fact, the symptoms only became worse. During the summer, I returned to work at the amusement park. I loved the job but people became angry when their child was not permitted to get on a ride (as they were too short or too tall, or not dressed appropriately). Guests blew up at me just for telling them no. After one of these incidents, not only was I still having compulsions of getting fired, but I was afraid of guests becoming angry with me. It became difficult to get ready in the morning because I had so many rules for brushing my hair and teeth and putting on deodorant. It all became so much that I did not want to go to work, and looked forward to my days off.
I was in counseling that summer because I also suffer from depression. During one session, I told my counselor how much my OCD was affecting me. She encouraged me to slowly start doing some of my compulsions in a different order or way. It was extremely difficult, but I managed to turn the towel a different way. I then managed to change a few other behaviors. Unfortunately, these new changes just led to new compulsions.
OCD has made it difficult to live my life. Next summer, I will no longer be able to work rides at the amusement park because I am tired of going to work feeling afraid. I will have to switch departments and work in retail despite loving the rides. OCD has also made it difficult to be a teacher because I am so afraid of what the day will bring. That said I continue to teach and have not given up on getting better.
A lot of people claim that they are "OCD" about things. However, nobody can be OCD about something. In addition, having to do things a particular way does not necessarily mean you have OCD. Some people are just perfectionists. I would like people to realize that there is so much more to OCD than just a few compulsions: It is a serious disorder that greatly impacts the lives of those affected.
Jennifer Parr is a third and fourth-grade teacher. In her free time, she likes to read and write.
Next week, October 8–14, 2017, is OCD Awareness Week
Join the International OCD Foundation in raising awareness about this misunderstood mental health condition.