I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder when I was 20 years old. Before I dive in to my story, let me explain exactly what “OCD” means. OCD is composed of two elements: obsessions, and compulsions. Obsessions can be about absolutely anything, but for me it was an obsession with harmful “germs” that could lead to contagious diseases and/or illnesses. I was terrified of contracting a contagious disease, and I also became terrified of causing someone else to become sick. Compulsions are the physical act (or sometimes mental, but I won’t get into that just yet) that a person performs to reduce the anxiety and stress related to their particular obsession(s). Completing these compulsions allows a person to clam down and feel safe. Performing these compulsions is extremely effective in reducing the anxiety, however it is a vicious cycle that only makes things worse in the long-term. It gets to the point where the only way to rid yourself of the anxiety is to complete the compulsions. It’s similar to an addict who feels they need to take another hit to prevent the withdrawal symptoms. The compulsions become an addiction, they are like a drug that brings your brain from 100 back down to 0 (or as close as possible).
My compulsions involved washing my hands (100 plus times a day for at least 4-6 minutes), having long, hot showers (3x day), using gloves to pick up what I deemed ‘contaminated’, disinfecting contaminated surfaces, items etc., washing my clothes…a lot…sometimes after just being touched, and throwing things out that I didn’t think could be properly disinfected. If reading that list made you exhausted, then you’re one step closer to understanding the physical and mental exhaustion that accompanies a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder.
So the purpose of this post is for me to explain myself to all the people in my life who have had to deal with me being late. I want to tell you the REAL reason I was late so many times. It’s not what you may have thought. It wasn’t out of disrespect, or laziness, or poor time management. It was actually due to the tremendous amount of time I spent performing my ritualistic compulsions. I used to “start” getting ready at least 3 to 4 hours before I had to be somewhere. I knew I had to give myself enough time to get ready, while also having time to wash my hands for as long and as many times as I felt necessary, and maybe even shower if I found myself to be “contaminated”. This became much worse during my pregnancy as I was going to the bathroom CONSTANTLY! Going to the bathroom was a huge ritual in itself. It actually caused a lot of anxiety for me and had to be done in the “most perfect” way to prevent becoming contaminated. If I went #2 (TMI, I know), I would almost always have to shower right after to rid myself of the anxiety. Add in the constant hand-washing and a possible mental breakdown, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize how long this whole fiasco would take. I could not bear to go where I needed to go, without making sure I completed all my compulsions perfectly. It was exhausting, and unfortunately caused me to be late on many occasions. So no, I was not that person who suddenly realized they had 15 minutes to get ready and be somewhere on time. I was that person who carefully tried to calculate how long it would take me to get ready. I was inaccurate many times. I apologize to anyone and everyone who was offended by my “lateness”. It’s very hard to explain myself, not to mention EMBARRASSING! So hopefully this is a good enough explanation.
Many people who know me might be shocked to read this story. They may realize that they really had no idea how bad it was for me. That’s the tricky part with mental illness. For some people it can be really easy to hide. I know that for me, I was very embarrassed of myself for having OCD. I didn’t want anyone to know how badly I was suffering. I didn’t want people to see me as weird or crazy. The only physical sign I showed of my illness were bright red hands that developed from many, many hours of hand-washing.
Fortunately, motherhood and the grace of GOD have kicked my OCD to the curb (I will also share this story with you at another time). However, motherhood did not help me in the lateness department. Babies and toddlers are not fun or easy to get ready and sometimes it seems almost impossible to get anywhere on time! I guess when one problem goes away, another one appears. Ha!
Thanks for reading my first blog post. I hope my story can educate others on OCD and mental illness. I also hope that I can help others suffering from mental illness to realize that they are NOT alone.
The OCD Mommy