“I’m So OCD.” But are you really?

If you've experienced the darkness of this disorder, you know it isn't something to make light of.

Key Takeaways:
  • Cheyanne was diagnosed with OCD when she was 12 years old. In college, her disorder worsened and started causing regular break downs.
  • With the help of medication and therapy, she's learned to manage her condition effectively, and urges others to follow a similar path.
  • You can keep up with Cheyanne on Instagram at: @cheyannelaizure

OCD is a term commonly used in our society for reasons outside of its real meaning. I’m sure many of you have seen the show MONK, in which the main character with OCD is afraid of germs and clutter. Or maybe you know someone who uses the term to describe their love for cleaning and organizing. Unfortunately, these interpretations are misguided. 

OCD-UK states that “[OCD] can be so debilitating and disabling that the World Health Organization (WHO) once ranked it in the top ten most disabling illnesses of any kind, in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life.” Does this sound like the same OCD that so many tidy people claim they have?

What many people don’t know, is that there are different types of OCD. Some of them are based in repetitive compulsions, like driving back and forth past a house to make sure the garage door is shut. This kind of behavior is often associated with OCD — repeatedly tapping something, checking things, organizing objects in perfect order. They can be extremely debilitating, but as compulsions, they only serve as quick fixes. Meaning, they minimize anxiety momentarily. In order to break the OCD cycle, sufferers have to learn to not engage in these actions.

However, there are sides to OCD that go far beyond repetitive behaviors. Sides I’ve dealt with since 3rd grade. Ones that have caused terrifying anxiety attacks, severe bouts of depression, made friends call me crazy and forced me to live in so much fear that I never wanted to discuss OCD ever again.

When you’ve experienced the true darkness of this disorder, you can imagine the frustration of hearing people say, “oh my gosh I am so OCD.” I’ve become better at understanding that people aren’t educated on the realities of this condition, and therefore, don’t know how hurtful their language can be. I know most people are not saying it to minimize the illness, but instead, because they genuinely do not understand it. That’s why I’d like to share my experience.

I’m not looking for sympathy. I have come to a point in life where I know this disorder is a part of who I am and I’ve learned to fight it. I am not sad, but proud that I can be an advocate for others who are hiding their experience out of fear. I am writing this because I want others to be better educated and prepared to recognize warning signs in themselves or loved ones.  

Let’s go back to 4th or 5th grade when my OCD first started. At that time, I had no clue what it was or that some of my family members had been struggling with it. What I do remember, is vividly waking up each morning consumed by one thought: that I was pregnant because a boy had kissed me. 

Children often think kissing is a bad thing. That’s not unusual. But this was different. It took me a year to finally tell my mom about this obsession. When I told her how long I’d been struggling and how scared I was, she immediately recognized it as an OCD symptom. I was brought to a psychiatrist and psychologist, and eventually diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Fast forward to sophomore year of college. My OCD hit an all time high. Moving away from home was a huge life change, which I later came to realize, was a trigger for my OCD. Anytime I go through a substantial transition, I have to prepare for my mind to attack.

I started experiencing “intrusive thoughts” which are defined by Peace of Mind as, “unwanted thoughts, impulses or mental images. These thoughts may surround the fear of committing an act they consider to be harmful, violent, immoral, sexually inappropriate, or sacrilegious. There is no intent to act on these thoughts (although your OCD may attempt to persuade you that you will/otherwise) and these thoughts bring no pleasure, causing extreme distress.”

Some examples of intrusive thoughts that myself and others deal with are:

  • Worry that you will hurt someone physically (even though you would not)
  • Repetitive thoughts that you’ve said/written something inappropriate
  • Worry that you’ve harmed someone by not being careful enough
  • Worry that you’ve been contaminated and that you (or other people) are spreading this contamination

Everyone gets intrusive thoughts. We all have unwanted ideas pop into our mind from time to time. For people without OCD, these are easy to brush off. They have a mental “filter” telling them the thought is silly and not worth dwelling on. For someone with OCD, that filter has been compromised. It becomes nearly impossible to get obsessive thoughts out of their head. Imagine a car stuck in neutral — that’s how my brain works when I’m having an obsessive thought.

Back to sophomore year of college. I started struggling with intrusive thoughts about my roommates (I’ll spare the details). So, I went and saw an on-campus counselor. I told her about my thoughts and the fact that my friends called them crazy. It didn’t go well.

In so many words, she told me that I’d made up my OCD and that these problems were all in my head. I was incredibly hurt and frustrated that another person couldn’t understand the torture going on in my mind. Especially a professional!

Fast forward a year and I entered a relationship. Another life change. I knew my OCD would be triggered, but I was not prepared for the storm that was coming.

My intrusive thoughts got so bad, that I started having regular panic attacks. The first happened at work. I was so afraid that I didn’t like the person I was dating, that I could barely breathe. The second, happened in my dorm room. My mom had to drive all the way to GCU because my hands and feet went completely numb. I told her that we needed to find a doctor who specialized in OCD and could help me tackle my problems. I was tired of feeling an elephant on my chest every morning. I was tired of breaking down because I’d rather die than experience these thoughts for another day.

We eventually found a great Christian psychologist who told me that on the OCD spectrum, I was experiencing an extreme version of the disorder. Hearing this made me fearful that I’d be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. Thankfully, I was wrong.

I saw her and another psychiatrist bi-weekly and was put on medication. It was not an easy road, but a year later, I feel like a completely different person. I’ve become so good at managing my thoughts that I rarely see her. My psychiatrist hopes to get to a point where I can get off medication all together. I know many people are against it in the first place, but for me, it was lifesaving. A year ago I had intrusive thoughts at least 3 times a day, now I have them maybe once every few weeks. It’s a complete 180.

Two years ago I rarely talked about my OCD. I’d become so afraid of outside judgement. If you don’t have a mental illness, you need to realize that they aren’t something to be scared of. If you do, you need to realize that it’s not something to be scared of sharing with others. 

As a society, we need to be gentler when discussing mental health problems. And we need to be aware of what we mean when we say “I have OCD” or “I’m so depressed.” As a person with a serious mental illness, one who has been through hell and back, I recognize that these are “just terms” – but they are terms that carry tremendous power. OCD is debilitating, scary and shouldn’t be used lightly.

I know I’ll have to deal with OCD for the rest of my life. I know it’ll come with me through major life changes. But I also know that I have the tools to fight it. If you’re stuck and feel like giving out, there is hope. I promise. I am living proof that with therapy, support and/or medication, you can fight whatever illness you have.