Why OCD Made Me Question Everything

Alison Dotson suffered in silence for years before finally seeking help.

Key Takeaways:
  • My intrusive thoughts began in childhood and come in a variety of forms: violent, sexual, religious, etc.
  • Seeking treatment has helped me cope and learn to live a happy life with my OCD.

When I was 9, I saw a TV movie, David, based on the true story of a six-year-old boy whose father had set him on fire in the midst of a custody dispute. Horrified, I became consumed by the fear that I’d too be caught in a fire, only to survive and be permanently scarred and in pain, just as David had. I’d cry in bed, and pray to God to spare me. I’d sob and ask, “Why? Why does this have to happen to me? Can’t you stop it?”

Anxiety had invaded my childhood, and it would take nearly two decades for me to realize I had OCD. It turned out to be behind my fears that I had cancer.

That I was a lesbian.

That I was going to hell.

That I might be a pedophile—the one that finally pushed me to get help.

One morning as I drove to work I saw a kid walking alone, and I thought, “I hope he’s okay—who knows what could happen?” And I briefly thought about pulling over to offer him a ride. An innocent scene flashed through my mind: I would slow down, roll down my window, and ask a kid I’d never met to get in my car. Like a kidnapper. Like a pedophile. Fuck.

I was triggered—again. Had I even had relief since my last “episode”? Everything seemed to run together, one terrible, unforgivable preoccupation after another. This was only the beginning of another, and I knew it. It would last for years, only letting up a little when I was single and didn’t have marriage and parenthood on my mind.

When I was 26 I met my husband, and we hit it off immediately. He moved in within months, and we talked about marriage. “I just want you to know, I’m not sure I want kids,” I told him. “I may never want them.” He was okay with that, he said. Relief washed over me—if I didn’t have kids I wouldn’t have to worry about hurting them.

But then one night I was lying in bed and running through the day—work, dinner, a freelance deadline—and I thought of a co-worker’s little girl, who’d been in the office. She’d demonstrated how she knew all the colors. “Pink,” she’d said, pointing to a pink stripe, and “bue,” pointing to a blue dot. I was drifting off now, and another thought popped into my head, an unrelated sexual thought, and the thoughts collided and my stomach churned and I cried.

“No, no, no,” I whispered in the dark, hugging my legs to my chest. Why did this keep happening to me? What was wrong with me? All I wanted was to be a good person, to be normal, to get through a day without scary, disgusting thoughts horning their way in. As it had so many times before, my life devolved. Nothing made me happy. Things made me smile, sure. I laughed sometimes, too, but it felt wrong. How could I think a disgusting, depraved, immoral thought one minute and laugh with friends the next? How messed up was that? As much as I wanted to return to the person I’d once been, being carefree terrified me—didn’t that make me a psychopath? I hated feeling sick all the time, and I hated praying for everything to go away, for God to grant me mercy, but at least it meant I knew my thoughts were wrong.

And that wasn’t all—I wanted to be the person I once was, but I didn’t know who that was. The farther I went back in time, the more I realized I hadn’t been a carefree person for a very, very long time. Why should anything change now? Maybe this was me.

It took decades to finally realize it, but my intrusive thoughts don’t mean I’m a bad person. Once I realized OCD includes taboo thoughts just like mine I got help. I’m better, and I’m happy.

Alison Dotson is the author of Being Me with OCD: How I Learned to Obsess Less and Live My Life, a memoir and self-help book for teens. She is also the president of OCD Twin Cities, an affiliate of the International OCD Foundation, and has spoken about her experiences with OCD with several media outlets, including NBC, The Atlantic, Glamour, and The Huffington Post.