Jason Lu

OCD's like a sample of hell.

Throughout my life, I’ve been described as a “hard-working” student and a generous person with a friendly personality. Not once did anyone label me with a term such as irritable or obsessive, and I had a relatively solid pocket of friends. In private, however, my behavior would present a stark contrast to those that people saw in public. I would get angry quickly. I often avoided social interaction with my own parents. I’d spend an excessive number of hours each day in the bathroom, doing something most people would describe as some insane ritual. While I did recognize that something about my behavior was different from the norm quite early on, my parents and I assured myself that there wasn’t anything particularly serious going on. It wasn’t until ninth grade, when my symptoms started picking up, that it became clear to me that I was sick with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

It is important to clear up any misunderstandings and gray areas about OCD. OCD is by no means solely represented by the concept of “perfectionism.” I always felt irked by people who compared the two, saying something along the lines of “I’m so OCD” in response to a slight disorganized pattern. While this could represent someone’s OCD, it’s not always the case, especially in mine.

OCD’s germination point is from intrusive thoughts: thoughts that appear almost randomly, if you pay attention to them. They might be about violence, sex, etc. Unlike normal people, these intrusive thoughts cause me great amounts of anxiety. It makes me question my identity. Are these thoughts true? Do they really represent who I am? Am I a bad person? Intrusive thoughts almost always contradict the person’s true values, which is why those with OCD hurt so much. These thoughts become more frequent the more you fear them.

Compulsions are a sort of internal obligation that a person feels. For a person with OCD, this leads to a desire to perform some sort of ritualistic behavior, often to the discomfort of the person. Place yourself in a position where you’re bench pressing a heavy weight. Every stressor adds more weight, gradually increasing the pressure on your shoulders. There’s a constant desire to let go of this burden, to give out, but you know doing this will crush you. You’re forced to bear the weight until your compulsions are appeased and relieve your burden. Now imagine this occurring internally, each and every time you have an intrusive thought listed as “bad”. I’d have to constantly clean myself, whether it be washing my mouth, my face, or my hands.

My compulsions would only be satisfied when I could endure the full process while keeping my mind on a singular thought, leading me to spend an average of 10-15 minutes each and every time. My compulsions took a heavy toll on my overall quality of life. I never knew how to effectively convey my illness to people. Out of pure fear, I’d avoid playing or interacting with them outside of a school day. I’d constantly try to make excuses, telling them I “have to go somewhere today,” which often left us in a mutual state of disappointment. I thought about expressing my concerns, but I feared that exposing my OCD would tense up our relationships.

I felt a lot of frustration in my sophomore year because I could not receive any special treatment in my schoolwork despite my illness. I frequently “slacked” on studying and homework because oftentimes they’d trigger my compulsions, which obviously lead to damage on my grades. I’d have to force myself, sometimes through tears, to complete assignments, which is why I felt so bothered that I’d be graded by the same standard. It felt like people didn’t really care about my suffering.

I think my parents did the absolute best they could in their situation. Oftentimes I feel guilt - guilt that I placed this burden on their shoulders. No one told them that this was going to happen, and they were unprepared in almost every way. Initially they doubted I had OCD, but as my symptoms began to worsen, developing into long ritual sessions typically paired with a whole lot of screaming and shouting, their concern rose quickly. OCD is very difficult for someone without it to understand, primarily because the need to execute compulsions lie in faulty neural connections. They are almost always entirely unreasonable, which the sufferer is aware of. Because of this, I could never really explain to my parents why I’d let my emotions overwhelm me, why I’d spend late hours of the night screaming in the bathroom, why I’d always be crying, or acting aggressively. This sort of disconnect caused us a lot of tension when I resisted taking pills, since I felt afraid of the “brain alterations” they’d cause. While accepting medications would certainly be to my benefit, my obsessive fear of the short-term effects - intense discomfort, in this case - led me to abandon one of my strongest leads for recovery for two years.

I used to believe that only I was capable of digging myself out of the hole, feeling unconfident in the ability of others to understand me. While I’d be willing to talk to people about my illness, I always thought it was my responsibility to fight my OCD, which almost never bore fruit. And even though I put the blame on myself, I never really made a substantial effort to recover, cracking under the strength of my emotions. I think this mindset was probably one of my biggest regrets of my life (aside from me starting my OCD behavior in the first place), and anyone with this mindset should immediately change it. OCD is chronic, meaning you’ll live with it your entire life. While it may fluctuate, sometimes even feel suppressed completely, it’ll come back. Shouldering this on your own will take a huge toll on your health. Humans are social creatures, and we have an innate dependence on other people. Even though you may not feel that way, I’ve learned over the years that talking to people does make the individual feel better. Perhaps it won’t cure your condition, but it’ll at least make it more bearable.

My main advice, though, is to those who are close to one with OCD. Throughout my experience, I’ve felt there’s a lot of things people could’ve done better. While I won’t deny that I’ve made my own fair share of mistakes, I think increased awareness of what my OCD was could’ve made the disorder go better. It’s important for those around a person with OCD to understand the intensity of the compulsions. While they may vary between individuals, seeing them in the eyes of a mentally healthy person will only cause anxiety for the sufferer. I’ve said to people countless times “I know it doesn’t make sense, but if there wasn’t some powerful underlying reason I wouldn’t be doing this over and over.” Telling a sufferer to “get over it” or “think about something else” generally only serves to increase anxiety. When someone gives in to their compulsions frequently, it’s understandably annoying. One might think “they’re just making it worse for themselves”, or perhaps the intrusive nature of some compulsions may strike you as aggravating, but it’s important to keep a cool head and a caring attitude. When I noticed the people close to me getting bothered by my OCD, I started to feel like a burden, and sometimes I’d feel worthless. This is not a healthy mindset for anyone. While you shouldn’t encourage their compulsions, you should offer them comfort and support, while helping facilitate their recovery.

It’s been five years since I started exhibiting symptoms. I wouldn’t say OCD was good, but it wasn’t bad either. While it’s caused me much pain and suffering, it’s brought positive changes to my outlook on life. I’ve become more emotionally aware, and it’s driven me to be much more outgoing and confident. This is why I encourage a general optimistic outlook on the disorder, without downplaying the suffering that it causes. Regardless of whether an individual falls on the mild to severe spectrum, what they go through is like a sample of hell. For some people, it may just be a major pain in the ass. For others, like me, it’s like a tumor threatening to crush your sanity. But despite all this, I will retain a positive outlook because there are a lot of things to enjoy and a lot of people to help. And maybe, eventually, we can be released from this terrible illness.