4 Lessons Only My OCD Could Have Taught Me
“Washing your hands a bazillion times a day will keep tragedies at bay” — My mind
My mom was desperately rubbing moisturizing cream on my hands for the third time that day. My hands were as cracked as the Sahara desert, and they were starting to bleed.
“Why do you keep doing this to yourself?!” she pled with tears in her eyes.
I was only 10 and I myself didn’t understand why I felt the burning need to keep washing and scrubbing my hands. The only thing I knew for sure was that if I didn’t do it, some terrible tragedy would befall my family. So I washed and scrubbed… and bled.
The “reasoning” behind it was that I was washing away the bad luck. This bad luck would stick to me if I thought about a tragedy or if I heard or watched a terrible incident on TV or radio.
So I spent a good part of my day scrubbing away.
If that’s not enough to send my mother over the edge, I also had this cute compulsion of doing everything 16 times.
Say I drop a pencil. In order to pick it up and keep things well-aligned with the universe, I would have to pick it up, drop it; pick it up, drop it; pick it up, drop it… 16 times in a row.
This pencil incident is still vivid in my mind because it sent me straight to the principal’s office for being difficult and disrupting class. When the principal asked the reason for my actions, I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth — I was trying to protect my family from unknown harm by dropping and picking up my pencil 16 times in a row. I knew how insane that sounded, so instead, I told her I was bored and wanted to make the teacher mad. It was better to be perceived as a difficult child and not crazy one.
Believe me, I knew I looked crazy. Even at such a young age, I knew these thoughts and compulsions were eating away my life, and the rituals I had to perform to appease these thoughts were now causing me physical harm. My hands were raw.
It was definitely one of the worst periods of my life, but at least I learned a few things from it.
I’m Stronger Than My Impulses
One of the worst aspects of OCD are the compulsions, those repetitive, insane thoughts that force you to do something, as inane as it may be. I remember crying while washing my hands because I didn’t want to wash them, but I had to. In her frustration, my mom had to physically restrain me from washing my hands, and that was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
Being unable to perform my ritual forced me to deal with my mental anguish without resorting to my obsessions. Of course, it wasn’t easy. I could feel my chest burning, like something wanted to escape from inside, and I needed to run to a sink and wash my hands, but I couldn’t, and my mom wouldn’t budge.
I cried for hours… until the thought slowly receded only to come back later. I had to fight the impulse several times a day, but the unavailability of a sink made it impossible for me to complete my ritual, which forced me to fight my thought over and over, until I learned that I was stronger than it, that it could be fought, and that the thought wasn’t all powerful.
Be Comfortable With Pain
Fighting these thoughts took all my energy. I was in constant emotional pain, but much like running or weight-lifting, or any other physical exercise, the pain becomes less with practice. Mind you, the pain never completely goes away, but it becomes more tolerable, and you become stronger and more able to fight it.
Today I still have to fight some of these thoughts, and it becomes infinitely harder when I’m stressed, but I learned to be okay with emotional pain. I learned that things don’t have to be okay 100% of the time.
This realization has come in handy innumerable times because life can be painful, and even though most people won’t have to fight obsessive compulsive thoughts, we will all have to fight our emotions at one point in life.
Thoughts Are Way More Powerful Than I Thought
Mind control is the best super power hands down. I want to be Professor X or Jean Grey from X-Men. But I won’t be so ambitious. I don’t want to control other people’s mind. I’d be happy just controlling my own.
OCD taught me that we DO have that power. The strength of the obsessive thoughts that attack the mind is truly stunning. OCD mops the floor with you and makes you its bitch. “Do as I say or else…” And even though the “or else” part was always an idle threat, I believed it and allowed it to smack me around.
But what if we were to use that power for good? What if the strength of the obsessive thoughts could be guided elsewhere and given a more positive tune? “Bitch, you’re the best and there’s no one else that comes close,” my mind would say all day long. “Girl, your skin looks flawless today. Whatever you’re doing, don’t stop.” Narcissistic? Sure. Necessary? Absolutely.
So whenever I’m feeling down, or mediocre, or like a waste of skin, I like to remember that I have an immense power in my mind, which I’ve seen at work. I just have to learn how to control it. I’m a super hero in training.
Question Your Mind
As powerful as the mind is, it’s also a big, fat liar, which makes life quite tricky. You have this super powerful organ whispering terrible things inside your head. This mind with Yoda-like powers can make you believe whatever it wants you to believe.
OCD taught me how the mind can make you believe the most absurd things. (“If you don’t touch this one specific spot on the door 16 times, your family will die a tragic death, and it will be YOUR FAULT!” )
I used to believe everything my mind told me. But OCD and time have taught me that minds lie for many reasons — stress, mental illness, exhaustion, etc.
So I’ve learned to treat my poor tired mind like a wounded puppy. When it starts being aggressive, I have to sit down and calm it down. A nap, a breathing session, a walk outside, or a good book are usually enough to quiet it down. There are times when the storms are stronger. In those cases, I just have to be patient and wait for the rain to stop on its own. But I always remember that my mind cannot be trusted when it starts being hostile. And that’s fine.
Remember, the mind is powerful. Use it well, and don’t let it smack you around.