TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA, Getty Images
Exercising the fearless candor that’s become her signature, Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman opened up for the first time about her struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder in an effort to normalize the condition and to broaden our understanding of how OCD can manifest.
Raisman appeared on the October 1st episode of the Armchair Expert podcast, where she and hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman spoke candidly about each of their mental health journeys. Raisman shared that she’s struggled with ruminating thoughts, which she later learned was a symptom of OCD.
"I always thought OCD was, ‘I have to touch this x amount of times or I have to do this x amount of times before I leave the room.’ But I've also learned that OCD is classified with ruminating thoughts or obsessive thoughts or catastrophic thinking," Raisman said, according to E!.
"I have that, and I'm really trying to work on that right now, because sometimes our minds go to our worst-case scenario.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD is “a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions).”
That “and/or” qualifier is integral to the definition of OCD. As Raisman recognized, most people associate the disorder with the compulsion aspect, but the presence of “repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety,” even without accompanying compulsions or tics, is symptomatic of OCD in and of itself.
In addition to repeated, intrusive thoughts, Raisman shared that her anxiety can manifest as a sense of impending danger and “not feeling safe in your own body.”
“When I’m having such bad anxiety, it’s almost like if I’m having fun I’m like, ‘I’m not allowed to have fun because this bad thing might happen to me.’ It almost doesn’t feel safe to let myself have fun,” she said.
But Raisman also noted that her anxiety exacerbates when she keeps her experience to herself. As anyone who’s struggled with mental health understands well, just talking about it can help mitigate some of the pain—and, often, you learn that you’re not alone in it.
“When you feel alone in that, that’s when it gets really scary,” she said. “And I think just talking about it, you’re gonna realize, unfortunately, people can relate to you. Unfortunately, you and I can relate to each other. I wish that we both didn’t have those ruminating thoughts, but I think a lot of people listening can probably relate to it, too.”
Now, Raisman is committing to educating herself about the condition and taking control of her mental health, and she’s urging others to do the same.
"Unless you're getting to the root of the problem of why you are not feeling safe or out of control," she said, "you're going to keep having OCD and it's going to manifest into other ways of your life."