01 Elise has struggled with OCD since the age of 10. Many obstacles got in the way of her recovery — misrepresentation of OCD, shame surrounding the content of her thoughts, fear of opening up.
02 Now, she is an outspoken advocate so others don’t have to fight the same battles.
Did you know that it takes an average of 17 years for a person with OCD to reach diagnosis? 17 years! That’s a lifetime.
I want to share my story in hopes of saving others from walking in that darkness alone when they don’t have to.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition that causes unwanted intrusive thoughts (obsessions) to play on a repetitive loop, resulting in extreme distress to the individual. People with OCD engage in mental and/or physical activities (compulsions) to reduce their levels of anxiety — unknowingly feeding and making the OCD cycle stronger.
My struggle with OCD began around 10 or 11 years old. I had to complete tasks until they felt just right, or else something bad would happen. My thoughts morphed over time, creating self-devastating scenarios that would either ruin my life or ruin the lives of those around me.
Although I knew that the level of distress I was experiencing was not “normal”, talking about it was not an option. Hard stop. I vowed to take this secret with me to the grave.
I was alone, with no one to rely on but myself, until that was no longer sustainable. OCD attacks what we care most about, and its new target was me. The inherent trust in my ability to control my actions was washed away by a single thought. The world no longer felt safe.
Dr. Phillipson Talks Science, Symptoms & Treatment of OCD
I tried to convey to a close friend that something was going on, but couldn’t get the words out. The fear was overwhelming and I shut down, but her steadfast encouragement gave me the courage to finally open up about it. I don’t know if she is aware of what that meant to me, but I will forever be grateful to her for it.
People have the best intentions when they say “just reach out”, but it’s not that easy. The guilt was just as impactful as the shame. OCD isn’t exactly PG material. What if what I say upsets you? Freaks you out? Or worse, you don’t respond at all? I felt guilty for wanting to talk about it because I thought that I’d be a burden to those around me and potentially lose the connections I already had. It wasn’t worth the risk.
If you suspect that a family member, a friend, or even a co-worker is struggling (regardless of what it may be), then I encourage you to say something because something is always better than nothing. And then, listen. That’s it. It only takes one person to show that they care to make a world of difference to those who may be suffering in silence.
The guilt was just as impactful as the shame.
People were surprised to learn that I had OCD, much in the same way that I was, I suppose. There will be some people who are willing to read up on it to get a better understanding, but I found that their attention quickly fell by the wayside. This does not mean that they don’t care about you; they simply do not understand it. OCD does not define you, and contrary to how you may feel, people will quickly move past it.
OCD robs you of your sense of self, your sense of safety, and the ability to feel loved. I always tell people that it's not just a thinking disorder, but a feeling disorder, because it causes you to distrust yourself based on how you’re feeling. You know it doesn't make sense logically, but the extreme anxiety makes it feel real. It’s called the doubting disease for a reason. OCD makes you feel that action must be taken to protect what you care about most.
Please be mindful that OCD is not an adjective to describe someone who is neat or organized, as often portrayed in the media. It’s not a quirk or fun personality trait, but a severe anxiety disorder that can cause significant disruption to life — and can even be the cause of its end.
It is the perpetuation of misinformation that I believe prevented me from seeking help earlier, and for some, to stay in that pit forever. The façade of a normal life while "living" with OCD is oftentimes unbearable, but it doesn't have to be. We need to talk about what it really is, when it can manifest, and how one can seek help for it too.
OCD does not define you, and contrary to how you may feel, people will quickly move past it.
It makes me angry to know that I am not the exception. 17+ years to get a diagnosis. How is that possible in today’s world? It forces me to question why mental health (in general) is not being talked about more in public forums, schools, or workplaces given that 1 in 5 people globally are affected.
If you’re struggling in any capacity, then I strongly encourage you to seek help. I promise you that it's worth the risk. Keep in mind that you can always choose what or what not to say when telling your story.
I struggled when deciding whether to post this article anonymously. It’s an unfortunate truth that there is still stigma surrounding mental health. Regardless, it is my hope that by sharing my story, the message is still received.
Be kind to one another, folks. We’re all fighting our own battles.