The OCD begins to look like you. It wears a mask identical to your face. It has the same freckles and blue eyes as you do. It has the same little scar on your lip that you got when you were four years old. It has a slightly less nice hairstyle than you do, it chips your nail polish and shabbily wears your clothes. It talks like you but a little slower and a little less passionately. It overthinks on your behalf and whispers lies and intrusive worries and doubts into your ear ever so softly. Sometimes it shouts and deafens you. It convinces you of all the negativity it feeds you. It relishes in its ability to make you obsess over its false messages and delights as you carry out the compulsions to correct things. It finds happiness in watching you lose your memory and sanity, isolates you from your world and convinces people it is the real you. Oh, aren’t you so naughty, OCD?
OCD can make it hard for people to talk about their experience. It is often referred to as the “secret illness” because of the humiliation the sufferer feels. Believe me, I know. Cut to five years ago, multiple family deaths one after the other. The feeling of genuine devastation ripped through all sides of my family. I kept my head down and kept moving forward, looked after those who needed me and saved my sadness for when I was alone in bed. I hadn’t realised my stress levels had risen so badly until I was sat in my car checking that my handbrake was on properly for the 30th time in a minute. Triggered.
I didn’t even see it coming. I always thought OCD was for people scrubbing their hands clean and touching light switches. As time progressed my behavioural checking stopped, and the mental checking began. Either way, I thought, no one is ever going to understand this. Hide it, I told myself. I soon found out that other people were suffering like me and people did understand.
I soon discovered that I didn’t have an issue talking about my condition. It doesn’t bother me. What people think about me with my condition, bothers me. A lot. This alone riddles me with guilt - we’re not meant to care what people think about us anymore, right? At least people don’t seem to admit that they care what people think. It’s an icky introspection to admit to.
How freeing it is to imagine that reality, a blissful existence free of worrying what people think of me. That possibility disappears when the blue eyed, freckled imposter pulls on its mask, pins a badge to my hoodie, emblazoned with my name and introduces itself to everyone as me.
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My OCD presents a paranoid, snivelling, anxious and doubtful depiction of myself to others. I shudder at the thought that this condition has the power to influence how others see me and impact their view of who I am. I’ve been lucky; most of those that I hold close see through this masterful disguise and the lies my OCD tells the world about me. Sometimes, I am not so lucky and the OCD manages to influence people’s narrative of me.
It was always important to me that those around me understood that my condition was separate from who I was as a person. I was repulsed by the idea that people could think that my symptoms and I were in anyway homogenous. The possibility that people could describe me as paranoid, tense, obsessive, anxious and every other horrid trait my OCD displayed affected me. Badly.
I had to accept within myself that my disorder was merely a part of me, but my OCD was in no way who I am. When discussed, people tend to agree with this quite easily as if it’s a given. However, few will truly grant total compassion, free of negative consequence, however this may look, when symptoms become increasingly burdensome and challenging. These people can make the difference.
These people notice the mask being slipped over my face by the imposter who appears. They notice my blue eyes changing their focus and they see the darkness surface.
I will always remember something I was told: “Not everyone can sit with you in the darkness”. It’s true. I am fortunate however, that I have some amazing family and friends. They bring torches, candles, spare batteries, matches, and a comfortable chair. They pull up beside me, sit down at my side and help me remove the mask.
Suddenly the darkness doesn’t seem so scary.