Feeling Monk-ish: How I Am Battling OCD

by: Shelly Phillips

In today’s day and age, it seems like everyone and their mother has been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness and is taking antidepressants. What was once considered hush-hush has become, in some ways, the norm. I can’t count how many people have told me without missing a beat that they have ADD, OCD, depression anxiety, or bipolar I or II. What’s often surprising is that this information is sometimes offered by complete strangers.

I think it is quite amazing that we can frankly discuss such things without feeling ashamed or stigmatized. It’s so refreshing and perhaps uniquely American; in France, for example, people are far more reticent about any issue, really (including their jobs or their families), and it takes a long time to befriend someone, whereas in the U.S. we’re sometimes so open, it even shocks me.

I often find myself discussing mental illnesses with people, and it’s only when someone mentions OCD that I blink and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve got that, too” — almost as if I’ve forgotten — and it many ways, I have.

Just like one might say, “Oh, I’m so ADD today” (I hear this a lot), it’s become quite commonplace for people to say “I’m really OCD about this” or “I’m so OCD about that.” It’s become a verb or an adjective, much like Google and Facebook have become verbs and have been incorporated into today’s vernacular. The great thing is that such statements make OCD sound like it’s a personality type, almost; something a lot of people have. And honestly, OCD really doesn’t seem to be that big of deal anymore — unlike mental illnesses like schizophrenia, for instance. Perhaps it’s because it was portrayed through popular TV shows and movies like Monk and Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets, but one can mention that they have OCD nowadays almost in a blithe, casual way.

For a long time — several years, really — I didn’t really think about the fact that I had OCD. It was a non-factor. Sure, I took medication for it, but I didn’t really dwell on it at all. It wasn’t until the past few months that it hit me that I still have obsessive compulsive symptoms and that it does, in fact, continue to play a large (albeit much smaller) part in my life.

The most well-known symptoms of OCD are what are typified in Monk: obsessive counting, endless rituals, a severe aversion to germs, and a perpetual drive to have everything be aligned perfectly and “just so.” I do not really have any of these symptoms — and never have — so people are often surprised when I say that I have OCD. In fact, when I was first diagnosed with it as a teenager, I didn’t believe my psychologist for almost a year, until my mother gave me a magazine article about OCD and then I realized, quite shocked, “Oh, so that’s what’s wrong with me.”

My OCD more revolves around the obsessive thoughts. There are also different types of OCD called ROCD (religious OCD) and HOCD (homosexual OCD), the former being where one is perpetually afraid that they are thinking sinful thoughts and the latter being where one is consumed with the fear that one is homosexual. As a super-Christian teen who felt suddenly (and quite strongly) attracted to girls, you can imagine that adding OCD to the mix made things a whole lot of fun. Thankfully, through research, cognitive therapy, and a different mindset regarding religion in general, the fears and compulsions which plagued me as a teenager hardly — if ever — factor into my life.

So, you may ask, how does OCD affect my life currently? The simple truth is that I am a ridiculously anxious person. I’ve found that any small change in my daily routine leads to temporary insomnia and a fixation on the change at hand, almost as if by obsessing and worrying about the issue, I am some way in control of it. And perhaps that’s what OCD is about, really — control, or a lack thereof.

I often find myself thinking about the same thing over and over, so much so that I can barely think about other things. Perhaps it makes me seem solipsistic, but the trouble with OCD is that you can’t just stop thinking about something; in fact, the more you think about not thinking about it, the more you think about it. It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to step outside the spinning wheels in my mind and focus on other things. Thankfully, it’s become much easier over the years, but it still affects me.

So yes, there’s been a lot of changes in my life recently, and I’ve been more anxious than usual. For example, the first time I went on a date with a woman, I completely freaked out beforehand; I couldn’t sleep the night before. Even after going to gay clubs, I still am not cool with myself. I obsess over everything — “Am I gay? Am I bi? Am I lesbian? Was I checking her out? Was she checking me out? Why am I so anxious? Why can’t I not be anxious? What will my friends think? How will people treat me? Why do I still hate myself? ” — and often sink into a temporary gloom. A day of withdrawing from the world, curled up in a blanket on the couch and watching Coupling or Arrested Development seems to do the trick. Only by doing so can I shut off the anxious thoughts racing through my mind.

I’ve been on dates with guys and girls who are extremely relaxed and laissez-faire and don’t seem to understand why I am so anxious and uptight all of the time. “Just chill,” they tell me. And I want to laugh, because “just chilling” is sometimes seemingly impossible.

But perhaps through exercise, yoga (especially child’s pose), and meditation (which I really need to get into), the anxiety will lessen. I know it makes my coming out process hard, but I have learned to accept the fact that I need to stop beating myself up over my lack of progress in many areas (I still flip out whenever I’m around gay people—which is quite ridiculous, since I am gay myself). And so, Reader, I will go now, and breathe in and out, and hopefully, “just chill.”

Shelly Phillips is an Ohioan who doesn’t really care about the Buckeyes, but is just a little too obsessed with all things British.  She also enjoys traveling, reading, Chai tea lattes, and late-afternoon naps.

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