I have been dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for at least 10 years now. OCD is not a cookie cutter disorder; it is a different experience for everybody. It varies very much in the form it comes in and how severe it is. This has been my personal experience with OCD.
I speculate my OCD started around age 14 however I did not figure out what it was until I was around 17. I just started to realize that the little rituals I would do were not something that most people do and started looking into it, mostly with google searching and then I read a couple books about it to learn more. My OCD was very mild until I turned 18. It seems like when I started college is when it accelerated into being more intrusive and noticeable, however I’ve always felt it was manageable.
When most people think of OCD they think of someone obsessively cleaning their house and hands. This is one form of OCD however it is not the type I (and even most people) experience. There are many different types of OCD ranging from the classic fear of germs, to obsessive organization, plus many types in between. I have “compulsive counting” where I feel compelled to count things and/or meet/avoid certain numbers. Many times my “obsessive thought” isn’t a thought, it is a feeling. Just walking by something and it doesn’t “feel right” will sometimes send me into the need to “ritualize” until it “feels right”. My rituals are usually counting to specific numbers a certain number of times. Sometimes, there is a thought involved. One of the first thoughts I remember having linked to my OCD is that my boyfriend would leave me for a 17 year old girl (not a specific 17 year old girl even) and avoiding the number 17. Of course the thoughts and feelings vary and change but that is one example. For me though usually it is just a feeling and the same basic rituals to alleviate that feeling.
Grocery shopping is something I enjoy doing however I notice my rituals a lot while shopping because they can be embarrassing! It is rare to go to the store and do no rituals however they are not so bad that I don’t want to go to the store at all. Sometimes I need to grab an object that is a certain number in the “line” of objects, sometimes I will grab something and it doesn’t “feel right” and then I need to put it back and pick out a new one, sometimes I need to touch items a certain number of times, and sometimes I need to just stop and stare at something because I am counting to certain numbers (certain numbers of times), or I am reading it over and over a certain number of times.
The worse part about rituals for me is that the ritual itself has to feel “right”. This can cause rituals to last a very long time and become very stressful. Sometimes it is “right” the first time and sometimes it can take 10+ minutes to get “right”. Any visual or audio disturbances during a ritual (counting is considered my ritual) can (easily) cause a ritual to not feel right and result in re-doing the ritual many times. The more times I have to restart a ritual, the more stressful it becomes and the harder it becomes to ignore. It becomes almost impossible to walk away from. (Sometimes I can walk away/ignore the initial impulse but once I indulge it it becomes very difficult to walk away from).
How mild or severe my OCD is very much varies. It seems to increase during stressful times however that is not always the case. Sometimes it feels overwhelming and constant and sometimes it feels mild and very manageable. I have never felt like it is completely unmanageable and it has never made me do or not do something or taken control of my life. It has made life more stressful at times and made me take longer to do things, however I have learned how to live with my OCD.
I have never used medication to try to treat it. I did meet with a therapist for a few sessions to discuss it and talk it out. My therapist also had OCD and could very much relate and that made me feel so much better. I have had people accuse me of not actually having it, I have had people try to “relate” to me by talking about “their OCD” (“I know how you feel, I always have to load the dishwasher a certain way”) questioning why I don’t just ignore the feeling of wanting to do a ritual, and just overall not understanding it at all. Just having someone who understood it and believe it made a huge difference. He talked about options for treatment. My options were: do specific therapies to get rid of it, medicate it, or simply learn to live with it. I didn’t want to use medication and in a way I feel like if I got rid of it, whatever is driving it could manifest in another way so I’m even uncomfortable completely getting rid of it. I try to not feed into it as much as possible as I believe that the more you feed into it, the more your brain is trained to do it, and if you fight it then you can train your brain to not default to ritualizing as much. However sometimes it is just very difficult to ignore and I will do rituals then. OCD can be stressful and it is not ideal however everyone has problems they deal with (stress, depression, paranoia, addictions, obsessions, etc), everyone has quirks as well, and unless it intensifies, I will continue to live with it. Instead of thinking of it as a disorder that needs to be fixed I’ve come to accept it as a part of myself and to live with it.