Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: This Is What It’s Like to Be Obsessed With Perfection

Eighteen months ago I was in the throes of some of the darkest moments of my life—but on paper it didn’t look like that. I had just finished a national tour for my first book, The Crowdsourceress, and positive coverage had started rolling in. My company, which launched crowd-funding campaigns for stellar creators worldwide, had raised a combined $20 million to help bring their creative projects to life. Journalists were calling me a wunderkind and a guru; my name was even added to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. By the looks of things, I was killing it.

But alone one day soon after the tour ended, I couldn’t leave my bed. Sobbing on the phone to my mother like a terrified child, I was deep in a spiral of repetitive, fearful thoughts. My skin was crawling with anxiety.

This wasn’t my first total meltdown. I had suffered from these obsessive thoughts of uncertainty for almost two decades of my life.

I grew up a happy kid—spunky, opinionated, and incredibly curious. But something happened in my preadolescent years: I became painfully afraid of bad things happening to me. From what I remember, it started when I was around 10. After watching a nineties horror film, I became wildly obsessed with the idea of being abducted by aliens. I would lie in bed every night, imagining all the ways I could be abducted, and then rush into my parents room, begging to sleep near them for protection.

Young woman and her daughter at class party.

The author, pictured here as a kid with her mom, has always been spunky and curious.

Courtesy of Meg Daly

I didn’t have these terrorizing thoughts just at night though. On some idle weekends I would find myself pacing back and forth indoors, thinking about the various ways I could be tortured by the aliens that would eventually abduct me. I remember so clearly one Saturday morning my dad pointing to a painting and saying, “This painting exists. Aliens don’t. You have a higher probability of being abducted by this painting!” I laughed, relieved, but still uncertain.

When I eventually let go of my alien obsession, I moved on to another fixation: perfection.

I was finishing fifth grade and applying to a prestigious middle school. I told myself that I had to get in—in my mind, if I failed, it would irreparably derail my entire life. Fixated, I would complete all my homework, organize it neatly in my sparkly folders, and get into bed early. But I couldn’t go to sleep: Instead I would pray relentlessly, pleading for straight A’s. Fearful that my homework could suddenly disappear into thin air while I slept, I’d anxiously jump out of bed to check that it was still there. I would do this about 20 times a night.

By the time I turned 12, my obsessions shifted again, this time to a subject on many a preteen mind: sex. But I wasn’t fantasizing about a new crush or exploring pleasure as my body went through puberty. Rather, I was terrified of anything related to sex—it got to a point that I didn’t want to be touched, fearing any unpredictable sensation in my body. My obsession became so paralyzing that I would retrace the most innocent of past interactions, analyzing them for the slightest improprieties and confessing whenever I felt something could have been perceived as wrong. Whenever I did have a sexual thought—all of which felt weird and deviant—I would fixate for hours on end about what it meant about my identity as a person, rocking back and forth into what seemed like a hole of darkness.

At first, as with my other moments of catastrophic crises, I implored my parents for reassurance, describing my graphic fears in detail. But I realized that this new obsession felt different—it was too taboo. I stopped sharing and began internalizing my rituals, while another obsessive idea set in: I really believed that if my parents knew my thoughts, even though they had been my biggest supporters so far, they would disown me forever.

When I started high school, I became really good at hiding my internal battles—so began my years of trying to cope on my own. I would power through episodes of distress by throwing myself into piles of work as a necessary distraction, or avoid situations that triggered the anxiety. The intense dedication to my work helped me excel, but it masked the obsessive thoughts playing on loop in my mind. In college I had two majors, a minor, and an honors thesis, but I remember thinking I could have—should have—done so much more.