Trigger warning: This piece contains mentions of suicidal ideations and descriptions of the intrusive thoughts that can sometimes accompany obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I had my first experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder in the summer of 2017, though I didn’t receive a diagnosis for months. I was on vacation in North Carolina, away from all of my real-life anxieties, but suddenly, it didn’t feel that way. While taking a hot shower after a dip in the ocean, I felt my mind change radically in what seemed like a split second. I didn’t know what was happening or why, but I knew something was incredibly wrong.
Instead of being able to talk myself down from what I thought was a panic attack, my mind spiraled out of control: I’m going to hurt myself. I’m going to hurt somebody else. I’m a monster. I’m a monster. Oh my god.
When I stepped out of the shower, the world spun around me as I grabbed onto the bathroom counter and tried to regain my balance. These new intrusive thoughts were suddenly in the driver’s seat, and the rational Lauren that I had always known didn’t have a voice anymore.
Throughout the next few months, my mental health decreased rapidly. I couldn’t walk anywhere without these new thoughts nagging me to step in front of a car. It was startling. While I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to take my own life or hurt anyone else, my thoughts made me fear that I would someday. During the time before my diagnosis, I couldn’t even spend time with friends or family for fear of letting them in on this new secret I was trying to keep from everyone.
After months of depression due to these intense, harmful thoughts, I decided to give my psychiatrist a much-needed call and schedule a visit. During that appointment, I shook like a leaf as I told her about all the thoughts I had been feeling, completely petrified of what her response might be.
Instead, she nodded her head with understanding. Finally, someone understood what was going on with me. She gave me the answers I had been looking for — I had obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it was an actual mental disorder. Not only was I relieved, but I was also elated.
First of all, what is obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (commonly known as OCD) affects people of all ages and different walks of life around the world. According to the International OCD Foundation, an estimated 2 to 3 million individuals struggle with OCD in the United States today.
The National Institute of Mental Health says, “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.”
What many people don’t know about this mental disorder is that there are several different common “obsessions and compulsions” people with OCD tend to have. These can include washing and cleaning, checking, repeating, harm, and losing control.
Many people only think of OCD as the desperate need to clean everything and keep things organized. In the media especially, OCD is likely portrayed as this one variant, which causes confusion for individuals who haven’t yet been diagnosed. And as I have learned from my own experience, not everyone’s journey with OCD will be the same.
What is purely obsessive, or “Pure O,” obsessive-compulsive disorder?
The OCD I personally struggle with is sometimes labeled by people as “Pure O.” To be clear, Pure O is not a real medical diagnosis, but a term used by many people with OCD who experience intrusive, violent thoughts, but less of the physical compulsions most people associate with the disorder.