Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has been a presence in my life for as long as I can remember. During my early 20’s, when the OCD was at its strongest, I was plagued by various obsessions. One of my most vivid memories was standing in front of the stove, pointing at the individual knobs while saying aloud off… off… off…off. As if saying “off” would insure they were really off, and make me less likely to check again. I remember how trips to public restrooms (made under only the most dire situations) would inevitably be followed by lengthy sessions of washing up to my elbows. One day my dad caught me during one of my elbow washing rituals. I remember him standing there staring—utterly perplexed. How can you explain to someone without these compulsions that, if you don’t do it, you simply cannot get on with your day? That is, until the next compulsion demands something of you. My hands were raw, but I could not help myself. I thought, “Why aren’t my brothers like me? How easy life must be for them.” Hours of wasted time spent obsessing, checking and washing.
Thankfully, with the help of behavioral therapy and a loving, patient family, my OCD no longer rules my world. Oh, it’s still there, but it’s more like “OCD lite.” My hand washing is typically limited to my actual hands (okay, I confess, sometimes I slip a little wrist in there). I can still occasionally be seen talking to my oven, but it’s rare. I know that I have come a long way, as there’s no way I could have been a classroom teacher back then. All those bodily fluids would have completely blown my mind! Don’t get me wrong, when one of my students sneezes on the other side of the room, I do find myself wondering “could that have gotten on me?” The difference is I don’t think about it all day.
I used to be so ashamed of my OCD. I tried to hide it. I felt nuts. Then I saw Howie Mandel freely open up and talk about his OCD, and his was much worse than mine at the time. I thought, he’s a successful, well-liked guy. Now I use my OCD to make people laugh. It’s become my “thing.” It doesn’t define me; it just makes me more colorful.