The Life of Someone with OCD —Two knocks to the head, that’ll do it.

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By Amanda Dorris, VCU Social Work Intern

If I do not knock on my head twice, right now, a loved one could die. This is what runs through my head as the result of a common intrusive thought spiral. Intrusive thoughts pop into my head at any time, and they love to make themselves comfortable until I find a way to dismiss them. For me the method of choice is two knocks to the head. Which can sometimes result in a rhythmic two knocks over and over until the spiral ends. To backtrack a little, intrusive thoughts are unwanted ideas or images that come into the mind. Many people have bad thoughts every now and then and even sometimes intrusive thoughts. What makes it different for people like me with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), is how those thoughts are treated and what behaviors and feelings follow the thoughts.

For too long I believed that these thoughts I was having were unique to me. I felt like a horrible person to ever even think such things. But that’s what intrusive thoughts are; they make you feel bad. They make you question everything about yourself. For me, the fear surrounding them is the hardest: fear of others being able to hear what goes through my brain.

I’m not sure when the two knocks to the head began. Or when superstitions and phrases became obsessions. Simple things like spilling salt and tossing some over your shoulder or “stepping on a crack break your mother’s back” entered my head and never left.  Some days I don’t think of them, and others it consumes my thoughts. I know the phrase “knock on wood” has always been present in my family, and if you didn’t have wood around, you would knock on someone’s head in a joking manner. At some point I got obsessed with the idea of knocking on wood, and when there was no wood, I’d knock on my own head. When I was little, before knocking on my head, the way I would pray at night had the same feelings. I felt that if I didn’t mention every single person in my life, something bad would happen to them.

Sometimes I would worry that if I didn’t explicitly say something about keeping them in health (mind body and soul), that I would essentially curse or jinx them into death, illness, or tragedy. Some days are worse than others. I usually try to play off the two knocks to my head by scratching my head right after, especially if I can feel it’ll be a bad run. I do my best to play it off and get through the compulsion without saying “knock on wood,” but there are times I can’t.

I was diagnosed with OCD when I was in the 4th grade, but my parents kept it from me. I didn’t find out until ten years later. Right after my therapist diagnosed me with OCD, I found the testing documents by chance. I am not why they chose to keep this information from me. Perhaps it was borne of my parents’ fear to admit something about how my brain worked was different. As a kid I was teased by my family and friends for clinging to ideas like “a dog with a bone.” The truth was they’d stick to my head like chewed gum, and I couldn’t get them out until I made them happen. Finding out my parents kept the diagnosis from me hurt.

I felt entirely alone and ashamed because it felt like they hid it, in hopes I would “grow out of” my behaviors. They thought that it only existed because it got in my head somehow, I was latching on to it. This of course would have been impossible, as I did not know what the testing was for as a child; it was for ADHD, which I’d later find out I was also diagnosed with. To this day I don’t really talk about my OCD with anyone, family and friends included. Some know about it, but it is never a topic of discussion. I tend to not bring it up as people are too quick to equate their desire for clean spaces or occasional bad thoughts as a self-diagnosis of what they think OCD is. Also, the idea of explaining the unshakable thoughts that stick makes me worry that those I would tell would never speak to me again. I fear that they wouldn’t and couldn’t understand.

The misconceptions around OCD can make the experience not only frustrating but very lonely. Really, loneliness doesn’t even begin to cover it. Totally isolated, on a deserted island, feels more like it. Knowing that there are others with OCD out there helped to ease my mind a bit on those particularly hard days; it was social media that helped me find others like me. People making videos about their experiences with OCD and the harsh realities faced made me feel like maybe my island wasn’t too far from others. This is a challenge for me to start the discussion with family, friends, and peers.

Hopefully if you’re out there reading this and struggle with a recent or old diagnosis of OCD, you know you are not alone. Those thoughts are not your own voice speaking; you don’t really want to do those things.

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