I fully know how far I’ve come in terms of being able to contain the anxiety that comes from my OCD by looking back at how I handled OCD episodes years ago. If I didn’t have a full understanding of how the irrational thoughts surrounding OCD take over my brain, I would probably cringe. But I look at these episodes relative to where I am now and I most certainly do not cringe. I feel like I’ve accomplished the impossible: quieting my brain. Quieting my brain… a little bit more, I should say.
Now, I don’t know if I have an action plan for overcoming OCD in any fashion. I need to spend time looking at that with my clinical mind. I’m not going to say I’ve done most of the heavy lifting in muffling my OCD. I don’t quite know why I approach things differently. I’m focused on doing more work to tackle more of where my OCD hinders my life.
But I’d like to go back about three years ago. I was at my worst point in terms of anxiety in general, and my OCD was both feeding that and feeding off that (which OCD does, it spirals, it snowballs, it is all of those clichés.) At this point, I could probably count the minutes I was not in the throes of anxiety, and it wouldn’t be many minutes. Anxiety was everything. My OCD was everything. I was obsessed with everything going wrong, even if looking back things weren’t really that crazy.
But I’d just come off a traumatic few years which was preceded by being in the wrong place in life with the wrong… people around me… for about ten years. I was getting used to a new life.
This is all heavy stuff. Not only is it the true back story to where I was, but it also needs to set up the flavor of the description of this episode. You’re allowed to think this is funny, sure. But the key is that at the time, this was such a disaster that I didn’t want to be in this world anymore. For so many reasons.
I was living in a new apartment that had a shared laundry. A paid washer and dryer outside in a portico. I was happy to just be living somewhere on my own, away from a life I’d very happily left behind. But I was not happy in general, I was dealing with a lot of regret for decades-long bad life decisions, picking myself up from such.
Ok, on to the story regarding a shirt. I’d recently purchased a red shirt. I don’t normally wear loud colors—I almost exclusively wear muted colors or black. But the shirt was cheap, and I oddly went out of my routine and purchased a color I’d never normally wear. (Reason was really that I was gifted a nifty pink-red long sleeve shirt, and a dark, blood red shirt seemed to go nicely underneath.) And I wore the red shirt. I also wore a white shirt in that same week. White shirts are good for when there’s nothing else to wear. I didn’t particularly care about the white shirt, other than I cared about all of my shirts because I was on an extreme budget.
I went to wash all of my clothes. I remember thinking offhandedly that the red shirt may bleed and turn the white shirt pink. I remember thinking about this. I remember thinking that I should have been paying more attention to this potential eventuality. This is OCD. OCD is obsessing over eventualities and not getting them wrong, lest feeling like I should punish myself. I know all of this, I knew all of this.
But I also wanted to save money (the washing machine and dryer took $1.50 each to run.)
So I risked it. I washed the red shirt with the white shirt.
This is both a common thing to do and yields a common result that—to most, I assume—isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Then I remember sitting on my stoop while the laundry was going, and my mind slowly but increasingly amplified the thought of the white shirt turning pink. I was becoming obsessed. My OCD was kicking in mostly because my white shirt was literally locked away, potentially being destroyed.
The big problem: I knew this could happen, and if the shirt did turn out pink, it was my own fault. This is the worst thing for someone with OCD: knowing the potential for the problem, and not pulling the plug on the activity.
Also note: I was not officially diagnosed with OCD at this time. Only anxiety.
The dread I had about opening the washer was akin to the most anxious moments in my life. My scale from “ok” to “extremely anxious” was quite compressed at the time. I was on the bad side of that scale, an easy place to go at that time in my life.
I obsessed for the hour that the washer went, and when I got to the washer… yes, the worst had happened. My white shirt was pink.
As trite as this may seem, my OCD didn’t do “trite.” This was the worst thing that could happen because:
1. I knew it would happen and didn’t stop it
2. I now had to figure out how to get things back to how they were
3. I didn’t know how to fix this without causing more damage.
Classic OCD episode. But I could not control it, and I could not control my level of intensity in emotion, thinking, worrying, anger, everything.
I freaked out. I called the girl I’d been dating for only a few weeks and explained the hell I was going through. How did she not think I was crazy? Now, that did not matter. How other people see me during an OCD episode, I can compartmentalize. I don’t know how, but it just doesn’t matter.
What does matter is this $3.00 white shirt is now pink and needs to be not pink.
I did not have bleach at the time. I was living a few blocks from a store that did have bleach, but this was now a disaster and I was not thinking well at all. I pleaded with her to help me. Again—how does she not think I am crazy? Why is she entertaining any of this?
But she went with it! Sheesh, what a solidly good person!
She brought over a small container of bleach and helped me soak the white shirt in bleach-water.
Of course, I micromanaged the whole process. Of course, she gave me looks that I’d never gotten before from someone I was in love with. (That is to say, she was not at all angry, just… yeah, she thought this was funny.)
The shirt turned white. A miracle, hundreds-years-old solution!
Do you know what my key takeaway was in all of this? I now had a new tool (bleach) in my OCD kit. That is what mattered to me once I calmed down (relatively).
I now wanted to bleach everything!
When everything settled down, I realized my brain was doing something beyond anxiety. I did not fully know it was OCD, I needed a doctor (with my help) to diagnose that. Regardless, this is how serious an OCD episode can become.
I was thinking the world was not worth it because I had no control over mistakes like a shirt’s dye bleeding in the wash. This was a 10-out-of-10. I was living mostly in a 10-out-of-10 all around.
I can look back on this and think about a variety of things. I do look back and see that I would no longer act exactly like this. Maybe close, but not to this level.
But the solution aside, my growth aside, the important part is when someone is in the throes of an OCD episode, the obsession feels life-altering.
This was beyond a 10-out-of-10. Unfortunately, the scale never goes high enough to truly measure the extremes of OCD.