Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek Part 7

As today is the last day of #OCDWeek, I'm ending my disclosure series with one of my most powerful disclosures: sharing my diagnosis with my colleagues.

Shame works in mysterious ways. I gradually built up an impressive resume of disclosures to numerous counselors, friends and even some co-workers, all with varying levels of embarrassment and methods of delivery. 

But I still hadn’t told my best friend. Let alone my mom.

My mom and best friend were in the dark. I wanted to keep up the facade that I was “normal," that I was just the worrywart Melanie they knew and loved. They couldn’t discover I worried about killing people when I drove. That wasn’t the Melanie they knew.

I channeled my energy towards letting my coworkers in on my secrets. My supervisor supported my idea to create a presentation to help my colleagues better understand me and the subtypes of OCD I experienced.

This had to be the mother of all presentations.

I came across a quote by Brené Brown that offered me courage: 
"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light"
I took solace that my team didn't know what I was working on. I could still back out. This was voluntary, after all.

But my reveal was approaching and before I knew it, I found myself in a room full of my coworkers about to spill the beans. And I was going all in. I needed their attention. I needed them to know this was important. I fought off tears as I disclosed off the hop. It took effort to control the shakiness in my voice.

This was happening. I was saying the words "hit-and-run OCD" to a room full of people. I had taken what had been trapped inside of me for years and created a PowerPoint presentation. This was of my own volition. This was terrifying.

It was hard to look everyone in the eye. The few people I did manage to catch glimpses of looked at me with encouragement, as if to say, "keep going. You got this."

I shared more of Brené Brown's wisdom: 
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”
My supervisor commended me on my courage. She cried. I cried. A co-worker cried. Someone quipped that I should show the city my presentation for incentive to fix the potholes. We chuckled.

And I'll never forget the moment when one member from my team stood up and began a standing ovation.

I was left empowered but with an incredible sense of guilt. My mom still didn't know. I felt as though I had betrayed her. I had walked the red carpet and didn’t send her an invite.

A month or two went by and the guilt lingered. I didn't want her to hear through the grapevine that her daughter has OCD. She had to know. The amount of time I had waited had created a sense of urgency. I needed her to understand I was more than Melanie the worrywart. The disclosures I had done throughout the years gave me a sense of confidence while being utterly terrified. 

I found myself in her living room, clumsily explaining the type of OCD I experienced. I tried to study her reaction, as I felt my face turning red.

It was anti-climactic. She was neutral. It wasn’t emotional like when I shared with her how intense my anxiety was a year prior.

I awkwardly presented her with a fact sheet I had created for the purpose of the disclosure. I tried to break the ice by sharing how when I was in grade 1, we learned about the garbage in landfill sites. I explained how when I threw things out, I would push them as far into the garbage as possible, trying to save the planet from being consumed by trash.

We laughed.

For something I had held onto for so long, for quite possibly my biggest reveal, it was neutral. I was unsure how I felt afterwards. I was proud that it was done with but now what? Would she ask me follow-up questions? Would there be follow-up discussions?

There weren't.

I was disappointed that she didn’t bring it up when I saw her next while another part of me was relieved. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal. Or maybe it was. Maybe she didn’t know how to talk about this. Maybe I had been right all along in not wanting to share with her. Maybe it was too much for someone from an older generation to digest. 

But then something happened that became a buffer. I won free admission through a random draw to the International OCD Foundation's (IOCDF) Annual OCD Conference in Los Angeles.

This meant travel. 

This meant the risk of my cats dying.

My mom became an outlet to process this with. We processed giving the admission to someone else, the pros and cons of going versus not going. Ultimately, I chose to embrace it as a sign that I was meant to attend. But this meant Brandon's parents had to know.

It was unacceptable that they would find out I was going to California after having missed trips for Christmas, for Easter. It was time they knew. Anxiety could only explain so much.

They took it in stride.

As summer came to a close the IOCDF announced they’d be hosting an OCD awareness video contest, with first prize being a trip to the next conference. You could enter by uploading a video to YouTube. YouTube--a public domain, a place anyone could find me.

And YouTube is exactly where I found myself. I created a video where I stirred and mixed and explained OCD in a cooking show format.

But first, you had to be chosen by the judges as a finalist. It was possible very few would see my video.

I got chosen. 

Second, you had to get enough votes to win. This meant I was going public.

I said to the world, "Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD."

And I won.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek Part 6

Part 6 of my #disclosure series for #OCDWeek.

I was officially diagnosed with OCD about five years ago. The psychologist gave a bleak prognosis: she warned things would get worse. Her words were hollow. The diagnosis felt like a punch to the gut--a punch I had been anticipating yet resented when it finally happened.

I assumed the psychologist had to be wrong. Sure, I had symptoms of OCD but there was no way I had a mental illness. I was functional; I was working full-time; I was in a committed relationship. 

It was unintentional discrimination. It was black and white thinking: if I could work, I was fine. If I couldn't work, then I wasn't fine.

A couple years later, another professional provided me with the same diagnosis but with a finesse; there was a softness in her tone that let me feel safe to share my apprehension. 

The second diagnosis gave me a framework for making sense of myself. I realized that mental illness was not simply divided into functional versus non-functional. Rather than feeling like I had been labelled, I began to view it as information to help me better understand myself. And I wanted others to better understand me too. 

After all, how would I have a close bond with someone without revealing the darker parts of myself? 

Well, I could. 

There’s no contract that says you must reveal your innermost thoughts with friends. But I wanted to. I felt like I was hiding something. 

I avoided friends when I was triggered by OCD. The friend I had already chosen to disclose to was an exception-there was no way others could be as patient and understanding. 

Telling any other friends felt like a legitimate risk of losing them. I feared I would be judged and that they wouldn't want me in their lives anymore. Writing this feels surreal now but you forget how all-consuming shame is. 

I experimented with different ways of disclosing. I had entered an OCD awareness writing contest in hopes to provide education for hit-and-run OCD. I wanted to shed knowledge on a topic I wished had been more accessible when I needed the information. 

I spent hours pouring my soul into the piece, trying to show the world that it’s a thing. I needed to entice people, keep them reading. I called it, “Why I’m Not a Serial Killer.

But then the fear set in. What on earth was I about to do? What if I actually won? My name would be attached to having hit-and-run OCD. What would my neighbours think? There’d be gossip. People wouldn’t want to live near me. My mom would find out about this side of me. It felt like a legitimate risk.

So I found a loophole--I used ambiguous wording when describing my entry. I could be an intellect intrigued by the condition, a psychologist toying with her creative side. No one had to know. I was putting myself out there but with a safety net.

Until I was ready to put a name to my story. I gave a friend a copy, cryptically sharing that I needed her to know something about me.

15 minutes went by. No response.

Okay, maybe she was still reading.

30 minutes went by. No response.

She must be writing me some feedback.

It took everything in me not to pick up the phone and call her. I knew I could challenge myself by holding off, by resisting the compulsion. I didn’t like it but I decided I’d wait.

45 minutes.

Was she in shock?

60 minutes.

There was no way she hadn’t finished reading it.

She was calling the police.

I heard sirens and part of me wondered whether they were coming for me. Like I had written a confession and handed it to my friend to turn me in.

Turns out she had gotten distracted and hadn't yet read it. My fear of being taken away in a cop car broke the ice and we laughed.

One might say I underestimated my friends but every disclosure was new. Every disclosure was a chance for rejection. Each sub-type of OCD felt risky. Maybe they’d be okay with learning about my scrupulosity OCD but hit-and-run OCD could be the deal breaker. 
A photo from my first #OCDweek: experimenting with advocacy but not yet ready to publicly disclose.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek #disclosure Part 5

In Part 5 of my #ocdweek disclosure blog series, I share what my experience was like admitting to family that I have anxiety. But the shame and fear still held strong. Admitting to having OCD wasn't yet an option for me.

OCD can be especially frightening to disclose because of what is known as magical thinking--the faulty belief that saying or thinking something will make it so. I was, and still am, afraid that when I travel out of town, my home will burn down and my cats will die.

A few years ago this particular fear was especially strong prior to a summer trip my husband and I had planned to visit his in-laws who live over 6 hours away. I had been dreading the trip but didn’t know how to tell him. After all, I had made the trip multiple times before. I didn't understand the ebbing and flowing nature of the illness.

He picked me up from work the evening we were scheduled to depart. 

It was happening. I was willingly getting into the vehicle that would start the series of events that would lead to my cats’ demise. 

I sat in the car facing the window, a ruse to hide my blatant distress. For all he knew I was enjoying the scenery. Eventually this led to tears but I faced the window with conviction. Rural farms can make someone emotional, right? 

Luckily, he had to focus on driving. But as we reached the 90 minute mark, I started sobbing. I was convinced that this would be the time my cats would die. I felt it with every fibre of my being. I couldn’t go. I’d regret it. I couldn’t be responsible for killing my cats. Magical thinking’s wand was especially persuasive that day.

We’re not turning around!

Maybe I can call my mom to come get me, I wailed.

Why didn’t you say something sooner? Why’d you have to wait until we’re over an hour out? 

But how are you supposed to say something when saying something makes it so? 

I sobbed. He yelled. And then silence. 

He turned the car around and we drove the hour and a half back. 


I felt convinced we were getting a divorce. I had managed to ruin my marriage in 90 minutes.

I texted my friend, the friend I disclosed to at a restaurant. She was a godsend. Being able to communicate with someone about what was happening, while it was happening and be honest about why it was happening was therapeutic.

He was calm when we arrived home. I didn’t want to pry about what had changed. I would follow his lead. He declared he’d be making the 7 hour trip tomorrow. No mention of divorce court. That was promising.

But he was going to have to contact his parents. After all, we had planned to be there late that evening. He had to explain why I wasn’t coming. They do say the truth always comes out, but I asked him to keep a piece of the puzzle hidden. He agreed not to mention OCD. He could say anxiety, but not OCD. Anxiety felt safer. Anxiety felt more general. Anxiety was scary enough for them to know about.

His father called me and offered support. I felt shy but also incredibly grateful and relieved. His mother sent me a supportive email. I was assured she understood. They were embracing me as me, even though a puzzle piece was missing.

But I also had to explain to my mom why I was still at home. After all, she was our cat-sitter. She couldn’t just show up to feed them dinner and find me sobbing in the living room. 

I hadn't yet uttered the the three letters to her. I kept it all locked away. I had swallowed the key and it rotted in my stomach. I was her daughter. I didn’t want to cause her any shame or disappointment. I felt guilty for assuming she wouldn't understand. But what if she didn’t get it? OCD is messier to explain than anxiety. Anxiety is an umbrella term people are familiar with. People toss OCD around but in ignorance. People claim they are "so OCD” without realizing the agony it inflicts.

Disclosure about having OCD meant providing a mini lecture. It wasn’t like saying, “I have a cold.” People get colds. People know you’ll be sniffling and sneezing and coughing and tired. People know to offer you tissue and some Buckley’s. 

But with OCD, people don’t know you’re worrying whether you've caused multiple deaths even though you know you haven’t. People don’t know you're worried you have the power to cause a fire because of being away from home. People can’t offer you Buckley’s.

So I chose to use the word anxiety with my mother as well. It’s not like this was coming out of left field. After all, I was a self-identified worrywart. But that wasn’t something we talked about much either

That day, I revealed the extent of my fear of something bad happening; I explained that I needed to be nearby just in case my home burned down. Even describing that was difficult. Saying it out loud was an exposure I didn’t realize I was doing. But I didn’t dare mention OCD. 

She cried, having had no idea it impacted me on the level that it did. 

Suddenly three family members knew about my anxiety.  It was therapeutic. It was a disclosure, but with pieces missing. But it was a step. Puzzles aren’t always put together in one sitting.

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek #disclosure Part 4

Mini disclosure series for #OCDWeek.

Part 4:

There's only so many books about OCD you can read until you start craving human contact. I tried another counselor--he had never heard of hit-and-run OCD. So I tried another --she had me creating a hierarchy of my fears in the first session and scared me off. My next stop was a psychologist--he evaded the topic as much as I did.

It was time for Plan B--friends.

I started dropping hints to one of my friends. I let her know I wanted to tell her something. 

Guess, I’d say.

I don’t know what I would have done had she asked, “do you have hit-and-run OCD?”

It was months of cryptic discussions, trying to find a way to confide in her without admitting to anything. She was a safe friend to disclose to. She taught me the power of validation, the power of creating a safe and nonjudgmental environment.

Yet we kept walking. For months.

The grand reveal happened in public at a busy restaurant. The hollering kids helped add an element of privacy. I let the process drag out. I wasn’t ready to place my order and spill. I was still hoping for her improbable correct guess. 

Somehow all the "well's" and "um's" turned into a coherent disclosure. I explained what hit-and-run OCD is and let the tears flow towards my plate. 

That poor server who had been assigned to our table. 

I had a need to know that my friend believed I hadn’t killed anyone. She assured me she never questioned this for a second.

I started to feel a hint of liberation from unloading the skeletons from my closet. I couldn't believe I had finally done it. But how could someone comprehend the nastiness of the illness? 

I felt braver afterwards. I found a private support group on Facebook. With real people. No pseudonyms.

I toyed with the idea of making a separate account for the anonymity. What if someone I knew was in the group? What if people shared what I posted with people from my friends list? What if they were out to get me? But the inconvenience of alternating between two accounts won out. I was accepted into the group as me, my name, my profile picture. A virtual disclosure, if you will.

Just to be sure, I scanned the entire member list on the lookout for anyone from my city. I didn’t recognize any names. I was off the hook. But people continually joined. I had to be vigilant. Any new member could live in my city. I had to investigate, be sure. Any time the admin announced a new member, I’d study their name, check out their profile picture to rule them out as someone who could out me. I’m not sure what my contingency plan would have been had I recognized someone. I just knew I was on the lookout. 

Posting was next. My priority was to share my experience with hit-and-run OCD. Even within an environment of people with OCD, I felt the need to assure the members that I wasn’t a serial killer showing off her trophies. One of the professional contributors commented on the validity of what I was experiencing. A professional who got it. A professional who I didn’t have to seek out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my experience was becoming normalized.

My post was naked in cyberspace for a few days. How could I let it float around on the World Wide Web? Why hadn’t I made a pseudo account? I went through pages and pages of posts—the group was popular—searching for my post so I could delete it. I didn’t want evidence of what I shared. I didn’t want future members to find it and show my friends and family. I ended up giving up. It was out there. I was disrobed. But I was disrobed among many.

My friend who I first disclosed to, years later, with a collage she made me of highlights from my journey.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek #disclosure Part 3

Part 3 of my mini series about my journey of OCD and disclosure in honour of #OCDWeek.

My counsellor who didn't know how to treat my OCD had moved to a new city. Great, right? I could now find proper treatment. Except I didn't realize at the time I wasn't being treated properly. And sharing with the counsellor all the shame I kept tucked away was a big enough feat on its own. I wasn't ready to tell someone new.

But I found an outlet. Books. Books about OCD. I must have purchased every single one on the shelves. And by every single one on the shelves, I mean the two that my town had in stock. One had a chapter about "hit and run OCD." Jackpot.

But first I had to purchase them. Shoplifting wasn’t in the repertoire of someone with scrupulosity OCD. I was concerned what the staff of the book store would think of me. I justified that I could be doing research about mental illness, buying them for a friend in need. I’d look like a diligent student, a kind peer. How would the cashier know?

And I needed the literature.

I skipped the most important chapters in my books—the exposure chapters. Expose myself to what I’m afraid to and not check for reassurance? No thanks. I’d just read the case studies for comfort. To show myself I wasn’t alone. The Tale of the Student who was late for an Exam and me were not lone soldiers. I liked knowing I wasn't alone but it wasn't enough. I kept looking for another answer. There had to be another way to fix this.

Even with my new pastime, I missed my counsellor. I needed her because I was too afraid to talk to anyone else. She and I had done the rapport-building dance. She had the available tissue; she didn’t think I was a murderer on the loose, a killer who had perfected averting capture.

So I read my books.

While I had dabbled with telling my mom one of my “heinous” mistakes, I wouldn’t dare dabble in discussing the hit-and-run conundrum. It felt too taboo. Too shameful. It felt like a deal breaker in a mother-daughter relationship. I didn't want to be a disappointment.

But after graduating from university I met the man who is now my husband. Thankfully, he was a Psychology graduate. He had been exposed to the same case study from Abnormal Psych. He might not have been my counsellor but I wouldn’t have to worry that he thought I was a criminal on the loose. Plus he was my boyfriend. That level of intimacy plus a knowledge of mental illness created a layer of safety.

My collection of OCD books grew over the years as my city matured. It was no longer home to only hair scrunchies and reruns of Degrassi Junior High. And thankfully, this meant the sections of the bookstores were expanding. The “Disorders and Ailments” section was close to the “Self-Help” section. I had to be strategic. I could grab from one and scurry over to the safer area of “Self-Help” to pretend I was browsing Oprah’s latest bestseller. I couldn’t be spotted in “Disorders and Ailments.” I couldn’t risk running into someone I knew. There was also the option of hiding in the children’s section while parents were too busy making sure kids weren’t eating the paperbacks to notice what I was perusing.

At home, my books would normally be sprawled out on the coffee table, highlighters nearby, ready to capture what I wanted to remember for comfort. The one-sided disclosure. But if my husband and I were having company, this was unacceptable. They would have to be hidden. No one leaves their skeletons out on their coffee tables when company’s over. They live in a closet for a reason. What would our company think if they saw them? I wasn’t in school anymore. I couldn’t pawn it off as a research project. No one could know what I was reading.

When I needed reassurance that I wasn't alone and the books I had weren't cutting it, e-readers came in handy. Except I didn’t have one. My mom did. Great. Borrowing it wasn’t the issue. The possibility of her seeing my purchase on her desktop library was a risk.

The fear of my mom, of anyone, spotting those three letters on the cover of a book was unthinkable. It wasn’t safe being me.

I was learning more than my counsellor had known and sure, that was progress but my shame ran deep.
One of my many OCD self-help books that I had signed shortly after my journey of disclosure was kicked into high gear.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek #disclosure Part 2

In honour of #OCDWeek, I'm sharing my experience with OCD and disclosure. 

Part 2:

Ten years ago I barely knew what hit-and-run OCD was when another subtype sprung up - scrupulously OCD.

I felt tormented about whether or not I was a morally good person. Anything I'd ever done that I deemed a mistake left me replaying the situation in my mind over and over and over. I had an unquenched need to know whether or not I was morally good. The more I analyzed past mistakes, the worse I felt. I wanted to confess but I was terrified of opening up to anyone. How could I? I was doubting my character, doubting my choices. I felt drenched in shame. Talking to someone was not an option: I would be judged, shunned.

I let the shame fester. I carried it with me, pushing it as far out of my mind as I could. But it was always just under the surface, anything that referenced right versus wrong could trigger it. Shows such as Prison Break were out of the question. I didn't want to think about it. I had to avoid thinking about it. Thinking about it hurt on such a deep level.

But there came a point where I needed to talk. It was gut wrenching to be feeling that level of shame. I decided I would give the counselling thing a try, with extreme caution.

But after enough rapport building, secrets begin spilling in counsellor's offices. Tissue boxes aren't at a hand's reach by coincidence. If you’re ever in a counsellor’s office without tissue, make sure you have your sleeve handy.

Even though I could feel the walls I had built cracking, I wasn’t ready to spill without knowing her documentation methods. I quizzed her on how much she’d record from our sessions. I wanted bare minimal. I requested not to be discussed in team meetings. This was supposed to be confidential. I wanted to take full advantage of the luxury.

Satisfied that she’d be vague in her notes, that I wouldn’t be a case study, I told her about what I was going through. Another oblivious disclosure. A disclosure for something I didn’t know existed. Sure, I had heard of hit-and-run OCD in my Abnormal Psych class, but other than that, I thought that people with OCD checked the stove, washed their hands a lot and needed to have things in order. Surely I didn't have OCD. 

And the counsellor thought the same as I did. We assumed what many people still do -- the assumption that OCD is a quirk. Neither of us knew I wasn’t getting the help I needed. She reassured me multiple times. Great, right? Going to a counsellor to be told that you’re not in fact a bad person. I thought so. But reassurance is a temporary fix when it comes to OCD. Your mind then finds a loophole and anther confession is in high gear. I would re-word whatever mistake I thought I had made, try to trap her into saying, “yes ,Melanie, you are a horrible person and deserve the death sentence.”

The guilt from my mistakes was unbearable at times. Talking to the counsellor wasn’t cutting it. I had no context of what was happening. I just knew I was bad. 

Disclosing is especially painful when you don't know you're doing it. Understanding your illness gives you an insight that’s not accessible without knowledge. Insight gives you some wiggle room. Insight offers a hint of relief when you’re knee deep in shame. 

I was assigned what she coined “worry diaries.” I was allotted a set amount of time each day to obsess about my past mistakes. This included the parking lot incident that continued to haunt me. After all, maybe the guy I thought I may have hit with my vehicle had crawled into the bushes and died. Maybe no one ever found him. Why hadn’t I surveyed the bushes?

I diligently followed my homework instructions. The guilt started to come in waves, more of an ebb and flow than a never ending quicksand.  I liked the hit of relief the counsellor gave me—the reassurance that I was a good person. I started to see her less regularly, just when I needed that fix. Until the day I called and was told the news.

The news that she no longer worked there.

What? Why hadn't she told me? I had let out the skeletons in my closet and they were left scattered in her office. That tissue box had been for me. That tissue box was there so I could cry and beg to be told that I’m good. This wasn’t happening. I had no one else to talk to.

Maybe I could still receive counselling from her. Please don’t tell me she’d moved onto a dream accountant job.

She had moved to a new city.

I felt abandoned, tossed aside.

She knew my secrets and was gone. 

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #disclosure #OCDWeek Part 1

#OCDWeek kicks off today so I'm kicking my blog off with a mini series about OCD and disclosure.

It was once suggested to me not to refer to stigma as stigma. Stigma is more than stigma. So let’s call it what it is: discrimination. Discrimination hits home. Stigma sounds like it can be tied into a neat bow, but discrimination, discrimination is when it gets serious. 

When you have a mental illness whether it be obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) like myself, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, a personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, (insert ailment here), discrimination and disclosure might feel as though they go hand in hand. For this reason, telling someone about your illness might be the last thing on your mind.

No one wants to say, “Hi, I’m Melanie, and I have OCD. Bring on the discrimination!”

We do enough self-discrimination as it is. Self-directed shame is our speciality. We’re already worried about what you’re going to think of us if we tell you we have a mental illness. We already wonder whether we should be telling our boss, whether it will impact our employment. We already wonder whether our family will be embarrassed, whether our friends will snub their noses at us. We hear the comments “that’s crazy” said in passing. We see the news: “Shooting committed by person with mental illness.” We witness the discrimination brewing around us and within ourselves. Why would we willingly out ourselves?

But all the brewing is making a concoction. The fear is part of the process. And once you drink the concoction, some of that shame lessens. The horror of what others might think starts to dissipate. You learn the power of self-disclosure: consciously choosing to tell someone something that is not easy to share. I’ve had quite a few shots of the concoction over the years and I’m proud to say that I’m drunk on disclosure. Care for a sip?

But first you need to know what you're experiencing. So let's rewind to 10 years ago when I didn't have a clue:

I was sitting in my Abnormal Psychology class. Abnormal Psychology. It was listed in the course program, neatly beside other classes: Motivation; Learning; Personality, all of which sounded innocent. But throw in the word abnormal and you can see how society plays a role in feeding discrimination. This was where we were going to learn about the good stuff. Everyone wanted to take Abnormal Psych. Little did I know I was about to be living it.

The professor shared The Tale of the Student who was Late for an Exam. The story goes that the student was driving on the highway heading towards his exam while rehearsing mnemonic devices under his breath.

Until he heard the bump.

No, not a pothole, which our city is famous for. No, not the cliché deer blinded by headlights. He feared he hit someone.

Slamming on his breaks, he pulled over from the highway, got out of his car and searched the pavement for signs of a body. With his high beams acting as the search and rescue team, he didn’t see any obvious signs of human flesh. He rummaged through his dashboard and pulled out the emergency flashlight his mom insisted he have. Shining the light towards the nearby bushes, he saw just that, bushes. No blood. No body.

There was nothing to be found, the prof explained.

We already knew the basics of OCD: obsessions lead to compulsions to try to get relief. But we’d never heard of this version. This is why we were taking the class. We wanted the inside scoop.

The professor showed us how the basics applied to this dreary tale. The obsession was Exam Boy thinking he hit someone. The compulsion was Exam Boy checking for a body. The temporary relief was brought on by his checking.

So while he was searching for the body he would never find, he should have been searching for the correct answers on his exam.

“Did he make it to the exam?” someone asked.

I don't remember. What I do remember was walking towards my car in a parking lot a few weeks later. I noticed someone walking by, towards their car, presumably. People do walk in parking lots. I was, after all.

I got into my car, put it into reverse and started to back out.


Did I just hit that person?

Rearview mirrors are supposed to resolve such doubts. I looked. Didn't see anyone. Driving away seemed like the reasonable thing to do. So I did. But after driving for a few minutes, I wondered if I had just committed a felony. A hit and run. Better return, survey the parking lot and be sure.

Who was I? Why was I acting like the student from the case study?

At least I didn’t have an exam to get to.

I told my boyfriend that I had returned to an empty parking lot. No pool of blood. No ambulances or police cars. Just pavement under the fluorescent lighting. My headlights and me alone in the parking lot. 

I didn't realize the recap was my first disclosure of having OCD.

But it’s one thing to have suspected I had OCD. Innocent until proven guilty, right? Thinking I might have OCD was more of a theory, a hypothesis yet to be proven. But years later when it was confirmed, I cried. Until I heard it from a professional, the stages of grief were stifled. 

As a teenager, I took online quizzes that claimed to tell you all the mental illnesses you had. I'd post my results in an online forum I frequented, hoping for the craziest, showing off my badges of peculiarity. Maybe I needed a label to give myself some sort of identity. 

But it wasn't like a badge at all. The psychologist's words were like a hot iron scalding my skin with a label, a very misunderstood label.

In her defense, her diagnosis was correct, leading me on a journey, albeit reluctantly, of discovery and self-disclosure.