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.|