Hi, my name is Stacey Grant. I'm turning 24 years old this October and was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when I was 14. It's been brought to my attention this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and I'd like to share my story with you about a mental disorder that seems to get put on the backburner. I'm here to shed some light on a topic that's consumed my life for the past 10 years.
Let's get this out of the way first: I probably don't wash my hands any more than you do. While that is a common compulsion associated with OCD, that doesn't mean every single person with OCD does it. I do carry hand sanitizer with me everywhere I go, but I also take the subway daily — which is a breeding ground for germs, and we're getting close to flu season. Yes, I count things in my head. No, I don't need to have things lined up justtttttt right before I can move on and do something else.
OCD has two main parts (obsessive and compulsive), yet people really only see one side of it on television. I think I know why this is. For starters, the "obsessive" part heavily involves the mind. Anyone who's taken an Intro to Screenwriting class will know you can't really "show" thoughts on screen. There are creative ways filmmakers have done it, but it's definitely not the norm. It's much easier to show the "compulsive" part: having characters excessively wash their hands, repeat phrases a specific number of times or refuse to wear a certain outfit on Thursdays. All this does is present people with OCD as neurotic individuals. We are not.
I started to realize something was seriously wrong with me the summer before 8th grade. I got these "bad thoughts," as I called them. These included killing my family, becoming pregnant, eating poison, feeding poison to my dog, sleepwalking and accidentally jumping out of a window and most importantly, killing myself in various ways. Obviously, these thoughts scared the s--t out of me. Some of you may be thinking, "So what? Everyone has bad thoughts," and you're 100% accurate.
However, do your bad thoughts make you afraid to pet your dog, for fear you have poison on your hand, for whatever reason, and will inadvertently kill your best buddy? "Bad thoughts" don't always have to make rational sense, and they especially don't when you have OCD. Just typing out the words makes me embarrassed to admit I've had these thoughts. I know how ridiculous it sounds. I realize that's just not how things work. But honestly? It doesn't matter. OCD doesn't have to "make sense" to you, but for some reason, it seems logical in my mind.
My thoughts slowly started to consume me. I suddenly never wanted to stay home alone, afraid I'd kill myself while my parents were out. For the record, I never actually wanted to kill myself, but I was terrified I'd turn into a type of zombie and just do it if no one was there to stop me. One evening, I watch an episode of "Without a Trace" with my mom. I only watched it because the little brother from "Lizzie McGuire" was a guest star. To this day, I still cannot watch that episode. All these horrible things happened to his character and he ends up hanging himself. The cops were able to save him (spoilers) but the damage on my psyche had been done.
Over the years, I've tried to explain what having OCD feels like to people who've asked me. I've never able to do it, but I'm going to try here. It feels like a hoard of demons seeking me out, latching their claws onto my mind and starting to pull random wires. With every wire they pull, I feel a little less in control. Since they're constantly yanking wires, I'm always losing more and more control of my mind. I'm definitely not crazy — yes, that's probably something a crazy person would say — but there have been plenty of times when I felt like I was just psychotic.
My parents and Jesus Christ were a godsend for me; I never would have gotten through that chapter of my life without them. I remember trying to tell my mom what the hell was going on in my head, but I just couldn't get the right words out. After a few months, I was taken to a child psychiatrist and diagnosed with OCD. I began taking medication, which helped some. However, I was terrified to tell my friends I had OCD. One day, I finally told a few about my diagnosis and medication use. Honestly? It didn't bother them; they liked me for me, which included everything about me. After that, I started trying to own my OCD. But then, two popular phrases began to emerge.
1. "So, like, do you wash you hands all the time?"
2. "I think I have OCD, too! I gotta have all my books lined up in a certain order or I can't relax."
Let me tell you right now: Never, EVER tell someone who legitimately has OCD phrase No. 2. I'm certainly not a psychiatrist, but that just sounds like a quirk to me. If you literally can't focus on anything else, you're constantly thinking and rethinking about your improperly lined books, and it begins to affect your daily life, then that's OCD. Wanting things a certain way is being Type A. There's nothing wrong with that, but OCD makes it where you can't do a thing; it consumes your whole being. No one actually wants OCD.
I wrote an article a year ago, hoping to express my annoyance at how lots of people view OCD. As per my custom, I used humor in the post, which apparently didn't resonate well with some individuals. The comments were mixed. One woman wrote in and said how much she loved the article and was glad someone could accurately describe OCD. However, most of the other comments were along the lines of, "This author doesn't know what she's talking about. This isn't OCD. Do some research." It occurred to me that many people probably felt this way because they'd never seen an accurate representation of what it feels like to have OCD. But still. I did my research, thanks.
Unfortunately, there are still a myriad of people who believe OCD is just a figment of the imagination, that it's not a legit thing. I was actually told this twice by someone who I thought was a dear friend. Mental illness is real. You can choose to believe it doesn't exist, but you're only demonstrating ignorance. Plus, you're probably truly hurting your loved ones who have it. Here's something big I learned in the past 10 years of battling this mental disorder: My OCD does not control me.
I'll have OCD until the day I die, but I won't let it stop me from living my life. I already seriously challenged it by moving 1,400 miles away from home, with no one to "watch me" and make sure I don't do something dangerous. Moving to New York was probably the biggest middle finger I could ever give my OCD. It was a long road for me. But you know what? I'm finally OK. I still have "episodes," but I've found healthy and productive ways to handle them when they emerge. If I can do it, you can do it, too. Don't give up.