I sat across the table from her not knowing whether to grab her and hug her with excited empathy, or whether to grab her hand, lay my head down on the table and cry with her.
I was providing peer support to a girl in her mid-twenties who has been hospitalized 5 different times for her symptoms with OCD. The problem isn’t just that she’s not receiving proper treatment for OCD, it is more about the idea that she cannot believe she actually has OCD and cannot let go of believing she is a horrible person for the obsessions that OCD produces.
OCD, as well as many mental illnesses produce thoughts that are horrific for the individual to understand and process. In the case of having Pure OCD/Intrusive thoughts, most of the unwanted obsessions are violent, sexual, and/or blasphemous in nature. They are not a product of someone’s character. They are not a reflection of who that individual is as a human. But, it is difficult to convince the sufferer of those facts when they are being tortured by the horrifying visuals and physical sensations that come with having OCD.
I began my journey with OCD fearing bodily fluids. No, it wasn’t contamination and handwashing that most people are used to when it comes to understanding OCD. I was terrified of the substance. I was terrified of not having control over omitting substances. I would spend 8-10 hours a day at 8 years old doing nonsensical rituals that would give me a few minutes of relief from the terror of the possibility of the obsessions coming true. Later into my teenage years, my obsessions grew into darker, uglier fears. Tortuous thoughts of sex and violence that I wanted desperately to turn off and be free of. But, the harder I fought…the harder I justified that I was a good person and I didn’t mean to think these things…the stronger my disorder became. Soon, my disorder convinced me that I was too horrible of a human being to live and it convinced me that the world would be a better place without me. I succumbed to a gruesome suicide attempt, but luckily survived.
Today, I live with the OCD thoughts everyday. In the last week alone, I worried that I wanted to murder a pedestrian crossing the street in front of my car. I visualized the person lying in the street dead while I shoved my car in park and put both feet on the brake desperately staving off a panic attack and sweating through my clothes. A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting and the entire time worried I would shout out obscenities at my colleagues or grab the people next to me inappropriately. I excused myself from the meeting, splashed water on my face in the bathroom and worked through a panic attack. Last week, I was chopping vegetables at my boyfriends house and when he turned his back, I worried I may stab him through his back. I fought against the visualization. I love this man more than I can describe, but OCD doesn’t care. I put the knife on the cutting board and took a walk outside to beat myself up for being who I am with OCD.
I despise having these thoughts. They are tortuous. They make me feel like a horrible person. But, you know what? They are a product of my mental illness, just like suicidal thoughts are a symptom of mental illness. It is what I have been given and I have to deal with this the best way I can. The shame and guilt that go along with having my illness is so magnificent that I could write an entire book about it.
But, I’d like you to know something. Being in an OCD episode feels a lot like psychosis. It’s compulsive, it’s erratic, and it is scary as hell. But, do you know what I could NOT do when in an episode? I could NOT plan a premeditated crime. I could not calculate the precise amount of ammunition, time, and power to commit a massacre. Have you ever seen someone in psychosis? Have you ever talked to someone who is so symptomatic in their mental illness that they could do things out of their control? If you have, do you believe them capable of planning, scheming, and following through with a plan to take out innocent individuals over weeks and months of time?
The answer is NO!
I know it is hard to not want to blame mental illness for the horrible crimes committed in our country and all over the world. It’s an easy target and YOU don’t have to deal with it, right?
Well, I do. And so do many of my colleagues and fellow sufferers.
Everytime you blame a horrific crime on mental illness, you are putting your foot on top of my head and shoving me back down into the abyss of shame, embarrassment, and stigma of having a mental illness. Yes, YOU. I know you need an explanation…I know that you need to understand why bad things happen in this world. But, stop shifting the blame onto something that you really don’t know that facts about. Stop making assumptions just because it will feel easier to sleep at night. When you do this, especially in a public forum, it makes it harder for ME to sleep at night.
Want to know the facts?
American Psychiatric Association, 1994 ‘Research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness’.
People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al. 2001). Researchers at North Carolina State University and Duke University found that people with severe mental illness–schizophrenia, bipolar, or psychosis–are 2.5 times more likely to be attacked, raped, or mugged than the general population.
Don’t believe me? Why don’t you take a stroll down to your local mental health center or institute, talk to the people who suffer and listen to their life experiences. You may walk out with a different and accurate perception.
It has taken me many years of personal stigma, anger, and beatings on my self esteem to realize the truth. My OCD is a disorder, it is NOT a reflection of who I am or what I want to do or be. As much as I have sunk my feet into this truth, it is always called into question when uninformed and an assuming general public puts the label on me that because I am mentally ill, I must be violent, erratic, and not to be trusted.
If you believe this, you are sorely mistaken. And if you verbalize it, you are spreading lies and insulting 1/4th of the population.
Wake up. Get the facts. Stop blaming the mentally ill because you have no other choice or ability to find out the facts.
I left the institute the day that I provided peer support to the young girl who had Pure OCD and a tear rolled down my cheek. She has been torturing herself for over 15 years because her OCD obsession tells her she may one day abuse and molest children. This obsession is absolutely untrue and she would never act on it. There is not an inkling in her mind and body that makes sense to her, but the thoughts torture and torment her every moment of everyday. This is one of the most highly stigmatized OCD thoughts that one can have. The horrific anxiety that accompanies the thoughts are so overbearing that she feels like she doesn’t deserve to live. She thinks that because she has these thoughts that she hates and despises that she is a horrible person. She knows that she never would or wants to harm children, but why would she think about it if it wasn’t true?
Let me tell you why. It is because she has a terrible mental illness that is so horrible to live with that one can barely function, no matter what the obsession is. I was the first person that EVER told her that those thoughts were not true and that there is effective treatment. I was the FIRST person to ever tell her that she did not have to feel ashamed because of her disorder. I was the first person to EVER tell her that there is treatment and there are hundreds and thousands of people that have the same fear as she does.
I was the first person to give her hope.
Violent, intrusive thoughts are not uncommon for people who suffer with mental illness. But trust me, we hate the thoughts. We aren’t excited about them and we are terrified and ashamed that we are capable of these thoughts.
Having violent thoughts are VERY different than acting on them. It is not common for a mentally ill person to be violent. Learn the facts. Stop blaming us for the horrible things that happen in our country and around the world.
Some things just don’t have an explanation. STOP USING US AS THE EXCUSE.
Need more information on Pure O/Intrusive thoughts? Check out ocdonline.com
Need more information about pedophilia OCD (commonly referred to as POCD)?
Check out http://www.jonhershfield.com/pocd/
Thank you for reading.
Mental Health Advocate; Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist; OCD/CBT Coach; Radio Host Mental Illness Matters’