A letter by Courtney Smith:

Dear Friends,

I have somewhat of a personal matter that I wanted to share with you. If you have a few minutes, please read through this letter. OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Awareness Week was last week, I have been so busy that I haven’t been able to think about a post.

I have suffered from this disorder my entire life. I want to share some of my story in the hopes that you may better understand the disorder that controls a big part of my actions, thoughts, and my life. I also hope that by understanding a little more about this disorder you will be better able to empathize with other people in your life that may suffer from OCD.

I have been in and out of treatment for OCD my entire life. Some periods of my life have been manageable other times have been so terrible that I was unable to get out of bed. My teenage years were the worst, or so I thought. When I was in high school I used so much hand sanitizer that my hands were raw. It was almost impossible for me to walk home from school because I had to step on leaves or cracks a certain way until it felt “right.” I ended up doing home studies because the stress of school was too much for me to bear.

OCD is a full time mental game that I engage in almost every waking minute of everyday. My thoughts/compulsions have a wide variety of subjects, but the main theme in my OCD is that I feel like I must be certain that I did the correct thing every single time, or I cannot bear to go on. This can range from making sure my hands are clean so I don’t get anyone in my family sick, to making sure I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings by saying this or that (most of these thoughts would seem like nothing to other people).

My OCD was manageable in college and throughout my first years of marriage. In fact, the best I have ever felt was when I was pregnant with Paisley. I was totally fine, and doing well managing the OCD until I stopped nursing when she was 10 months old. OCD is a biological disorder, and many women with OCD see changes in how they are able to manage their OCD when there hormones are changing. When I stopped nursing my hormones changed enough that my OCD took an all-time turn for the worst. I literally felt like I would not be able to get out of bed, going to do simple things was a huge task.

There are many different symptoms of OCD, and people have different manifestations of this disorder. Some people can’t drive at all for fear that it may be too dangerous to get in a moving object that could have the potential of harming someone. The fact is that there is always potential every time we get up in the morning for something “bad” to happen and most people live with uncertainty everyday, and are okay with the uncertainty.

Someone with OCD does not see it this way. There is a part of the brain that gets stuck in the thought that there is a potential for something bad happening so they will do as many compulsions as necessary to alleviate the feeling of uncertainty. For instance, I am very concerned with my daughters safety, many parents are, the difference is that I may check to make sure the doors are locked 30 times before I feel that it is safe enough for my family to go to bed. A person without OCD may go check the doors and then head for bed.

As I have gotten older many of my compulsions are just in my head. I will think about a moment in time over and over until it feels “right.” This can cause people to think I am distant or cold. The reality is that I am stuck in my own head and cannot focus on anything except whatever it is that I am obsessing about. I will not bore you with all the Obsessions/Compulsions I engage in everyday, but it is enough to make anyone want to just lay in bed.

OCD takes up so much time in my life, and my families that it is unreal. Through hard work I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and I am really happy to be feeling a little more like myself. I have supportive friends and family and I am very thankful for that. I thought I would write about this because so many people don’t understand the debilitation that OCD causes.

It is not something you can see on the outside. I have spent many years hiding my symptoms so that people don’t think of me in a different light. Many of you will read this and not realize that I have OCD, but you may look back at conversations we have had and realize the reason I couldn’t let something go or asked so many questions is because I was seeking reassurance for something (which is another compulsion). Other friends know I have OCD and love me for me and some of you tease me about it, which is okay by me. Some of the things I come up with are far fetched to say the least.

There are some common misconceptions about OCD. Number one would be that OCD is a quirk. It is not. A quirk is a quirk and most people have ways they like things. When you have OCD your thoughts and compulsions make normal daily life almost impossible. I have a full time job managing my OCD. If I could get paid for it, I would be rich!

Another misconception is that OCD is part of my personality or anyone who has OCD for that matter. It is not part of my personality. My personality is warm and loving. The OCD has robbed me of that at certain times. When I was young and my compulsion and obsessions had to do with contamination I couldn’t touch anyone. I could not be in public places very long, and I had a hard time hugging people. I consider myself a “hugger.” This is my personality. I greet people, and say goodbye with hugs. Many times the OCD will tell me this is not okay to do because someone might be contaminated. This has lessened considerable in the last 6 years.

I mostly have only mental obsessions and compulsions. Instead of washing my hands to clean them of contaminates, I now try to wash my thoughts from contaminates by asking for reassurance or many other ways that I try to “wash” a thought. I have spent many hours trying to rid my brain of unwanted thoughts. It is totally exhausting. The best way I can describe what having OCD is like is this…think about a horrible time in your life maybe you got fired from a job or someone you love passed away, and you feel extreme anxiety. Your chest hurts, you can’t sleep…etc. This is how I feel all day everyday. Sometimes worse then other times, but I always have tightness in my chest and an overall feeling of anxiousness. It is no fun! OCD sucks!

Many people wondered why we waited so long to have another baby. The truth is, I didn’t think I could. I had such a huge setback in symptoms when my hormones changed after having Paisley I was terrified to get pregnant again. We decided to not let the OCD control our decisions anymore and my recovery was going really well with therapy regarding the OCD.

I am happy to say that I have not had any major setbacks after having River. He is my sweet little miracle and I am so lucky to be his Mommy. Both of my babies have taught me so much and contributed to me getting the type of therapy I needed to control the OCD. It is amazing what you will do for your children.

I will never be “cured”. I will have tools to manage having this disorder through Exposure Response Therapy. Please be kind to people, you never know what they are going through.

If you have any questions regarding OCD, please reach out to me. I am happy to answer anything.


2 Responses to “Monsters in my Mind: What it’s Like with OCD”

  1. I have a friend with OCD, she dodges my hugs, but I know she means well. I also consider myself a hugger and know that most people without OCD don’t like human contact much just as those who do. She always tells me it’s okay to shake has quickly so neither of us gets sick. People with OCD just have a different mindset of how they protect themselves from others which is understandable.

  2. Foyez blogs about his experience with OCD and being interviewed for BBC’s Horizon special OCD: A Monster in my Mind

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