Up a slight hill, just a block and a half from our house, a small playground sits nestled under rustling tree boughs. Brightly colored slides beckon to children and an enormous sandbox calls out to imaginations young and old. Yesterday, I dragged my son up the hill to that magical beacon of childhood play in a little red wagon.
Sound idyllic? Perhaps not.
As we were leaving, a flash of silver caught my eye. I turned and there, under a large, shady maple, glimpsed the handle of what looked suspiciously like a butcher knife. I crept closer, not believing my eyes. But sure enough, nestled in the jade green grass was a sinister-looking knife handle, the rest of the fiendish thing plunged into the earth below.
I panicked. And if you’ve ever experienced panic you know that logic and rational thought get dumped at the side of the road. I plopped my son in the wagon and took off. I’m sure I looked deranged as I charged down the sidewalk, feet pounding, mind spinning, legs churning back toward home, but I was consumed with fleeing that silver knife and had no room in my mind to care what the neighbors might think.
Later, the humiliation would settle upon me like thick, choking smog.
Back in the relative safety of our home, an extreme sense of responsibility to rid the neighborhood of that butcher knife consumed me and I began to fear that my failure to act would lead to mass stabbings and all manner of mayhem if the inert knife were not removed by law enforcement immediately.
I called the police.
Once I’d made the call, I sat by the front window, eyes scanning, body tense, breath shallow — waiting for a police vehicle to stop in front of that otherwise benign maple tree.
Last night, I walked the dog past the park to make sure the knife was gone. This morning, I drove past the park to make sure the knife was gone. I’d like to say that I won’t go past again today, but like an itch that wants scratching over and over again, these compulsions are tough to snuff out.
It’s like having mental hiccups. Mostly, we can function despite the ‘hiccups,’ but we’re exhausted attempting to carry on as if they didn’t exist. — Sheila Cavanaugh
For months I’ve been battling a wicked knife obsession that has me obsessing over whether I already have or will hurt someone with a knife.
You may be wondering how I can fear that I’ve hurt someone with a knife and somehow just not remember it. It’s tough to explain to those who aren’t afflicted, but OCD is known as the “doubting disease”. Even though I know, intellectually, that I didn’t stab someone and somehow forget about it, my brain keeps asking “but what if you did?”
In response to this and similar thoughts, I engage in compulsive behaviors. Compulsions are behaviors done in response to obsessive thoughts that provide temporary relief from anxiety. I experience an obsessive thought:
I’m responsible for that scary butcher knife and any violence that it might perform, even in the hands of another person.
As a result, I feel an intense need to check again and again. Until this knife obsession is finally extinguished, I’ll continue to feel the compulsion to check “just one more time” that the sinister silver playground knife is really gone.
A physical sensation crawls up my arm as I avoid compulsions. But if I complete it, the world resets itself for a moment like everything will be just fine. But only for a moment. — Mardy M. Berlinger
OCD isn’t only people who scrub their hands until they’re raw, avoid stepping on cracks or do other “quirky” things. Most of the disorder is hidden below the surface, and those on the outside don’t even see it. Much like the buried blade of that playground knife, the most terrifying, anxiety-inducing symptoms of OCD are hidden.
They are thoughts that swirl in endless cycles. For me, they are images of loved ones lying injured on the ground — or worse. They are thoughts so repugnant, so abhorrent, so despicable in nature that it usually takes an OCD sufferer more than ten years to seek treatment.
Writing about OCD makes me feel insane. It causes me shame. It causes me anxiety, but I’m writing about it anyway — partly for selfish reasons. The more I share these once hidden glimpses of life with my particular brand of OCD, the less power it has over me.
OCD claims it’s victims by shaming them into silence. But I refuse to be silent. I refuse to be a victim.
The more I share my own experiences and the more I hear from others who’ve had similar experiences and symptoms, the less alone I feel. It’s vital that we share our stories — to learn from each other, to give support, and most of all, to know that we are not alone.