Let’s Talk About OCD

I once heard OCD described as the unending, nagging worry about whether you turned off the burner before you left on vacation.

You know the feeling I’m talking about, right?  You’ve packed up everything in your car, you’ve locked the door and driven away and halfway down the road you think, “Am I going to burn the house down?”  There’s a moment of absolute dread when you realize what could go wrong.  Maybe you go back and check; maybe you ignore it and forget about the whole thing once you get on the plane.  But either way, you feel a little silly about it all.

I know that feeling of dread and worry intimately, because I have OCD.  The only difference for me is that I can’t make that worry go away.  Even if I go back and check—and check and check and check—the feeling of dread never dissipates.  I can see that the burner’s off; I can run my hands over it—and do, usually in patterns of threes, fives, and eights.  But nothing I do ever makes it feel off.

And yes, I feel a little silly, too.  Let me tell you, you start to feel pretty foolish and frustrated staring at a kitchen sink for half an hour, swearing you are not going to let yourself check it just one more time.  I start to wonder why I can’t just willpower my way through it.  

My OCD isn’t too bad; most people would never notice my compulsions.  But it is bad enough that medication helps. Let’s just say that if I use your kitchen, you can be absolutely sure that your stove is off.  And the light switch and the sink.  And the fridge is closed too.  You’re welcome.  

Usually, I can cope with it well enough.  Through years of therapy and exposure, I’ve worked up to the point that coping doesn’t require my full concentration.  But lately it’s been strong enough that the thoughts and compulsions have been surfacing, and it takes more energy to work with and put up with it.  

I was posing for a life drawing workshop recently, and my OCD was particularly bad.  The poses were a mental agony.  There was nothing wrong with the workshop, and the poses I chose weren’t particularly difficult or painful.  I just couldn’t stop worrying.  I was worried that I hadn’t shut off the kitchen sink and the whole house was going to flood—and annoyed that I knew how incredibly idiotic that sounded and I remembered checking the sink before I left anyway goddamnit—and all I could do was just sit there with it.  

Posing at that life drawing workshop reminded me that OCD is part of my normal, day-to-day hum of existence.  There is always somewhere, some corner of my mind that is in a constant state of dread and anxiety.  But this is just the reality I live in—sometimes frustrating, sometimes embarrassing, sometimes taxing, but just reality.  

I’m scared to admit this. I’m worried what people will think about me once they know.  Will they laugh at me?  Shun me?  A close friend of mine urged me not to tell anyone.  There’s a social stigma around it, he told me, and mental illness in general.  If I share this information with people at large, there might be consequences. 

It’s better to embrace and own that part of me.

But I’ve decided that it’s better to embrace and own that part of me.  Yes, sometimes modeling (and everything else) is harder for me because of my brain, like on the bad days when I’m posing and I can’t move and I can’t shut out the compulsions.  Sometimes what I’m doing is good for my brain, because moving and making art and using my body really helps.  And sometimes my mental illness is actually a boon.  I plan well.  I’m meticulous.  I’m on time.  

Posing at the life drawing workshop made me realize something that should have been obvious in retrospect.  That background hum that I live with? Just because it’s normal for me, doesn’t mean it’s normal for everyone else.  Most people probably don’t know what it’s like.

Also, because many people aren’t familiar with the day-to-day existence with a mental disorder, a large number of them don’t believe that someone with a mental illness is capable of running a successful business or leading a fulfilling life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that sentiment expressed to me by someone who doesn’t know my situation.  But that’s what I and plenty of other people are doing every day.  

We all have things that keep us from being “normal.” And I think a lot of the time we keep these things quiet—be it our sexuality, mental health, lifestyle, or job.  I do it too, all the time.  I mean, look at how long it’s taken me to talk about this!  But I think we can all make things better for each other.  If we talk about these stigmas more, maybe they wouldn’t have such a hold on us.  

Just like I want to reduce the stigma around nude modeling by sharing it openly, I want to reduce this stigma in the same way too.  So yes, I have OCD.  And yes, I model and run my business and live my life. I’m still a capable human being.  I’m still me.