Finding My Awareness on OCD
By: Shaina Charles
When I began my internship at OCD North six weeks ago, I had no clue what a learning journey this would be, and how my awareness of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder would shift. I have always been aware of various mental illnesses ad disorders. I have also been sensitive to the harmful effects of a disorder’s casual use as an adjective, thus minimizing the real impact of what individuals living with that disorder face daily. When I was 14 years old, I wrote an angsty Tumblr post on the matter, which went viral, making me feel like quite the expert. But, looking back, I can see how far off I still was from the truth. How deeply I had let the media and popular culture impact my view of OCD. While I wasn’t throwing the disorder around as a descriptive word, I wasn’t educated. I wasn’t being an ally and standing up for the normalization of OCD. In the grand scheme of things, I knew nothing.
I’ve come to learn a lot of terminologies while at OCD North. I have a deeper understanding of what obsessions and compulsions are, how different they look from person to person, and how obsessions and compulsions interact to cause distress in an individual’s life. I’ve learned how the brain responds to fear, and I’ve learned that OCD is so much more than washing hands, counting, or being “neat and tidy.” I’ve learned that for some, being neat and tidy has nothing to do with their experience. I’ve learned about ruminations and intrusive thoughts, and I’ve watched videos and listened to podcasts with individuals who are overwhelmed because they are compelled to behaviours that don’t make sense. Still, they can’t help it, because facing anxiety and fear is even worse. I’ve seen OCD not only as a disorder but as a life-altering diagnosis that completely changes the landscape of one’s life.
Perhaps the most resounding lesson I’ve learned from becoming more immersed in the OCD community is the impact of uncertainty. Uncertainty can be defined as feelings of doubt, unreliability, and unpredictability. These feelings are the sun that OCD orbits around. To avoid this uncertainty, individuals find themselves wrapped up in deep, scary thoughts or performing rituals or behaviours for hours on end. Because if they can do anything to prevent the looming fear and uncertainty of the future that lies ahead, even if it’s only for a few moments, they will. It is in learning about the uncertainty that I understood why my awareness is essential, and how I can be an ally.
My awareness of what OCD is matters because uncertainty is something we all face yet is so misunderstood. It is unfair for an individual living with OCD to be typecast into a specific character, just because their uncertainty manifests differently than my uncertainty. When I bring up fears to my friends and family about my career goals, school, small or significant life decisions, no one tells me to “just stop” feeling that way, or “stop thinking so much.” They stand by me. They sit with me and help me figure out what next step I can take to beat down some of that uncertainty.
Individuals living with OCD deserve the same. They deserve an army of people supporting them, reminding them that the uncertainty they face doesn’t define them. That they are bigger than their fears. That if they reach out to the right people, they can get help. That life doesn’t have to feel hopeless. And the only way to become a part of that army of people lifting individuals with OCD and reminding them that there is so much more for them than the fear that grips its way around their heart is to be aware of what they face, and take that step to normalize it.
Individuals with OCD aren’t weird. Individuals with OCD aren’t strange. They aren’t people with quirks that are handy in the middle of a pandemic. They aren’t super clean and shiny. They don’t look like what so many of us have come to recognize on TV. They are loving, caring individuals who struggle with uncertainty, just like anyone else. It just looks different. And that’s okay. We need to make sure we are highlighting the voices of individuals with OCD, normalizing their experience, and supporting them as much as we can. No one deserves to face uncertainty alone.