OCD, everyone has it to some degree. For most people it’s fixing something that is out of place, maybe a stack of papers or an item on a shelf. My husband Chris always has to get the last word. I will go back and forth with him for five minutes, escalating our bickering into arguing, because he wants that last word. For others, OCD is so much more.
At the age of sixteen I lost my beloved Uncle John. I had always admired him, looked up to him and thought of him as being my “cool” Uncle. Since I can remember, at the age of three or four, I developed a special connection with John. I would follow him around, call him as much as possible and would jump at the chance to spend any time I could with him. He was a celebrity photographer, very well known and successful. He had a home in NYC and Los Angeles. His home in Los Angles was in the Hollywood Hills, down the street from Sharon Stone, Brad Pitt and other Hollywood stars and starlets. He attended all the high profile events, jet setting around the world and being featured in magazine after magazine. I would call him and ask him all about living in the city, the parties he was attending and the celebrities he was meeting. I had known since I was a young girl, just like my Uncle John, I too wanted to head to the big city and had stars in my eyes. John would send me autograph photos, tell me stories of sessions with Madonna and Duran Duran and shower me with the hottest and trendiest gifts.
In 1990, our family was shocked and saddened to learn that John had contracted HIV. At such a young age and with the news of so many AIDS related deaths, I was terrified for his fate, we all were. John kept his disease a secret from our family, except for my Grandmother (his mother), who would update us secretly on his health and doctor visits. It was a scary time for all of us, and soon became even worst. Sometime around 1992, the HIV developed into full blown AIDS. We sadly watched as this extremely handsome and strong man who had been a model in earlier years, became weak, withdrawn and depressed. It was such a scary time, knowing that death was knocking on his door.
A few days before Christmas in 1993, I was sitting on my bed listening to music. My mom came running into my room flustered and distraught, she screamed, “Oh my God, your Uncle has killed himself, he hung himself”. I began to feel dizzy, my legs weak and I went numb. As she sat on my bed holding me, I cried and tried to rationalize what had happened. The man I had looked up to since I was a young girl was gone. Just like that, he left on his own terms. We knew why, but it didn’t make it any easier.
Something changed inside me that day. I soon found myself having to make sure everything was perfect. If an item was out of place, I would have to fix it. I couldn’t just walk by and leave it. If a light switch was facing upwards, I would have to face it downwards. If I was opening a door, I would have to turn the knob a certain way. Soon numbers came into the picture, even numbers. I would have to repeat a motion four times. I know, this sounds absolutely insane! I am sure you are asking, so what if you didn’t do it? Well, in my mind I knew nothing would happen if I didn’t do it. But, I still had to do it or my biggest fear would come true…I would get AIDS.
I kept these new found rituals a secret, and I hid it well. The only people who knew was my family, and I lived a normal teenage life every day. But while I was living that life, my obsessions and compulsions were consuming me. Shortly after this began I asked my parents for help. I soon learned that I was not alone, and almost everybody had OCD to a degree. The interesting fact is OCD is usually triggered by a life changing event, and in my case it was the death of my dear Uncle John.
At the age of sixteen, I began taking Prozac. I was told it would curb my obsessive thoughts, and it sure did. I would pop a pill or two and not have a care in the world. The thoughts would disappear, and if I did have a thought that made me feel as if I needed to repeat something, I just didn’t care. Prozac was magic. After a year on Prozac, I decided that I felt good enough to try living without it. I stopped taking my daily pill(s), and still felt great…no obsessive thoughts. After a few months, I would begin to develop obsessive thoughts, and then go back on Prozac and feel perfectly fine. This cycle went on for about five years, until I finally decided to be done with Prozac for good. It’s now almost fifteen years later and I feel great without taking medicine. I won’t lie, during stressful times, my OCD will manifest. But, it soon subsides and it’s nothing I can’t deal with. Since the OCD manifested itself at 16, I have discovered that I had friends, co-workers and acquaintances that hold this secret as well. The degree to which their OCD affects them is quite wide. It ranges from something little like rattling the keys every time they get in the car to making sure to touch their toothbrush a certain way each morning. We have shared similar stories, all of which have a happy ending.
It’s funny. I have been at work or in a store, and I will see someone repeating a ritual or moving items into a specific order. I am confident they don’t think anyone notices what they are doing, but I do and know exactly what they are doing. I can spot it from a mile away.