Note: This details one day in my life. Not everyone’s experience of OCD is like this, as each sufferer has different obsessions and compulsions associated with them. This also describes just one day; some days are better, some are worse. Some days I have more intrusive thoughts, and other days my obsessions revolve mostly around evenness and balance. Everyday is different.
It is impossible to describe the true psychological toll of OCD through one blog post. I have many other obsessions and compulsions that are not described here. Some I have left out deliberately, because they are very personal to me and I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about them on the internet.
Writing a day in the life with OCD is like asking you to write down every thought you have. A large proportion of the thoughts I have are obsessive, and in response to them, I have to complete many compulsions. For the sake of not making this blog post too long, I have skipped hours at a time. I have also not described the majority of compulsions that I do within a given time frame. If I were to describe every compulsion in a given day, I would be describing nearly every object I touch and thought I have.
I am explaining this, because I want to make it clear that this blog post does not, in any way, do OCD justice. It is an incredibly difficult thing to describe, but I hope it helps to bring an insight to non-sufferers.
I’m woken by the sound of my alarm.
How am I feeling?
Anxious. Nauseous. Dread.
My head is racing with leading questions, thoughts and uncertainties.
I allow the alarm to continue ringing for a few seconds. When it feels right, I reach out to turn it off. I take care to use only the tips of my fingers when touching the screen. When I pick up the phone, I delicately clasp each side, careful not to scrape my nails on the surface.
I stop the alarm and stare at the screen for 1, 2, 3, 4. The alarm’s definitely off.
I set it earlier today because I have my CBT session at 10:30. Is that why I’m so anxious? A series of thoughts flood my mind:
How am I feeling? Is it really anxiety? Is it just anxiety? Why am I anxious? Is it because of the appointment? Why would I be nervous about that? I don’t think it’s that. What other things in my life could be making me anxious? What does it mean? What if the feeling never goes away? What if I feel like this forever?
Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. I say to myself mentally.
I spend the next 30 minutes checking in with how I’m feeling. I analyse each part of my life in turn, evaluating the feelings that are evoked in response. I remember the nightmare I had last night, the (potentially false) memory, and yesterday’s intrusive thoughts. I think of my family, my friends, my future, and analyse for a potential problem. I’m always looking for something to go wrong, because I can never be certain it won’t, and my rapidly fluctuating emotional state often means it does, so I have to be prepared to control it.
I attempt to reassure myself that it’s just me being nervous for my appointment. It doesn’t mean I’m unhappy. It doesn’t mean something’s wrong. Nothing needs fixing; no life plans need to change; no epiphany has taken place in my sleep. It’s just me overthinking.
What is overthinking anyway? Surely you need to analyse what overthinking is and check whether you’re doing it to be sure?
I open up Instagram to distract myself.
Tap the screen four times.
But I really don’t want to. I know once I’ve started I won’t be able to stop. I try to resist.
My anxiety increases. I can almost feel the incompleteness of the phone screen. It’s like there’s a gravitational force pulling me towards it. It doesn’t feel right; the more time goes by the more uncomfortable I get.
Tap the screen four times.
If you don’t something bad will happen.
But it won’t. That doesn’t make any sense.
But is it worth the risk? You’re a bad person for wanting to risk people’s lives for the sake of tapping a screen.
I tap the screen four times.
It doesn’t feel right. It’s not complete. It doesn’t count. Again.
But now it adds up to eight times, you may as well make it ten. Just to be sure.
I spend the next 10 minutes scrolling through Instagram, not focusing on any posts, just ensuring my fingers slide in such a way that restores the balance of the screen.
Slide left. Slide right four times. Two taps. One slide up, one down. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
As my finger slides right for the last time, it’s as though the last jigsaw piece fits into the puzzle. I’m overwhelmed by a feeling of completeness; that familiar just right feeling. I can put my phone down now.
You can’t put it down until you’ve looked at four more Instagram posts. If you don’t you might miss out on something life-changing.
I read one post.
You’re not reading it properly. You’re not taking any of it in. Reread. Reread. Reread. Reread.
I spend another 15 minutes reading the four posts, because I can’t concentrate with the shouting voice inside my head telling me to reread them. I reread each of them four times.
The anxiety is overwhelming now and I feel like I’m going to be sick, but I head to the kitchen to make breakfast.
I enter the kitchen like I’m entering a potential war zone, with every object, even my own body, as the enemy. I can sense the incompleteness, and the need- the responsibility- to correct this. It won’t feel right until I do. Peace can only be restored if I give into the compulsions.
Tap the counter four times.
The feeling won’t go unless I do it.
I tap four, but it still doesn’t feel right. It’s not balanced, so I tap four times with the other hand.
I proceed to make my breakfast, tapping as I go.
In the fridge for six counts, freezer for four. Saucepan taps counter twice. Exactly 72g of tofu. Wait, did I check enough? Was it 72g? I take the tofu out of the saucepan and check it again. Stare 1, 2, 3, 4. Phew: 72g.
A sprinkle of nutritional yeast. Again. Another sprinkle.
Saucepan on the heat. Cut the pitta.
My mood is irritable and I feel very nauseous. I want the feeling to go away.
I put down the knife I’m attempting to cut the pitta with to clench my fists. The pressure with which I clench my left hand isn’t equal to my right. I clench my left harder so it’s equal. Clench, unclench. 1, 2 , 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Relief. Kind of.
I pick up the knife again and start to cut the pitta.
I don’t think I can deal with the anxiety anymore. I want to cancel the session.
But is it the session that’s worrying me? WHY DON’T I EVER KNOW HOW I FEEL OR WHAT’S CAUSING ME TO FEEL ANXIOUS? Will the feeling ever go away? Will I always be plagued by these thoughts? By the need to do these compulsions?
Knife. A series of intrusive, violent images flood my mind.
You want to die. You want to use the knife to kill yourself.
I close my eyes and mentally shout STOP STOP STOP STOP.
All I can see is graphic images of my suicide. I feel an overwhelming urge to move the knife to my wrists and neck. I feel sick with distress. Why do I have an urge to use the knife? Do I have an urge? Why? Do I want to die? Do I want to self-harm again? I spend the next few minutes analysing and decide that I don’t want to. Finally, some certainty…temporarily. But would you want to hurt someone else? Are you a danger to people? You don’t think you are, but maybe you’re lying to yourself. Are you lying to yourself? Are you a bad person?
I try to convince myself otherwise, turning to past memories and present emotions as evidence to the contrary. It works…for a minute.
Pitta in the toaster. Mix the saucepan. Boil the kettle. Simultaneously I’m tapping, counting, holding for a number of seconds, tightening my grip to a certain pressure. I try to use my fingertips because if my nails get involved they disrupt the balance. They get in the way a lot this morning, so I have to repeat the compulsions until only my fingertips are used.
It gets so bad I have to cover my hands with the sleeves of my pyjama top. I can’t trust my hands not to mess things up.
I decide not to have a coffee, because opening the cupboard door would be too difficult.
Why is it getting so bad? I thought I was getting better.
I take the saucepan off the heat. I repeat twisting the knob four times to ensure the heat is off. Then I check to see if any flames are present: stare for four seconds; sniff four times to check for gas; proceed to stare at the knob for ten counts. Okay: the heat is off.
I assemble my breakfast and head towards the stairs.
Up two steps, one down. Up four, two down. Up two, one down. Up four, two down. Up two, one down. Up four, two down. Up two, one down. Up two.
Twelve steps complete.
I make it to the study and sit at my desk, exhausted.
I’m very very anxious now.
I’m curled up into a ball on my chair, so my body touches as little as possible.
I count each breath, ensuring each inhale and exhale are even and consistent with the next. If I inhale heavily my next inhalation has to match.
I scratch my face with one hand. Make it even. And the other hand.
My feet aren’t touching the floor because it’s too difficult to even out the pressure.
My laptop’s on, but I’m scared to touch it.
I feel like crying.
I’m feeling a lot better. The CBT session was quite useful and I’m feeling positive about my recovery.
My shift in mood means I am able to function a lot better. My OCD has returned back to its base-line level: always there, always controlling, but I can make it fit in with my day. No one has to know why I’m moving in a particular way, saying a particular thing. They won’t see the compulsions because I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding them and making them seem like natural behaviour.
I go down the stairs to my room. Mentally counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 steps. I sit on my bed and pick up a book. Maybe I’ll be able to get some reading done.
I read about a page before the thoughts kick in.
That’s a longer word. Say it in your head four times to ensure you’ve understood it correctly. I don’t think you’re understanding any of this. Reread the sentence. Again. Reread the paragraph. Again. Reread. Reread. Reread. Reread. Touch the book ten times. You’re not holding it in each hand evenly. Put it down and pick it up again. Reread. Reread.
So maybe reading’s a bad idea.
I decide to try and write a blog post instead; maybe typing will be easier than reading.
I’m quite pleased with the amount I’ve managed to get done.
Yes, I did have to delete each word everytime I typed a letter wrong, but I still managed to write a few paragraphs. I’ll probably end up deleting half of it when I read it again, but I’m happy I was able to sit down for a decent amount of time and focus.
I realise I haven’t been outside for a couple of days, so I get dressed and decide to go for a walk.
Before leaving I have to check all the windows, the straighteners, the hairdryer, the oven and the stove. When I eventually leave the house I have to continually pull on the front door handle to ensure it’s properly shut. A woman across the road looks at me strangely, but I manage to tear myself aware from the door.
As I walk down the road I continue to question whether I shut the door. The more I search for a memory of shutting it, the more I can’t find one. I don’t remember checking the oven or the stove or the windows or leaving the house at all.
It takes all my strength not to go back and check.
I plug my earphones in and grit my teeth. Music always helps.
I love the rhythmical beat and melody of music. Each song feels complete; each beat makes sense. It reminds me of my compulsions. Each beat is like a compulsion to restore the balance, to complete the song and the object.
This means I often find myself counting through songs repetitively. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Repeat. I often have actions that coincide with this counting. Today, I clench my left hand as my right leg moves. Clench my right hand when my left leg moves. It all makes such sense. It feels right.
I often have to replay songs several times, because it doesn’t feel right the first time, second time, third time I play it. At this moment I’m replaying a song for the sixth time.
But the start of the song is making me uncomfortable- it still doesn’t feel right, and I don’t want to waste the song. I’ll have to replay the first few seconds, stop it, and then try again. I can’t have it replayed seven times: odd numbers are never good.
Through the music I can hear a car coming my way.
If you don’t make it past that tree by the time the car passes you, then something bad will happen.
I tell my brain not to be ridiculous, but I simultaneously find myself walking faster. I make it past the tree in time.
My OCD continues playing this game with me for several minutes:
If you don’t make it past that drain by the time the van reaches you, then your mum will die.
If you don’t get to the end of this road before ten cars have passed you, then your friends will die.
If you haven’t walked ten steps by the time you get to the end of the pavement, then you will die.
The torturous game is interrupted by the sound of people laughing in the distance, and my OCD temporarily stops using my loved-ones lives as bait to torment me.
I look up to see a couple of children and their parents crossing the road in front.
A series of graphic images and thoughts flood my mind.
It doesn’t mean anything. You know it doesn’t mean anything. Thoughts aren’t actions. You don’t want these thoughts. You’re a good person. Don’t be anxious.
These kinds of intrusive thoughts don’t bother me as much as they used to. They vary from discriminatory, to violent, to sexual, but all used to cause me great distress. They tortured me for years. Now I recognise it’s part of my OCD, so they’re a lot better. But it doesn’t stop my OCD brain from questioning…
Why are you having these thoughts? Are you really not worried about them? That’s disturbing. I can’t believe you’re not anxious. Does that mean you’re enjoying them? I think you’d better check…
I try to resist and turn up the music to drown them out.
I think I’ve had enough of walking; I decide to head home.
My mum’s home now; everything’s a lot better when she is. I find having company and a distraction helps a lot. When I’m socialising with close friends the need to do some of my compulsions stops completely. This is one of the reasons I hate being by myself: it’s always when the OCD flares up.
I try reading again, but this time I read aloud instead of in my head. It really helps keep out the intrusive thoughts and I spend about an hour reading. I feel quite proud of myself.
Evenings, at least before I go to bed, are a lot better for me. I think it’s because I’m generally less anxious.
We eat dinner and when I take my plate out to the kitchen I eat a couple of extra pasta shells. Two more. I eat two more. Eight sips of water. I take eight sips of water. Check the oven. I check the oven. Blink eight times. I blink eight times. Whisper ‘blink’ ten times. I whisper ‘blink’ eight times. I feel insane.
Me and my mum watch a film and I’m not plagued by too many intrusive thoughts, so I only zone out a couple of times. I’m relieved my OCD is giving me a bit of a break.
The evening hasn’t been too bad, or at least no worse than usual.
Sitting on the sofa has sometimes been difficult. How I’m sitting, what my hands and feet are touching, how long I’ve been looking in a particular direction…these are all things that cause me anxiety. Things have to be balanced, even, complete.
While watching TV I find myself writing the same word in the air beside my knee, over and over again. R-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s. A character in the programme has just said the word and now I can’t get it out of my head. It changes to w-h-a-l-e, to u-m-b-r-e-l-l-a, to y-o-g-h-u-r-t throughout the course of the programme. I can’t stop writing it in the air and I have to repeat it, in perfect size and font, a certain number of times.
12:00: I’ve been staying up later than usual lately. Evenings are the best time, so why would I want to shorten them?
I didn’t sleep as well last night, because I kept convincing myself someone was in my room. I was continuously plagued by graphic images of my death as a result of my window being left open, or a clown walking out of my mirror.
I anger myself because it’s as though I’m a kid again, scared of the monsters under my bed. But it doesn’t matter whether the fear is rational; I convince myself I’m in danger, that I can see red eyes staring at me from the end of my bed. Putting the light on to check, for someone without OCD, might not be a big deal, but for me it involves doing all of my nighttime rituals again. Even turning the light on is a struggle, so I dread needing the toilet, never mind having to continuously check whether there’s a demon in my room.
So I’m dreading going to bed, despite being tired.
I ask my mum to shut my curtains, turn the light off, and turn on my lamp so the switch is easily accessible. That’ll take a few minutes off the time needed to prepare.
Once I’ve cleaned my teeth I quickly walk down the stairs using the flashlight on my phone. I avoid touching light switches as much as possible, particularly at this time of night, but I always have intrusive thoughts of being murdered as I go down the stairs. I need the light on to feel safe, but I can’t turn the light on. I can’t win, so I use my phone’s flashlight instead.
I head to the kitchen and pour a glass of water, take four sips, and fill it up again. I go to my room.
I place the glass in the centre of my coaster. I have to tap the glass a few times to restore anything I’ve disrupted. I turn my mirror round so it’s no longer facing my room, but instead the wall. Again, I have to stand and tap several times until it feels right.
I go to my door and shut it completely, ensuring I hold the handle down as I press it shut. I push my body against it and raise the handle up. I press and say aloud, “ten, ten, ten, ten, ten, ten, ten, ten, ten, ten”.
I start to walk away from the door, but I have to stop.
It doesn’t feel right. I’ll have to go back.
I do it again.
I’m almost in physical pain as I repeat my counting. I’m so angry at myself.
Why am I doing this? Why can’t I step away from the door?
I do it four more times, until I’ve repeated this action a total of eight times. This means I’ve stood at the door and said “ten” a total of eighty times, while pushing against it.
I’m crying as I climb into bed.
It still doesn’t feel right, but I’m so exhausted. I think I’ve done it enough to be able to get to sleep.
I take another sip of water. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 sips. I place it back on the coaster. I spend two minutes touching the glass until it feels right.
I turn my lamp off, but have to hold it in the dark for several minutes. After sixty taps I’m able to let it go.
I lay there in the dark, in the silence of my room. I’m gritting my teeth and clenching my fists. I’m exhausted, but I want to get up and redo my rituals. I turn my head on my pillow and close my eyes.
I hope that I sleep deeply and won’t wake up until late morning, because I know that tomorrow I’ll have to go through it all again.