You’re On Your Own, Kid.

7 min readMar 21, 2024

A reflection on my relationship with obsessive compulsive disorder.

An OCD diagnosis can take up to 17 years from symptom onset, despite being a common disorder. If you relate to any of this story, or if you know someone (especially a child) who may be experiencing symptoms of OCD, I can tell you first hand that help does exist. I included photos of myself, at different stages of my life, as a way to illustrate just how ‘fine’ someone can look on the outside while internally toeing the edge of a breakdown.

When I was 5 years old I had my first compulsion.

I remember the phone ringing, my mom getting the news that my dad had been in an accident. I remember fluorescent hospital lights, neon pink casts, and racing wheelchairs. I remember my mom taking a second job, and it becoming my job to give my dad his dosages of opioids.

When I was 5 years old, I couldn’t understand how something could help heal one person, but kill another.

Overnight, I became terrified of touching medication. It was as if a switch had flipped in my brain and all my attention honed in on a single mantra: don’t die.

I found ways to avoid touching the actual bottles and boxes. I obsessively tracked the order in which things inevitably did touch. I bargained with god, making silent deals to ensure that I lived through the night.

When I was 5, I found ways to make myself feel safe.

By the time I turned 10, I was severely underweight. I had stopped eating regularly because how could I be really sure that my food hadn’t been poisoned? I inspected my food with surgical precision; I ran the cost-risk analyses in my head knowing there was only ever going to be one correct answer.

When I became so hungry that I had to eat, I made my friend eat the same thing first.

(If I was going to die, I didn’t want it to be alone.)

When I was 14 years old this began to look more like orthorexia. Like compulsively researching my health. Like rituals and routines and reassurances. Like my mom threatening suicide. Like thinking my silly little compulsions had any bearing on the likelihood of it happening.

When I was 18 years old I went to college. I got health insurance for the first time. I saw a therapist for the first time.

When I was 19 years old, OCD fully took over. Every decision was clouded by made-up meaning. What did I need to do to keep everyone I loved safe? Which pathway should I walk to prevent some unknowable harm? How many times could I beg someone for reassurance before they left me?

I stopped sleeping.

I never stopped crying.

I called the on-call psychologist all weekend like I was a desperate ex-girlfriend. I called my boyfriend every night, struggling to catch my breath. On St. Patrick’s day, I walked myself to the university’s infirmary to spend the night. They begged me to take medication to help get some relief. They didn’t know that that was how this all started.

When I woke up the next morning, a nurse hovered above me and asked if I felt like I was a threat to harming anyone. I said no, and silently thanked her for the inspiration for my next spiral.

I began seeing my college counselor regularly. I called him seeking reassurance even more regularly. When he confirmed that I had OCD, he told me that I’d likely have these thoughts forever.

For the first time in months, time stopped. I sat there in his too big chair, in the too bright room, in my too short dress. I stared at his goading smile and receding hairline and upsettingly blue eyes.

I thought about how acids are really attractive to other molecules, to the point where they will leave their current bonds to combine with the acid. I thought about how as parts of the material break off to bond with the acid, the original material dissolves. I thought, that’s what’s happening right now.

My blood had turned to acid, any hope I had been harboring about a normal life was now dissolving painfully inside of me. The smell of sulphur filled the room. I wanted him to choke on it.

I wanted to smash every photo he had hanging in his office.

I wanted to scream in his face that he fucking sucked at his job.

Time unfroze. I smiled and took the CBT worksheets he printed out for me. The chapter of some psychology book explaining OCD. I thanked him. I hated him. I needed him.

Eventually, I started accepting that this was my reality. I challenged myself to try to believe he was right. I had already lived for so long under this false god in my head, what did I have to lose by trying a different way?

I began sleeping in my roommate’s bed with her, falling asleep to Friends playing in the background. She helped me shower on the days that my body was too exhausted, and dried my hair at night so that I wouldn’t get sick from the cold.

I went to class, I went to my job, I went to my second job, I spent time with friends. I ate. I tried to sleep. I did all the things I would normally do, I just did them feeling like shit. Slowly, without noticing, I started to feel better. They didn’t go away (just like he said they wouldn’t), but I found myself co-existing with them (just like he said I would). I sent him a mental apology note for the choking, the smashing, the screaming.

When I turned 20 years old, I returned for my Junior year of college.

When I turned 20 years old, my boyfriend of 7 years broke up with me.

When I turned 20 years old, I washed the same load of laundry for 2 months straight because there was always a new contamination.

(I eventually just left it in the dryer, and was down about 1/2 my closet).

When I was 20 years old, I washed my hands over and over again until they bled.

(Then panicked that my spilled DNA would be used to frame me for murder.)

When I was 20 years old, I took a dozen pregnancy tests in the bathroom of the local FroYo shop.

(Because what if this time I really was pregnant? What if you really can get pregnant from giving a blowjob? From sleeping in his bed? From touching his towel?)

When I was 20 years old, I kept seeing my ex. I kept going to therapy. I kept calm through a city bombing. I forgot all the ways I learned about how to keep calm during the bombs that went off in my head.

When I was 21, I told my ex-boyfriend that my OCD was telling me that if I didn’t have sex with him, he would die. Or I would die. Or we would never get back together. Or someone in his family would get cancer. Or get into a car accident.

He said that it could be true, that we should probably just do it to be sure. I wanted to throw up. I wanted him to love me.

We kept having sex. I kept crying.

When I was 21, he graduated with a psychology degree.

When I was 23 years old, I moved to California. I told myself I was done with OCD. I had solved it, recovered from it, packed it up and labeled it officially in the past.

When I was 23 years old, I was a liar.

When I was 25 years old, friends committed suicide, bosses committed harassment, and I stayed committed to never looking at myself too closely.

When I was 27 years old, my mom died during a global pandemic. I went to the hospice, cleaned out her room, and went to work the next Monday. I was fine. Until I wasn’t. Until I lost it.

When I was 28, I learned the difference between running away and leaving.

When I was 30, I was safe, and happy, and loved.

I couldn’t trust it, and so I made myself sick over it.

I cried on my friend’s kitchen floor, in a Publix bathroom, on the street walking my dog. It had been so long since I had looked at myself in the mirror that when I did, I no longer recognized the monster lurking in the shadow. It had been so long since I had called it by its name.

When I turned 31 years old, I stopped talk therapy and started ERP.

I cry less, but not never. I have both good and bad days. Sometimes I’m eager to do an exposure and to practice mindfulness. Sometimes I drag my feet to the session, kicking and screaming just like my nephew when I tell him it’s bath time.

Not much has changed. I just have more awareness now.

I have more awareness now, and so in that way everything’s changed.