OCD My Silent Struggle

Picture from www.ocduk.org/understanding-ocd

Picture from www.ocduk.org/understanding-ocd

People with mental health issues almost all have interesting behaviors. We can’t always control them, and they all manifest in interesting ways. Some of them can be worked with, or ignored, some can’t.

Most of my friends recognize at least some of my behaviors. They see me talk too much, get too physical, dominate the conversation, and be inconsiderate of others’ needs. My friends see me behave as a bully, verbally beating people into submission until they see my point of view. I try to control these things, and sometimes succeed.

What most people don’t see are my OCD tics. The things I do when nobody is looking. I am a totally different person the moment nobody is looking. Sometimes when they are. I hate this part of me, because it singles me out, and takes away from my joy in the world. It makes me feel like the world is not safe, and that nobody can help. The underlying OCD in my mind is what makes it that much more real that I don’t matter, I’m broken, unable to cope, to handle reality.

These tics work in a cycle. Obsession, Anxiety, Compulsion, Relief, repeat. If one of my obsessions is triggered, I get really agitated, upset, perturbed. Whatever word you like there. I have to fix it. Sometimes, there’s no fix, and I just get upset and stay that way. Sometimes, as you will read, I have compulsions (tics) that I fulfill. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

I have so many it’s very hard to list them, but I’m going to try to explain some of them here, although you may never see me act on them. It’s a constant struggle, but I do it, mostly successfully, every day, every minute.

Okay, here goes.

I have to smell my fingers. ALL THE TIME. If I touch a book, or a table, my own skin, someone else. I have to smell my fingers and then wash them ASAP if they smell like anything, even, well, skin.  My nose gets sore, because I rub my nose, or scratch the end of it. I scratch my upper lip and pick my nose (kinda) all in the attempt to cover up the fact that I’m obsessed with the smell of my fingers.

I count everything. Unless I’m focusing on someone’s eyes, or, more specifically, their right pupil, I count everything I encounter. I count the number of fake bugs above my friends kitchen window. 9 when I’m sitting, 11 when I’m standing… Point of view, and what not. I count calendars to make sure the maker didn’t skip a day. I count the number of keys on my keyboard. 145, or 133 if I count only the ones that make a character appear on screen. I count my fingers. There are always 10. I judge my hands harshly because there are too many fingers on them. The perfect number is nine, and I count my fingers nine times. I always count the right hand thumb as it’s own number, so that it makes nine as well.

When I get a new ruler, I have to measure it against another ruler. They are not all perfect, and it’s exhausting to always be mentally reminding myself how many millimeters off a certain ruler is. But if I measure it against a pre-approved ruler, and it’s correct, then I’m okay.

I wink at people when nobody is looking. If everyone is looking away, I wink at the third person from the left, or the right hand person if there are fewer than three people. Really, don’t try to catch me doing this. You won’t. It takes less than 1/3 of a second to wink, and I guarantee I won’t do it when I think someone might try to catch me do it. Sometimes the only way I can keep myself from doing it, is by convincing myself that somebody is looking.

I count the scars on my hands. On the backs, there are ten total. On the palm side, there are two on the left hand and zero on the right. But I still have to count the palm side of my right hand. It doesn’t matter that there have never been any significant cuts or scrapes on that hand. It still counts.

I pull on my earlobes a lot. Like, all the time. This makes my fingers smell weird, because the skin on my ears reacts to my earrings, making this weird smell. It’s especially weird because I like the smell, but I have to wash my fingers right now.

I have to wash my hands for a number of seconds that is a product of nine. I don’t care if it’s nine seconds or 81, which by the way, is one minute twenty one seconds. Seriously. Do you know how long that is?! I dare you to set a timer on your phone and wash your hands for 81 seconds. It’s exhausting. But if I don’t pull my hands out of the water on time, I have to keep going until it’s another product of nine. If I lose count, I have to turn off the water, dry my hands and do it again.

I can’t eat meat if I’ve touched it. I can eat meat other people have touched, and I can touch meat. I just have to wash my hands afterwards, for a product of nine seconds, this time, with a minimum of 36 seconds, because, well, meat. The only exception to this rule is if I touched it the day before. I can’t eat it two days later. I can’t eat it later that day. Only the day after I touched it. This makes it very hard to eat dinner with my family.

I can’t eat bread that someone else has touched. I always insist on making my own sandwiches, and such. Today, we were having hot dogs. The Boy took out buns for everyone. Then sneezed. Then, when told that we (Jenny and I) prefer to take out our own buns, he PUT THE BUNS BACK IN THE BAG. I couldn’t even use the dishes. I had to get another dish, and I couldn’t bring myself to use any bread product, because my stomach was so soured. I forced myself to eat the hot dog bits, because cold and/or reheated hot dogs are nasty. I had to get another dish out of the cabinet.

This brings me to my next one. I can’t use the second set of dishes without washing them by hand and putting them back in the cabinet. This rarely happens because we keep the dishes clean, and have plenty of everything. But today, I had to get a sneeze free dish from the cabinet, and it was from the second set. I ate quickly, and washed it very thoroughly. This is because the second set of dishes is SO much nicer than the other set. For years I wouldn’t use glass dishes, because I KNEW they were going to break. I only use the glass ware in our house, because the regular set came from Ikea, and I know it’s not for fine dining. Also, we don’t keep paper plates in the house.

I also wash clean dishes sometimes. In my old house, I would take my dishes out for dinner, and wash them before serving. I still do it sometimes when I’m eeked out. Another example from today is that after washing the dish I used for my hot dog, I opened the cabinet and saw all the dishes the Boy put in the cabinet, and I couldn’t do it. I reached up to the shelf he can’t reach and took down a  cup that only I use. I washed it thoroughly and then opened a new bottle of soda.

I had to open a new one, mind you. I don’t know how long the orange juice (which we bought an hour ago) had been open when someone got the first glass out. So I had to open a new bottle of soda, because, well, there were no germs inside.

Right now I’m doing everything in my power to not hear anything in the house, because sounds have to be pretty. Let me be perfectly clear. If the sounds I’m listening to aren’t pretty, then I start singing inside my head, and sometimes out loud. It’s the only way I can stand to listen to dis-harmonic sounds. I just drown them out inside my head. This can be people’s voices. It can also be the words they use. If I don’t like the cadence or rhythm of someones sentence, then inside my head I start singing some soft acoustic song. If that doesn’t work, I scratch my head to make a noise that’s much louder inside my head than out. I type to the beat of the song playing. I count to the rhythm of the song in my head. There’s nearly always a song running inside my head, and I do almost everything to a rhythm. The best way for me to not do this so much is to talk. All. The. Time. This is because I speak in a rhythm that is pleasing to my ears.

This brings me around to my next point. Kinda. I have tracks in my head that all do things all the time. I have a track in my head that plays the song. I have another one that is counting how many words you just used in your sentence. Don’t ask. I’ll just get embarrassed, and rude. I have a track in my head that counts how many steps total I’ve taken since x event. There’s another track that counts the number of steps I’ve taken on shadows not made by my own feet. There’s another track that keeps track of how many times I’ve lost track of something I’ve been counting. This number never exceeds nine. If I lose track again, I start counting from the beginning.

There’s only one way to do something. There’s only one way to play Minecraft. There’s only one way to build a house out of Legos. I logically recognize that this is not correct. Like, it’s totally false, all the way around. People do things their own way. I have to not watch people do things. I have to not listen when someone is talking about their favorite way to do something. There are a few things that have their own rules. Art is a HUGE one. I like art so much, because I can do whatever the fuck I want. I don’t sing inside my head when I paint. I don’t have to have exactly the right color of red for the painting I’m working on. It’s fabulous.

Oya. I get stuck on words. I have to say the word fabulous in every conversation. I will completely derail a conversation, just so I can say something is fabulous. This is another one where different rules apply. I don’t feel like I have to use these words when I’m around people I trust, like a LOT. Jenny, the Boy, the Girl, and maybe 4 other people make it outside this rule. My twin doesn’t even fall outside of this rule. He just has a separate list of words. These words change every couple of months, or so. The more I try to shake them, the longer they stick around, though. That’s why fabulous has been around so long. Did I mention I have to say it at least nine times a day? Yep. Sometimes I say it three or four times in one sentence, just to get them all out.

I get about 9 songs stuck in my head at a time. I rotate from song to song to song to song to song to song to song to song to song. Repeat.  Currently, I have songs by Ed Sheeran, and Passenger stuck in my head. They happen to be (Ed Sheeran) Drunk, Little Bird, Lego House, Little Bump (TRIGGER WARNING), Give me Love, (Passenger) Let Her Go, Running in the Wrong Direction, Holes (TRIGGER WARNING),(Passenger featuring Ed Sheeran) hearts on Fire and (Blue October) Calling You. These are all great songs. But I have them all in my head at the SAME TIME. I think this must make Jenny nuts, because I only want to listen to the songs stuck in my head. The rest of the world of music is just out.

I also have to check all the windows, and all the doors. Some of them have to be open, and some closed. For example, all the bathroom doors have to be open. All the windows have to be closed except for the one in our bedroom, and the one in the Girl’s room. She can do what she damn well pleases. The printer has to be turned on, but asleep.

I can’t have all my projects done at once. I feel like I’m not making progress if they are all done. They all have to be going a little at a time. When I finish one, another replaces it before too long. It helps me feel like I’ve got a purpose, or a job. Even when I’m working a traditional job, I feel the same way.

I shake my hand, in this very spastic way. I don’t know how to explain it, but I just raise it over my right shoulder, and shake it until the need is fulfilled. Usually it only lasts for a second, sometimes longer.

I have dozens of other little things, but not all of them are for the public. I also have to keep some to myself, because I just plain don’t want you to know. Just please keep in mind, the next time you jokingly say you are “a little OCD” that being a little OCD takes a lot of energy, and being a lot OCD takes all of it. It’s not a joke, and it’s not cute. Being OCD means that some of us can’t participate the way we want to in the world. It’s one of the loneliest things in the universe. Those of us with OCD have such unique tics that we can’t even fully understand each other, except to acknowledge the fact that understand the need to fulfill our urges. So next time I scratch my elbow three times after I shake your hand, please don’t be offended. I just don’t know how to stop it.

Here’s a little way to look inside a mind like mine. Not the same, mind you, just similar.

Share if it spoke to you!


  1. Rory,
    Thank you for opening up about this. Honestly, the first word that comes to mind is ‘exhausting’. It sounds exhausting emotionally, mentally, and physically. I value your candidness on this subject. You have helped me understand more. Not completely, as I don’t think anyone could possibly understand completely unless they’re experiencing it, just more.
    My heart bows to you in gratitude.
    Anne Glasser 🙂

    • Thank you for your feedback, Anne. I happily share this with the world, with the intent to educate and help others understand. I’m glad it is helping you.

  2. Nisha

    I know people with OCD issues, and I hope I have never made light of it. Thanks for letting me get a glimpse of what you deal with. I may not ever completely understand, but I know more now than yesterday.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply! I’m glad you took something away from my post.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. At least half of those describe me to a T, especially the smelling, handwashing, food, dishes, and counting. I actually got confused and thought I was reading something I had written, no joke! And then I have several other OCD tics apart from what you mentioned, and if we were both truly capable of writing out the whole tedious list of our issues, I’m sure we’d find some more similarities as well. My point being, I know exactly how exhausting it is. How time consuming. How set apart and freakish it can make one feel. And-it bears repeating-EXHAUSTING! I don’t know about you, but my OCD revs into high gear during mania. It’s always there, but during a manic phase it’s even worse! I’d give anything to stop the noise inside my head, the bad images, the absolute need to do these things, lest something really, really bad happen! People like to laugh at some of the things I do. Some people get really frustrated with me. They have no idea what it’s like, or how hard I try NOT to do these things, think these things, say these things. It’s just the same reel repeating over and over and over again.

    • It sounds to me, you feel validated by my post. I hope that this is the case. I hope at the very least, that you feel less alone in the world, and a little less misunderstood. Cheers!

  4. Pati Cook

    Oh how I understand these last several posts of yours. At some point we need to sit down for a long talk.
    And, yes, it is possible to calm the compulsions, and the “tics”. But it takes time and more. I am finally seeing some progress with mine.
    Yes, just being around people, or just being awake, can be exhausting at times.
    But we like you for being you.
    You are important to many people.

    • Pati, I could not agree more. We really do need an opportunity to talk sometime soon. The next time I have a convenient trip to the Valley, I will get in contact with you, and see what we can work out. Cheers!

  5. ami

    Truly exhausting! I really get the cleaning thing. My boyfriend makes fun of me…sometimes in front of our friends…I just feel more alone…even though I try to laugh it off…maybe no one will notice. I wish I could just walk away…let things go…he does…others do. Makes me angry…why should I compromise my high standards….clean is good…clean feels good….why is it wrong?

    • Ami,

      I don’t have great advice for dealing with OCD. I have my own set of very high standards, but they aren’t clinically diagnosable, I don’t think. Rory will likely have some advice, though.

      But if your boyfriend makes fun of you, whether in private or in front of others, that’s not a good thing. What happens when you talk to him and ask him not to do that? You shouldn’t have to laugh it off. Your feelings are legitimate, even if he doesn’t agree with them. Hugs.

    • It’s not wrong. It’s just different from other people. It’s not okay for people to make fun of you for who you are. Tell them so. It has been worth it for me.

  6. Amanda Davis

    Thank you for talking about this. People use the phrase, ” I’m so ocd!” And have NO clue. I have ocd with psychotic tendencies, which sounds like that is what your diagnosis is too. The thing these people don’t understand is that a person with REAL ocd is suffering 24/7. I pop my fingers so much my joints always hurt and I have a big muscular tic with my shoulder and it causes me so much pain from repeating the tic all day that I just wanna cry. But, I can’t stop. I bite my cuticles until they bleed. I obsess and worry constantly. I feel I have to repeat thoughts in my head until the thought sounds just right. And I too have the smelling thing. I also have to smell when people fart, or any kind nasty smell…no fun. You are not alone. And I too feel frustrated when people joke about having ocd. They just have no clue. It’s cruel and exhausting.

  7. Lady Fenix

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve been counting for years. Steps, tiles in the ceiling, panes in the windows, etc. etc. etc. I honestly thought that everyone did this, but suspected there might be “something wrong” with me. I just found out yesterday that this obsessive counting thing is just a part of it. Oh, and honey, don’t feel bad, I had a Billy Joel song in the back of my head for two months, like a soundtrack. Drove me INSANE. It’s another song for the past four-five days, and I won’t tell you what it is because I know it will invade your head. Anyway, I found a shrink, and she’s put me on meds. We’ll see how that works out. Again, though, thanks so much for sharing.

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