I sometimes laugh at my compulsions and my torn cuticles.
I have been a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder for years. So far, the internet has done a fairly good job explaining that OCD is a serious mental disorder, not a set of organized pencils nor a neat closet, so let us not get into that. In basic terms, a person with OCD suffers from reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) that lead to behaviors (compulsions) that are done and repeated in order to remove the obsessions or reduce their intensity. Both can take numerous terms, but this is my story.
It started at the beginning of 2011, during a rough time for my family. A wash or two of hands, obsessively setting things in place before doing anything that requires dedication and focus, and repeating every other thing a few times over didn’t sound like a massive problem. The fact that the other side of my family is subtly paranoid about seemingly meaningless things made it all somehow alright, expected, that a bit of me will be off, not quite right, but only insignificantly so.
Let me first mention that I am Muslim, and Islam is a religion that values cleanliness. Before performing prayer, a simple act of washing is to be performed. But what if that simple task became never-ending hysteria of water wasting? It is completely against Islamic virtue to waste, be it water or not. I’ve always been aware of that, but back then it did not seem like an obsession that I was doubting that water had reached every nanometer of my hands. It was only me noticing things, maybe a little to intricately. It is all right to be a bit wasteful, I thought. I deserved the punishment of being wasteful since I had noticed things no one else did.
A few months later, being physically restrained from sinks became a necessity. Long had passed before I made anything clear by asking for help. During that period, the disorder advanced into a complex series of washing and washing again, counting, avoiding spots on the ground that I stepped on unwashed, fighting the urge to wash once more and then submitting to it. I was aware that it was irrational but still was ignorant, then, to the nature of the problem: that it is an illness.
But I still remember the exact moment that forced me to ask for help. The triggers, which are too dreadful that I am still unable to mention them, had started a few days before. One massive trigger, however, took me to my knees after having pretended for so long to be fine.
“I am tired.”
And I truly was, from something as simple as a two-minute act of ablution to take an hour five times a day, from never feeling stable, from spending hours upon hours putting things in place.
But my acting through the prior months was convincing, apparently, because the person who helped me had not even suspected that whatever was happening was happening.
During psychotherapy, it became clearer that I wasn’t cursed with a superhuman ability to notice. To me, it was liberating to know that something I’d struggled against while dismissing was a disorder; something that could be diagnosed and treated, something that happens to others as well.
Reading about the symptoms shocked me. I learned that the obsessions, excruciatingly violent and “taboo” thoughts had accompanied me (on-and-off) since I was young, perhaps six or seven years old, an entire ten years before the compulsions appeared. That the thoughts could not have been my responsibility, and that other people too frantically count on their cracking fingers to ignore the threats of their brains of divine punishment, paved the way to recovery. As for the religious aspect, I just kept in mind that religion is not meant to make life difficult and that divine punishment will not befall people for merely stepping on a particular, unclean tile.
Finally, the disorder still looms and lingers. I am now aware that my brain is playing tricks, as I occasionally was then. But now, I can defy all of my compulsions.
On a good day.