Here is the first of what I hope to be many interviews with people with similar situations. I met Tracy a couple of years ago at Comic-Con and am fortunate enough be friends with her. You may know her as Hot Nerd Girl, she has OCD and was kind enough to share about it.
So Tracy tell us about yourself? Your nerd cred if you will?
I don’t remember ever not liking nerdy things. My parents have been Trekkies since the show debuted so I’ve been a hardcore Star Trek fan all my life. I also loved Star Wars and horror movies and Middle Earth and Narnia and any fairy tale or mythologies I could get my hands on. My Dad was in the Navy so we moved around a lot. I was painfully shy and awkward so I had a difficult time making friends. We moved to San Diego and there happened to be a comic book store up the street. My brother and I watched the X-Men animated series so we thought we’d check it out. We discovered the wonderful world of comic books and I never looked back. I was also raised by two science lovers so I desperately wanted to be an archaeologist or an astronaut when I was a kid. Sadly, I lacked the math skills but my love for science has only grown as I’ve gotten older.
Favorite Comic-Con memory?
I’ve been going to Conventions regularly for almost 15 years and sporadically prior to that but despite going to middle school and high school in San Diego, my first time attending SDCC was in 2012. So if we’re talking SDCC only then I’d have to say the 10th Anniversary Firefly panel. It was an amazing feeling to be in that room and feel the waves of love and emotion. I’ve never experienced anything like it at a Convention. It was very special.
Is it true that once in high school you wore a Star Trek uniform just for fun?
I wore my Starfleet uniform any time I had even the tiniest excuse. I became synonymous with it and ASB did a “Future Day” during Spirit Week just so I could wear one of my uniforms. The only time I didn’t wear a Starfleet uniform for Halloween was the year a group of friends and I dressed as all of the characters from Peter Pan. I was Peter. I’ve always preferred to crossplay and be the leader/captain/etc. When it came time for my Senior portraits I did the usual ones and then I did a whole series in my Next Generation uniform. One of those ended up in the yearbook. It was a proud moment for me, for sure.
Were you ever bullied in school?
Not so much in Middle School and High School and I don’t remember being bullied so much for being a nerd as I was for being a tomboy or the new kid. I switched schools a lot in Elementary School and that’s when I got teased, or even more often, just ignored. On one hand it made me quite shy and a bit of a loner, but I wouldn’t trade it because I know on a very deep and personal level how difficult it is to approach a stranger and speak to them so I’m very conscious of how hard it can be for others and I try to make sure that everyone who comes up to me feels comfortable and welcomed with open arms, whether it’s at a booth or online. I’m passionately anti-bullying. I’ve had some close calls while standing up for people but I just can’t stop myself, I have to speak up.
Tell us a little about your struggle with OCD….when were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed my Freshman year of High School. I’d had what I called “habits” for a long time but they started getting much worse. My parents made my brother and I go to a family therapist when they got divorced and she was truly awful so I refused to go to a therapist for the longest time. My mom begged me. My friends called her and begged her to take me. Nothing worked. One day my mom told me we were going to the animal shelter to see if there were any dogs we may want to adopt. I was ecstatic. She drove me to a therapist instead. I was furious. During the first session I forgave her though because it was a relief to know what was wrong with me and why. We dove into the possible causes. The therapist theorized that my Aunt Vicki’s death when I was little was the initial traumatic event and that my fear of my mom dying was the main source of the OCD. Knowing was half the battle. After several more sessions I was much better at controlling it enough that it wasn’t so obvious to the outside world. I was still Obsessive Compulsive but I rarely told anyone and rarely did anyone notice. 9/11 was a major set back. I nose dived and lost some of my hard earned control. It took a long time to come back from that. I’m still not back to where I was before 9/11.
Could you see evidence of OCD when you were young, before it really developed?
I posed this question to Mama Jedi because she would be better able to answer it, if for no other reason than the fact that I was in complete denial about my OCD for a long time and she agreed with my answer. I can remember the fear of my Mom dying from way back and, despite having a room that was complete “creative chaos” I remember that everything had a place and I would get upset if someone moved or used something that belonged to me without asking for permission first. Not because I didn’t want them to use it but because I wanted to keep track of everything. I’ve always attached meaning to things that I should probably just toss. I wouldn’t say that I’m a horder, but I do keep more “things” than I should because of the memories I associate with them.
What are some of your obsessions and compulsions?
I used to wash my hands and use hand wipes and hand sanitizer hundreds, sometimes thousands of times a day. My hands would peel like paint on a wall. I would try to hide it by filing my hands with a foot file. They bled constantly. I count everything. Everything has to be in odd or rounded numbers but I also need everything to be balanced and even. For example, if someone offered me 6 Skittles, I would only take 5 of them, but I would also need both sides of my mouth to chew the same amount of times so I would bite the last Skittle in half so that both sides of my mouth would be evenly used. If someone bumps into my right shoulder, I need them to bump into my left shoulder in the same spot. My family and friends got used to me bumping into them randomly so that I could feel evened out. At the end of every sentence or math problem I usually have to dig my pen or pencil into the desk. Very rarely is it ever hard enough or placed correctly to satisfy the compulsion. Same thing with cooking, while stirring in a pot I often have to dig the spoon into the pan after a few stirs. I developed an extreme dislike of cooking because it became difficult for me. I avoided stepping on cracks and if I did by accident I would have to step on a crack with my other foot in exactly the same way.
Have you done exposure therapy (I hate it). ?
Not really. I’ve personally forced myself to do things that make me uncomfortable but I’ve never experienced it officially in any therapy sessions.
Any really awkward or embarrassing moments caused by OCD?
Several. Asking a stranger to bump into you again when you’re extremely shy is something only someone with an extremely deep compulsion would do. In the days after 9/11 I would have to walk across a quad on campus that had a very irregular pattern of cracks. I developed a strange ballet to try and get across it while attracting as little attention as possible which, of course, attracted attention. I don’t remember anyone saying anything, I just got a lot of confused and perplexed looks.
In your opinion, what is the worst part about having OCD?
The frustration. Especially when doing something as simple as stirring a pot of pasta and you can’t hit the spoon against the pot just right and you feel like you’re literally going insane and for what?? A wooden spoon against a pan? Your brain knows it’s not practical or necessary and yet you HAVE TO DO IT. I want to tear my hair out sometimes.
How did your family deal with this growing up?
I think it was hardest on my Mom because she witnessed it the most and paid for me to go to therapy, cash was tight but she so desperately wanted to do something, anything, to help me. My Dad blames himself. He thinks I got it from him. He’s what people would call a “perfectionist.” I don’t know if there’s a genetic component or not but it wouldn’t surprise me. My OCD is very different from my Dad’s extreme cleanliness though. It’s hard for everyone around you.
What do you wish people who don’t have OCD knew about OCD?
That it’s not something that we can control. It takes every ounce of control that I have just to seem like a normal human being sometimes. I feel very fortunate that mine is manageable. Most people would still never guess that I’m Obsessive Compulsive. For people who have much more obvious compulsions it is so much more difficult. This goes for everyone dealing with anything (which, let’s be honest, everyone is dealing with SOMETHING): just be kind. Be compassionate towards your fellow human beings. Don’t point at them or tease them, have some empathy.
Does Comic-Con bother your OCD?
Yes and no. The busier I am the further I can push it away. If I’m at work and I empty my trashcan, I go wash my hands because they are now contaminated. I continue working and then I clean a table, my hands are now contaminated again so I go wash my hands. The period in between I can usually keep pretty neutral. At a convention that period of time is just longer. If I’m at a booth I know that I’m going to touch things and shake people’s hands so I just say, ok, my hands are going to be contaminated today. I keep hand sanitizer on the table and I wash my hands thoroughly before I touch any snacks or food. If I’m walking around I will swing into the bathroom just to wash my hands from time to time and I use more hand sanitizer than usual. But I assume a state of constant contamination that I rationalize in my head. When I get home or to the hotel, I shower it all off so that I can start fresh. In some ways I actually have an easier time at Conventions than I do in day-to-day life. Plus, Cons are my happy place so that helps.
Lastly, if you could have any super power what would it be and why?
I have always wanted to fly. I’ve had dreams about flying and being able to take huge leaps that span miles my whole life. I love being in planes and I love turbulence. I love roller coasters. I’ve always wanted to sky dive though I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I love heights. Being able to fly would be my nirvana.
Anything you would like to plug here?
I can be found on the web and social media at:
and most recently on Periscope @hotnerdgirl (or through Twitter)
P.S. You can also catch her at the Long Beach Comic-Con this weekend! Also, I am looking for anyone who wants to do an interview about mental disorders, addiction, life as a nerd or anything related. Hope to hear from you.