I have had the privilege of knowing Faith for a long time now. She also has OCD. Here is her story.
So Faith, tell us a little about yourself?
I’m 38. I think portraits tell stories about people. I am building a library because as a kid my Dad had one and I loved to peruse it. I have two Chihuahuas that I love so much! I am a Tech Writer in the Healthcare Technology industry and I still get a rush from putting words and thoughts together.
How long have you had OCD? Did anything trigger it?
My earliest memory of an OCD-related incident is when I was between 4-7. I’d gotten up in the night to go to the bathroom and at some point the front of my leg grazed the outside of the toilet bowl. The toilet bowl wasn’t dirty or anything, I knew this. But in my mind, I had just contaminated – though I didn’t know that word at the time – myself. I had a physiological reaction of fear, dread, panic. And I had to wipe my leg with a towel to “get it off.”
Since then, it’s been the same struggle off and on throughout my life. My OCD is mostly germ-related, though there’s no rhyme or reason it seems as I have dogs who I let kiss me on the mouth. I’m sure, however, if I put some of their saliva in a petri dish I’d stop that in a heartbeat! For me though, letting them kiss me is getting affection from them.
Tell us about some of your obsessions-compulsions?
I don’t like to touch garbage cans of any variety – even my own. I have to wash my hand after touching any garbage can and if I accidentally touch one in public, the panic swells until I can antibacterialize my hands!
I don’t like toilets, even my own, or public restrooms in general, however, I’m also not fond of adult diapers so I have to act like a normal person and risk the spore-forming, inoculative, aspirates that exist in the air. To do so, I have to cover the entire toilet seat with three strips of toilet paper on each side of the seat. I even do this at the houses of my friends and family, though if I know them and the toilet looks clean, I’ll only use one strip per side.
After I got my dogs, whom I love immensely, I became obsessed with checking the stove, checking the locks, unplugging things. The stove thing is really hard and gives me the most panic attack like symptoms.
While I love my dogs so much, I don’t like their little butts. I buy baby wipes at Costco and constantly wipe their butts. I allow them on the couch and in my bed. I don’t want their little lives to be hindered because of my issues – and I love to snuggle with them and love on them. But I don’t like their butts touching me or the couch or the bed. But I know that they do. So before I put them into my bed, I have to wipe them down. And since my little boy can jump up on the couch, in my mind the couch is contaminated. What this means for me is that I don’t sit on it if I’ve showered and am ready for bed. I’ve been known to put a towel down on the couch while in my nightgown. Or just sleep on the couch if I’ve already “contaminated” myself because I don’t want to get into my clean bed that way.
You struggled with a lot of shame, can you talk about that some?
My OCD, I believe, is a manifestation of anxiety and shame.
The root of the germ issue is that I don’t want to be dirty. I don’t want to be dumb enough to get sick by touching something dirty. I don’t want to be outcast, the leper at the well, if you will. All of this is shame.
The root of the stove issue is a result of the “should have” problem. In my life, when I’ve made mistakes, I’ve often heard, “Well you SHOULD have done this and that wouldn’t have happened…” What this taught me is that I am not smart enough or together enough – I’m not ENOUGH. That I can’t do things successfully, like others.
The reason the stove issue was triggered by my dogs is because they are the things I love the most. They are innocent and completely dependent on me. If I forget to do something that results in their deaths, namely the house burning down, that would be the ultimate testament to how incompetent I am. And I don’t know that I would recover from something like that. From knowing that something I screwed up hurt and destroyed something I love so much. This, too, is shame.
You’re also a Christian. How has OCD affected your faith?
Well, I have shame issues from the church. Christians, in my life-long experience don’t tend toward empathy. They tend toward being right. They tend toward the black and white of right vs. wrong, which is often so cold and so exclusive that it’s not productive in everyday life. We all have our hang-ups. And those of us who didn’t have the experience of a secure home life, potentially have more.
I learned a long time ago that Christians aren’t Jesus. That Christians aren’t God. They are just people. And while their behavior comes from a good place, that doesn’t make them experts on humanity and the depravity that can come from afflictions, or abusive experiences. There are some Christians who are very wise and very kind and from whom I’ve been influenced and actually grown from in my faith. But a lot of Christians in my personal experience don’t realize the damage they do with their legalistic sympathy, which isn’t the same thing as empathy. And empathy is the antidote to shame. And shame is the thing that keeps us from understanding how much we are loved by God and how we can bask, as human beings, in the amazing thing that Christ did for us. How he came down here to show us where our home is and that this finite place that is all that we currently know is just the beginning of understanding who we really are.
Are you familiar with scrupulosity (religious obsessions/compulsions)?
No, but it sounds interesting. Is there a documentary I can watch?
Any really embarrassing moments caused by OCD?
Mild ones. Mostly the look on my close friend’s faces when they’re watching me check the stove repeatedly. Or when I panic after touching a public garbage can. They look at me like they are slightly worried, but they aren’t going to judge. Some of them hand me antibacterial wipes with a smile.
What is the worst part about OCD? What do you want people to understand the most?
The worst part about OCD is that the battle is in your head. The mental capacity of negative feelings it ignites and the combating of that all within the confines of your skull is hard. And it’s lonely. When I’ve been standing at the stove for 15 minutes, touching it to make sure it’s (still) off, I feel shame, I get angry at myself because I have to go – to leave the house and who does this??? But as soon as I turn my back on the stove, panic grips and I have to check it again. And when I finally do leave the house, it sometimes takes me a bit to get myself out of the shame spiral.
Another bad part of OCD is that it doesn’t make sense. For instance, I know in my head that the stove is off. I know it’s off the whole time I’m touching it. It’s the mental, emotional, physiological battle that takes place – that I know will take place tomorrow when I have to leave the house again – that is the hardest. Some days are better than others.
I think the thing I would want people – and myself – to understand is that having OCD or anxiety isn’t indicative of something being fundamentally wrong with you. It’s something that’s happening to you. And if you can, seeking help for it, in whatever capacity that means, is ok. And you will be better for it.
Anything else you would like to add?
I think, in general, OCD or not, it’s important to learn how to have empathy for people. You can have empathy for someone – you can sit in their darkness with them and be there for them – without necessarily agreeing with them on every issue or having to fix anything for them. Just being a presence in their time of struggle is connection. Is compassion. Is loving them.
If you could have any super power what would it be and why?
I would love to time travel. Is that a super power? I would love to be able to, within my own capabilities, go back to varying eras and experience the richness of history that I can only currently glean from books.
Do you have anything you want to plug?
You can read my blog at www.oliveswitheverything.com
Thanks Faith, for the interview and your honesty! For the record I would consider time travel an amazing super power (or maybe you just need a Tardis). I also love the word antibacterialize.
Lastly, if anyone out there wants to share their story of mental disorders, growing up nerdy, recovery or anything related let me know!