The biggest lie about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is that it’s funny, though it is, at times. I laugh when I remember running for the school bus barefoot every morning, brandishing my shoes and socks to flag down the driver, because I had to button and unbutton my uniform so many times — in multiples of four — that I could never quite find the time to clothe my feet.
Still, I never manage to laugh when someone tells me about their alphabetized bookshelf, and how they’re “just so OCD” about those books.
The second biggest lie is that OCD is only about compulsions. Only rituals, continued indefinitely, like washing your hands or flicking a light switch on and off or, indeed, like blinking or buttoning and unbuttoning a shirt. The rituals, people know. The intrusive thoughts that motivate them, they consider less. They can’t conceive of primarily obsessional obsessive-compulsive disorder, where the worries never transmute into a physical compulsion but balloon instead inside the brain. Or of the false memory, the Frankenstein’s monster of an intrusive thought, one ruminated over so long that it solidifies into a grotesque imitation of the truth. Or of trichotillomania, the disorder so often co-morbid with OCD that compels me to pull out my hair.
I’ve written and rewritten my own history of OCD, in notebooks and diaries no one will ever read. Each account I’ve squirreled away, for fear it’s too self-involved or too angry or too melodramatic. I’ve been actively writing it since I was sixteen. It started playing out long before I knew it had a name.