What OCD feels like to me…

OCD is something that I really didn’t want to admit that I had. I haven’t been formally diagnosed, but three psychologists have suggested it when we’ve been working towards diagnosing something else. In the Air Force, it felt like it was ok to just “suggest” that I have it but getting a formal diagnosis would present problems, especially because it was impacting me in ways that interfered with my job.

I was open about my struggles with ADHD because it wasn’t a threat to anything. My job required me to split my attention span between multiple things all the time. I could get things done with no problem because I could jump from task to task to task, as long as it didn’t require intense concentration. So the flying part for me never required that level of concentration.

But the OCD…how do you explain that numbers that don’t end in 5 or 0 make you feel weird? Or that you really aren’t sure you locked the front door at home and need to go check it RIGHT NOW because you can’t concentrate on this meeting. But you did lock it. You know you locked it because you checked it five separate times before you left. But was that today? Was that yesterday? The more you check, the more you need to check.

And the intrusive thoughts, how do you explain that you can’t hear what anyone is saying today because you can’t stop picturing your child drowning? How will anyone understand that those thoughts have been dominating your brain for the past two weeks and no, you don’t care about next week’s staff meeting because all you can think about is DROWNING. You child. Face down. In a pool. DROWNING.

My latest intrusive thought is about that pilot who opened the door and fell from the plane in flight because he had a hard landing a few minutes before. I can’t stop picturing what a falling person looks like. And then I think about the times we had to practice opening the doors and sliding down the wing for “training” on how to egress the plane. Then all I can see is people falling out of planes right in front of me. People I know. Strangers. Anyone. And then it ends with me remembering the people jumping out of the World Trade Center before it collapsed. I had nightmares about burning buildings and people jumping for weeks after 9/11.

I also have intrusive thoughts about hitting people on purpose with my car, sliding over guardrails on the highway when it snows, jumping off tall heights, and accidentally hurting people I care about. Like pushing them downstairs or something like that. I know that I’m not crazy because crazy people don’t seem to think they are crazy and I spend a lot of time feeling like I must be crazy. I’ve had friends tell me they have intrusive thoughts too and it’s normal. Ok, but do you stay awake at night trying to make the intrusive thoughts go away? Or do the thoughts just fade as you get busy doing other things.

It seems for me that the only way I can get rid of the thoughts is to talk to someone else. Go somewhere else. Shake myself out of whatever I am doing and get really distracted. The thoughts will eventually come back, but if I can force them away long enough, sometimes my brain moves on to other things.

The first thing I ever remember causing intrusive thoughts was the idea that my dad was going to die. I was 8 and I could not sleep. I eventually wandered out of my room when I was supposed to be in bed. Or maybe they heard me crying? Either way, I cried for a long time and I remember my dad asking me what was wrong. And I told him I was scared he was going to die. He promised me he wouldn’t, which I know find strange because he couldn’t guarantee that. But he wasn’t wrong since he is still alive and 8 was a long time ago for me. I still something find myself suddenly fearful that he will die. And my mom too. Or one of the kids. Or my wife. I have to be careful to not let my brain take the thought too far, or I will end up actually crying and convinced that I have lost someone.

I guess there’s no good reason to not tell my therapist about it now. There’s nothing that it would hold me back from or ruin about my life. In fact, maybe there’s something we can work on to make it better. I’d love to make it better. I just want my brain to chill out and stop making me feel crazy, with no attention span, while also trying to be perfect. It’s way too exhausting.

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