As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.
Tt King, MCAS '18
Hi I’m Tt. Please don’t shake my hand.
Her name was Kelsey, we were five, and she left the bathroom without washing her hands. An ordinary event for grubby little ones, but Tt was no ordinary little one. With a history of hair pulling, note writing, and incessant guilt, my childhood would neither crash nor burn despite a full-blown obsessive episode of hand washing and Purell. Yet these exaggerated notions of “fine” and “everything is on fire” would be chalked up to nothing more than Tt-isms until the summer after my sophomore year of college, leaving room for years of adventure along the way. That said, it would be hard to describe 14 years of mental illness in one statement, so I’m going to boil it down to five main points in hopes that the next time you feel “a little OCD” about having your things just-so, you’ll realize that OCD is much more than organizing or cleaning. Trust me; I would know.
One. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: considered the most severe of the anxiety disorders, is a chronic mental illness diagnosed by the existence of both obsessions, including intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts, and compulsions, or actions taken often ritualistically or repetitively to reduce anxiety caused by said intrusive thoughts.
That all sounds pretty clinical, so perhaps it will make more sense if I walk you through a relatively ordinary day with my Obsessive-Compulsive mind: We’re driving, it’s a crisp Fall evening, and suddenly the truck next to us is through our windshield and everyone’s bleeding, and we’re making our way to the grocery store. We walk in and I notice all the items out of order, like many people would, and go to grab a cart. If you touch the cart, then your purse, then the produce you will definitely need to extra wash it when you get home, but then everytime you touch your purse after that all of the hands from the store will be there! Wait, Tt, you have tissues. Just use a tissue. I begin picking boxes from the back of piles and produce in the back of the bunch where no one else would have touched them, bites lip. Hand sanitize. I’m cool. No worries. We check out, I hand my card to the cashier, remind me to just burn my fucking hand off every time I use that card again, great. Grabs wipe from bag. Back into the car, making our way home, into the apartment, don’t drop the eggs while you use your sleeve to open the door! Don’t drop it. Ok good, Tt, there you go champ! Put groceries away, wipe down the doors I touched because the grocery store is a demonic germy place, and I guess I’ll empty the dishwasher. Forks over here, plates over here, knives, what if someone picked up this knife and stabbed everyone? Oh geez no, no, no bites lip, blinks hard, grabs Wetwipe, goes over here, and we’re done. Great! Super. Make dinner, check perfectly designed calendar (not OCD, just Type A sometimes!), do some homework, bites lip, hand sanitizes doorknobs a few more times. Don’t go on Facebook, do your work, look a funny cat! How did it become midnight? Performs same night ritual as every other night. Laying down, you’ve got this, no worries, What if someone just broke through those windows right now, and no one would know, and they’re probably already standing in the room, opens eyes, bites lip, OH OKAY it’s fine go back to sleep. But what about the door that you may have locked, but it could be loose. It could have slipped. Grudgingly checks door I lock and double-check every night. Oh look at that speck of dirt on the ground. You can’t leave it because what if someone breathes it in and has an asthma attack? They’ll choke and then if they don’t die they’ll have hospital debts, and all you had to do was sweep it up. Don’t be lazy, come on now. Proceeds to Lysol wipe all baseboards of the apartment. Sigh. Sleep. 4:07AM. Repeat.
Two. You don’t see any of the intrusive, violent thoughts, the little twitches and wipes, feared hand shaking and food sharing, the stress dreams and the time wasting.
No, you see Vice President of UGBC. You see employee of the Women’s Center. Dean’s List of sociology. “Straight-looking” white girl. You don’t see how anxiety impacts my relationships, the people around me, and my idea of “normal.” You don’t see me have panic attacks, over-apply lotion on my over-washed hands, or struggle to keep a normal sleep schedule.
See this is just an average day for me, and good news, I’ve practiced it my entire life! I’m a master at living with OCD, and what’s better, a master at dealing with OCD. For most of my life those closest to me didn’t even know about my anxiety, and I didn’t know it was abnormal. Contrary to what one professor claimed in a psycho-pathology course, no, people with OCD are not doomed to be low-functioning hoarders or hand-bleeding cowards. Yes, people with OCD may hoard or have bleeding hands (mine are looking a little cracky at the moment, for transparency’s sake). Yes, OCD is lifelong and can rise strong at any time, and yes, it is considered the most severe of the anxiety disorders.
But three. Yes, I am functioning just fine and am a relatively healthy and happy 20-something despite being what has been described as “severely” anxious!
My brain is physically wired differently, but that doesn’t mean that every little quirk or choice is because of my OCD, either. On the contrary, I keep my things neat and my agenda just-so because I’m type A, because I work to respect others’ space, and because I can be forgetful otherwise. I’m honestly pretty ordinary in a lot of ways. I organize protests and attend demonstrations because human rights and equality are my foundation; I help run Bystander Intervention because 1 in 5 will always be 1 in 5 too many; I ran for UGBC because I believe that we can create community for and with marginalized students. All of these parts of myself are so much greater than the OCD I’m living with, though my OCD is there every step of the way.
Four. Living with OCD doesn’t mean being OCD.
It’s like having a pet cat that clawed you once: you have to learn to live with it or accept that it will scratch you when you fall asleep. Yes, friends, I wouldn’t get rid of my OCD because I wouldn’t be me without it! That’s a trope; some days I would get rid of it in a heartbeat, but overall, I would not. As much as it makes my life more challenging, my anxiety is there when I get my work done faster than everyone else. It is there when I study efficiently and somehow have my entire apartment clean even though my life feels like it’s on fire. My OCD is what gets me out of bed in the morning, (sometimes at night, too) and it is what supports my crazy whims and impulsive life decisions.
Five. Not everyone with OCD experiences it the same. We’re not one large, mentally ill, homogenous group. In fact, I don’t even experience it the same everyday.
Some days I am on top of the world, mastering my work, running to work and rehearsal and back again, maybe even eating a cookie without washing my hands first! Other days, however, I am a quivering puddle of tears convinced that the world is ending and all I can do is sweep the kitchen floor until my brain decides, Hey, it’s not all my fault. No one is bleeding or dying. I’m alright after all.
I want you to know that there are all kinds of people living with mental illnesses, and one of them is me. No, those of us living with mental illnesses are not necessarily hiding, though some people do deal with great deals of shame over their struggles. But shame or no shame, many of us go under the radar every day. Yes, people can be struggling with ugly monsters who tell them all kinds of things about themselves and their world, untrue things that hold weight in reality all the same. This does not make them monsters, unable to function, or any less of a human; on the contrary, it may simply make them more of who they are and who they want to be. See we all have monsters in our head, whether diagnosable or not; mine’s name is OCD, what do you call yours?