On keeping OCD a secret
Soon after, when I was riding in a car with my mom, I’d get the sudden thought and urge to grab the steering wheel and guide the car into oncoming traffic. It especially happened if a big truck was heading our way. My dad died when he slammed into the front of a gravel truck.
That was when I was 11.
Over the next few years the bad thoughts expanded into new territories. I started having thoughts about harming other people, with knives, my fists, guns. I started seeing horrible pictures in my mind of people bleeding, in pain, torn apart. Then more thoughts added themselves to the mix, including of a sexual nature. Rape became a theme with me. Awful thoughts of sex and kids filled my head.
I kept it all a secret.
I came from a family that didn’t talk about their feelings very often. We were raised to keep our feelings hidden inside, to tough it out, despite how bad we might feel.
I was also scared beyond belief of the thoughts inside my head. They were horrible, disgusting thoughts that scared me, made me feel guilty and depressed me. I was sure my family members would be horrified if they knew about the thoughts I was having. I was terribly afraid that, if I told anyone about my thoughts, I would be locked away in jail or inside an insane asylum. I thought I would be abandoned by my family, I would not be able to see my friends and I would be alone with my awful thoughts.
Convinced that the thoughts must remain a secret, I did not seek help. And the longer I kept the secret the more entrenched secrecy became.
I think I can be forgiven for not voicing my thoughts early on. The thoughts started in the mid-1970s and recognition of mental health then was not what it is today. People with mental health problems back then were crazy, loony, nuts. Access to mental health resources was scant. There was no Internet to explore and make connections to other people suffering from the same sort of thoughts.
Many times through adulthood I wondered if telling about my thoughts would be the right thing to do. Things slowly changed when it came to mental health, both access to and understanding of. Still, the thoughts bothered me so much, I thought of them as so wicked and disgusting, I feared abandonment and isolation.
When I finally did speak of my thoughts and sought help for what had plagued me for what by then was nearly 40 years, I was scared but I was also relieved. Keeping deep, dark secrets is hard. It takes a lot of energy to keep something secret from those you love. It was freeing to let it out. Of course the reaction of those I loved was not negative like I thought. They showed concern and a willingness to help me overcome that which had haunted me for decades.
Things have changed significantly in the past 40 years. Mental health does not carry the same stigma it used to, though there is much more work to be done in that regard. The Internet has opened up a world of resources to OCD sufferers, from websites about the disorder to personal blogs and online forums where people can talk openly, and anonymously, about what is bothering them.
That said, it can still take quite a lot of time for people to seek help from the onset of symptoms. The average these days is something like 10 to 12 years from the time OCD symptoms start to the time people seek help. It’s far too long. Part of the problem surely is that many people keep their intrusive thoughts to themselves, out of disgust, out of fear, out of shame. They keep it all a secret.
The first step toward recovery is recognizing you have a problem. Then you have to be brave and reach out for help. The sooner that is done, the sooner help can be received and the journey toward overcoming OCD can begin. All it takes is a visit to a doctor with the words, “I have bad thoughts.” There doesn’t even have to be a recognition that the problem is OCD.
For quite some time I wished I had told about my thoughts sooner. I often wondered what my life would have been like if I didn’t carry around awful thoughts with me all the time. But I came to be at peace with the way things worked out. I don’t dwell on the past and the secret I kept. I now look forward to the future — a future without the devastating consequences of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
If you have bad thoughts, be brave and tell someone. Whether a family member or a friend, a doctor or an anonymous post on an OCD forum, the first communication will be the hardest but it can also be the most freeing.