I also struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety, with OCD being the chief offender. I've gotten a good handle on my social anxiety with the exception of one particular issue, one which my OCD has been feeding since 2009. It's very silly-sounding, but it's been something that's been virtually omnipresent in my life for eight years.
When I was an undergraduate student, I had trouble making friends. I wasn't connecting with very many people during my freshman year (with the exception of my online friends, most of whom I'm still close with). Finally, I met my future roommate by chance when I accompanied the Japan Club to Katsucon in 2008. We hit it off and talked online, and before long I was part of that friend group. I was so thankful to have friends I could spend time with at school, and I kept in touch with everyone as well as I could over the summer (especially since my future roommate and I had started a joke anime roleplay on Livejournal - I know, I'm old).
Over my first sophomore semester, however, I noticed things seemed off. My future roommate had lost her mother to cancer several months before we'd met, and the inevitable depression was setting in for her because they'd been exceptionally close. However, they were a lot closer than a normal parent and child would be, to the point that they had seemingly had something of an interdependent relationship on one another. I tried my best to be a good friend, but as time went on and she struggled more and more I started feeling responsible for keeping her alive since she had told me more about her mental health than other people. This led to near-constant text message contact and anxiety on my part as I assumed a sort of caretaker role. Unfortunately, this was probably the worst thing I could have possibly done - based on our interactions, I suspect that she projected her mother onto me, and she was a much more tactile person than I was. The physical closeness was awkward for me because I'm just not a cuddler to begin with, but she was fairly clingy and it made me uncomfortable.
In late January or early February of 2009, about a year after we'd met, my OCD started in earnest, although admittedly the anxiety I'd felt about having to be responsible if she hurt herself due to her mental health was likely a manifestation of it, as well. I'd definitely had flashes of OCD before (including convincing myself that I'd poisoned myself in chemistry class in high school), but this was the first time it was ever a disruption to my life on a large scale.
"So, Steph, you've never dated before. What if you've been gay this whole time and didn't know it?" my brain suggested one night. It then proceeded to never stop suggesting that despite evidence to the contrary. Everything had combined into one giant source of anxiety - the sort of responsibility I'd ended up feeling because my future roommate had become emotionally dependent on me, the general stress the situation was causing me, and my angst about never having been on a date due to horrible bullying as a kid. I had a full-on mental breakdown over the course of the second semester of my sophomore year, one which I only survived because on April 20th, 2009 I met the most important individual in my life, a little six-week-old kitten who I named Murphy.
|Image: an exhausted Italian-American woman (Steph) holds a small kitten (Murphy) inside a baseball cap to show how small he is.|
The thoughts were very strange, on that note. They were uncharacteristic of an actual LGBT person realizing what their sexual orientation or gender identity was. They were frantic, unceasing, relentless, and anxiety-inducing. I'd only been attracted to men up until that point in my life, but I had always been characteristically shy about the mostly fictional men I'd crushed on, and the only time I'd ever really had a proper real-life crush I was too afraid to say anything (and later felt jealously for the first time when another girl was capable of talking to him without being anxious). These thoughts were the first thing that popped into my head in the morning and the last thing that I thought about before falling into a restless slumber at 3 am. I was nauseous a lot of the time and I also started constantly "checking" my reactions to people to see if I was feeling anything. Anxiety, naturally, can cause false arousals, so I was unable to tell what was going on downstairs, and that made it even harder for me to stop.
Additionally, I didn't understand the thoughts because they didn't come from a place of homophobia, but from a place of constantly questioning my identity. It was a fear of not knowing or not being sure. I knew if I turned out to be a lesbian, my family and friends would have been fine with it. It was a bizarre anxiety that I couldn't quite explain and that refused to leave me alone.
Finally, I found out about Purely Obsessional OCD. Pure-O, as it's commonly shorthanded, is a form of OCD where most or all of the compulsions are performed mentally, i.e. "checking" oneself for reactions and whatnot. I remember this occurring sometime in March of 2009, and I actively sobbed when I discovered a specific subtype, shorthanded as HOCD (for "homosexual" or "heterosexual" OCD) - people whose OCD focuses on their sexual orientation. Straight people with HOCD have prolonged OCD anxiety about suddenly being gay, whilst gay people with HOCD have prolonged OCD anxiety about being straight - and bisexual and pansexual people suddenly fear that they're only attracted to one gender. It's irrational, and everyone who struggles with it knows it's irrational, but it dogs us throughout our daily lives.
As soon as I knew my odd OCD thoughts were OCD and not anything else, I began seeing a campus therapist, and roughly a month or so later, Murphy came into my life. I made it through the semester, got home, and eventually got my diagnoses - Asperger's, OCD, and social anxiety. The next two years, I worked to get my OCD under control, but was now living with my roommate, and as her own mental illness continued to ravage her I dealt with unintentional emotional abuse, which made my recovery significantly harder. In 2011, I graduated and returned home for good, then slowly ended the friendship, knowing that it was the best thing for both her and myself. Finally, I was able to work on recovering my mental health to its former state.
OCD is still an ever-present part of my life. In retrospect, it always has been one from the beginning, but it never became a major factor until my 2009 mental breakdown. I'm confident in my sexual orientation now (generally attracted to men, although I may be somewhere on the asexual spectrum, but I'm not sure). I still have another major hurdle to get over - finally going on a date - which I'd like to work on in the future. Social anxiety from being bullied by boys my own age has taken its toll, and combined with my OCD flaring up when I'm not immediately attracted to the few men who have shown interest in me it's been difficult for me to get over the anxiety and try to meet people. Add my Asperger's to the mix and you have...well, not a very good combination for meeting men. It's something I desperately want to be able to do but which I'm too afraid to go out and try, and that fear is actually something I'm ashamed of. I wish I could explain it more articulately to people in real life because I'm well aware my fears are irrational (although my anxiety is based in cruel experience), so putting it in writing will have to suffice for the time being.
Yet do not leave this page thinking that my OCD is still ruining my life - I'm on Zoloft, which helps significantly, and I've learned various mental techniques for combating it, namely cognitive behavioral therapy and thought records (which are somewhat like keeping a Vulcan around to tell you that you're being illogical all the time). OCD is something that will be there, but which you can keep in check and shout down once you learn how to do it. I also recommend reaching out to other people with OCD to get advice, too - I know I've helped a few of my fellow OCD sufferers along the way and I encourage you to become involved in the OCD community for support. Knowing other people are having similar experiences to your own and can help guide you is sometimes a life-saver.
In conclusion, I've written this blog post in the hopes that other people will not have to suffer the way I did. OCD is awful and can be particularly cruel to people - it can make you fear an ever-looming disaster, doubt your identity, panic over hurting someone you love, or even make you constantly afraid that the people in your life don't want to be there. It's a menace, and we have to fight it with understanding and information. Together, we'll be able to beat this thing. I promise.