Jared’s OCD Story

Posted on: March 24th, 2023

In this week’s blog, Jared shares his OCD story:

My name is Jared Nussbaum, and I’m a twenty-three-year-old male living and working in Manhattan, NY. Though I’ve never been officially diagnosed with OCD, it’s abundantly clear to me that it’s the mental affliction I struggle with most.

I began noticing symptoms of the disorder in myself when I was in the fifth grade, at age ten. In particular, the most vivid memory of OCD I have from this time is an interesting one that illustrates an issue I’m still susceptible to struggling with.

I so vividly remember when, in fifth grade, all the students were let out of the classroom to play on the playground for a few minutes before leaving school for the day, and instead of following my classmates, I’d routinely spend several minutes mentally—and sometimes verbally—reviewing the list of homework I’d been assigned that day in order to make sure I’d packed the necessary materials in my backpack to complete those assignments.

Even at the young age of ten, I was aware that this was unusual and excessive behavior that didn’t seem to serve a purpose. There was a force inside me, though, that I couldn’t overcome.

My routine was the following: I’d review a list of six items that had been assigned as homework to me, and carefully contemplate the materials I’d need to complete those assignments. I’d then ensure that what I’d packed in my backpack was sufficient to allow me to complete those assignments. Like any kid would, I’d then feel the desire to leave the classroom to play outside.

Instead of joining my classmates outside, though, I’d feel a doubt forcefully enter my mind, and with it I’d notice myself again reviewing the list of homework assignments and materials inside my backpack. This doubt, even though it was unwarranted because I’d already carefully reviewed what materials I’d need for the night’s homework assignments, instructed me to engage in the review again.

Basically, I felt an impending danger whose accompanying compulsive action I couldn’t resist. It was mysterious, inexplicable, and forceful, and I lacked both the coping skills and insight to contend with it effectively.

I might repeat this process two, three, four, five, or more times before reluctantly and frustratedly setting down my backpack and running outside to meet my classmates who’d already been playing on the playground for several minutes.

There are countless examples of this kind of behavior throughout the years, but I actually don’t consider any of these moments to be moments of struggle; I suppose I simply treated these behaviors as ordinary.

To be truthful, OCD made its first notable appearance at the front of my consciousness when I was in eleventh grade. Interestingly, I have no notable memories of OCD dating back to sixth, seventh, or eighth grade. I even have no notable memories of it from the ninth and tenth grades.

In eleventh grade, though, it forcefully and unmistakably entered my life in the form of health anxiety. Though I don’t remember how exactly this particular episode of OCD took hold in me, what I do remember is that I consistently—every single day, and eventually nearly every single moment of every single day—experienced highly distressing thoughts about my own health.

In accordance with the observation frequently made by many psychologists and researchers that OCD often follows themes in patients, the OCD I experienced in high school always seemed to constitute concerns about my health. During this time, I was relentlessly tormented by a few thoughts.

The first was that I might have a malignant brain tumor that would almost certainly lead to death. The second was that I might have AIDS that would almost certainly lead to death. The third was that I or certain members of my family might one day be diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer that, again, would almost certainly lead to death.

These obsessions became so distressing—and ultimately consuming—that I felt I could not attend to major responsibilities in my life, which at the time primarily meant school assignments and college applications.

In a literally constant effort to allay my concerns about my health and the health of those I loved, I found myself attempting to justify just how unlikely it would be for these concerns to be real, or to be realized. I pictured soothing images and attempted to ignore these intrusive thoughts. I sought out resources online to be sure none of these concerns were well-founded. I spoke with my mother, who is a nurse practitioner.

While it’s difficult and sad to admit, I doubt I felt even a single moment of true relief and calm in those years as I constantly—and unsuccessfully—tried to assure myself that these concerns were unwarranted.

To illustrate the persistent and stubborn nature of these intrusive thoughts, I normally reference the following story: While I was taking the ACT exam in the eleventh grade, I vividly remember having difficulty focusing on one particular section of reading comprehension because my mind was filled with thoughts of calamity about AIDS. I literally didn’t have the mental capacity to devote attention to the exam.

Today, it’s clear that I still struggle from OCD, but the nature of the disorder has changed completely; whereas in high school, I struggled with obsessions that brought on mental compulsions—including rationalization and imagination—the obsessions that currently afflict me bring about primarily physical compulsions—like handwashing or physical avoidance.

I currently find it terribly difficult to touch things like door handles, sink handles, and cell phones. Using the bathroom—especially public bathrooms—in particular is almost always a miserable experience because of the distressing thought that on the surfaces of the sink, for example, there might lurk fecal matter. Or, I might think that the small amount of mold in my shower might harm my health in some way.

I’ve experienced far more mysterious forms of OCD over the years as well, many of which afflict me today. I might fear touching a homeless or disabled person due to the thought that I might become homeless or disabled. I might fear saying out loud—or even thinking—the name of a terrible person such as Hitler due to the thought that I might adopt Nazism. I might even fix my gaze on what I would describe as the “wrong thing” and feel a nebulous but strong feeling of imminent disaster.

I don’t know what will come next in the unfolding and unpredictable story that is my OCD. Perhaps something amazing will happen; on the other hand, perhaps something terrible might happen. I may just have to live with this uncertainty. After all, as sufferers will know, that is the way to recovery.

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