Amazing video from Varun Gwalani! So brave of him to share his struggles with OCD, and show that sufferers are not alone. Please take the time to read his story, and watch his video. I was truly inspired by his courage and efforts to spread awareness.
The other day, I heard someone say, “She kept yelling at me when my room was untidy. She’s so OCD, man.”
As someone who is actually so OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), I was understandably annoyed. I didn’t turn around and go on a tirade about how offended I was. I don’t do that when people use the term for their own purposes- Obsessive Comedic Disorder or Obsessive Christmas Disorder, or something else that’s clearly not obsessive.
I don’t do that because I know there’s no malice behind it, just ignorance.
To explain OCD simply, first remember that a large part of your brain’s job is to be a warning system, to detect possible threats, to remind you that something as simple as putting your hand to fire, or crossing the street without looking, will harm you.
Now imagine if this warning system, this most fundamental part of your brain, is broken.
With a broken system, you’re constantly scared of everything. Anything and everything around you can kill you. If not kill you, it can infect, hurt or damage you in some way or another. Most of the time, though, it’s not just you that it’s affecting. Your parents, your family, your friends, all of them are in supposed danger, if you and you alone don’t do what your broken brain compels you to do.
That’s what OCD is.
There are more than ten different kinds of OCD, and every case of OCD has a high chance of being severe and debilitating to the point that it affects everyday life.
Even those “funny” pop culture stereotypes of people with OCD tics become less funny when you pull back the curtain and see the reality. Repeated hand-washing becomes slightly less funny when your mind compels you to do it over and over again, till your skin strips off your fingers, but you still can’t stop. Counting steps while walking, or having to shower several times because of germs sounds funny, until you realise that the person doing it believes that their life physically depends on it. And why shouldn’t they? Why should you believe your brain is lying to you?
These are all symptoms of different kinds of OCD, which include morality OCD, checking OCD or sexuality OCD. When you have OCD, that’s exactly what your brain is doing. And after a point, you can’t distinguish between what is you and what isn’t. With that, we come to the kind of OCD that I have. It’s called Aggressive OCD. What does that do? Well, it’s really fun: It gives me visions of death.
So when I encounter ignorance, what I try to do instead is to the set the record straight- What exactly does being obsessive or compulsive mean?
Let me answer that by telling you the story of one day in my life.
My eyes open. It’s 4 a.m. Or is it p.m.? I look around. The curtains aren’t drawn, the sky outside is dark. It’s night. Not that it matters much to me. I had fallen asleep for a few minutes before I was jerked awake again by a stabbing. It wasn’t a stabbing pain in any part of my body; it was more like my brain had conjured up an image of my oldest friend stabbing me in the throat. I yawn.
I turn over on my cool, comfortable bed in my big house and I try not to dream of death. I’m able to stop when I’m awake but I need to sleep. I can’t control it while I’m asleep. So I’m simultaneously tensing my body in fear and anxiety, while trying to relax it enough to fall asleep.
I finally fall asleep without knowing. I say without knowing not because I didn’t know when I fell asleep, but rather that my dreams are so vivid and impactful that when I wake up in a few short hours I was more tired than when I went to bed.
I lay in bed for a few minutes, scrolling through Facebook, waiting for the noise and the chaos of my mind to surge once more. Right on cue, they do, and I get out of bed. There’s no need to “steel” myself or “force” myself to get out of bed. Do you have to steel yourself for the sun to rise? It just does. In the same way, the monster in my brain will always be whispering and screaming.
I look into the mirror to brush my teeth and my throat is cut, it opens up before my eyes. I continue brushing. I am boiled alive before I step into the shower. I step in. An image of sprawling intestines from a dead body flashes before my eyes. I eat my ketchup-soaked omelet, the reds melting together.
I am done. I have delayed enough at home. I have to go out into the world, doesn’t matter for what. The monster licks his lips with relish, a visible smacking sound resounding in my head. I roll my eyes.
In the streets is my monster’s favourite weapon: Vehicles. Vehicles off all kinds. Get in a cab and the cabbie will have a secret gun to blow your head off. Ooo, maybe it could be one of those glowing-light cabs. Brains would look so nice splattered on them.
Trains? Everyone on the train is a murderer, rapist, cannibal. Your friends will die over and over before your eyes, your monster will feed on this chaos in your brain, you will suffer. You get the picture.
I get home, staggering and drained. I start writing about this monster and I am still haunted by the inescapable fact that the monster is made in my image.
This monster is made up of thoughts that I couldn’t possibly conceive of myself, but they still come from my own mind. That is what true obsession is: An inability to control your own thoughts. It will be hammered into you every minute of every day until you wish you were numb to it, but you aren’t.
And it’ll make you want to blame yourself. Because the same place that controls all your basic functioning, is also the place that’s rife with corruption. Medicines help me. Therapy helps me. But I don’t know if that guilt and anger I still hold at myself for not being able to control something that is out of my control, will ever fade.
(Varun Gwalani is a TEDx speaker, author and mental health advocate. The First Storyteller, his second novel, is based on his experiences with Aggressive OCD. Twitter: @varunug)