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Column: Letting my intrusive thoughts win (but actually)

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My OCD tells me to lick my lips in a circle, three times in a row. These circles must be exactly the same, perfectly tracing over the previous circle. I think about how ridiculous that would look and quickly make a mental objection. No, I won’t do that. 

My OCD fights back, telling me that if I fail to do this, I’ll get cancer and die. That’s absurd, I know. I don’t do it. Seconds pass, and my OCD continues its attack. 

I know that my failure to do this task will not lead to my development of a disease, but the thought becomes constant. I can’t get it out of my head. I’m obsessed. What if? 

The what if’s always get me. I know that there’s no connection between these two things, but what if my OCD is right? What about that 0.00001% chance that it’s true? 

I relent, tracing the three circles. I didn’t do it correctly. The first two circles were exactly the same, but on the third, my tongue moved too far to the right. Do it again, my OCD tells me. 

I try again to resist the urge, that the previous attempt was good enough. I make it a total of three minutes before this obsessive thought comes back. I didn't do it right. I need to make those circles perfect. 

My head has started to hurt. A brain tumor, my OCD tells me. I have somehow in the past three minutes developed a brain tumor simply because I failed to lick my lips correctly. 

Writing it now feels ridiculous, but in the moment it was everything. Panic arises in my chest, and I begin the compulsion again.  

“What the [redacted] are you doing?” my dad asks. 

I forgot I’m at dinner. I look up and see my entire family staring at me. Have they been watching me the whole time? I’m humiliated that my dad saw this. He knows I have OCD; sort of. I told him three years ago when I was diagnosed with it, and he made a comment about how my room was too dirty to have OCD. I don’t bother explaining my actions to my family, so I simply shrug and continue. I need to get it right. 

I’ve been doing this specific compulsion for two months now and I don’t remember how it started. Nobody has ever commented on it. Can my friends see me do this too? Did the cute boy at the gym see me do it? Now I’m analyzing every interaction I’ve had that week. 

I hate that people can see me do this. I can’t explain the experience and it usually doesn’t make sense outside of when it’s happening. I brush my teeth until my gums bleed in the morning because my teeth never feel clean enough. I can’t explain to my professor that it’s the reason why I’m 40 minutes late to class. 

The girl in my chemistry class tells me she’s so OCD about her notes. She color codes each unit with different gel pens she has gathered over the years. She’s so OCD about her color-coded notes and I have blisters on my hands because my OCD told me to hold my hand under scalding sink water for ten seconds.

I see TikToks where someone posts something slightly politically incorrect. The comments tell them they let their intrusive thoughts win. During freshman year, I had a recurring intrusive thought that was so disturbing I contemplated suicide after two months of it. I feel disgusted and ashamed when I have intrusive thoughts. They make me cry, they give me panic attacks, but they don't make me post something out-of-pocket on TikTok. 

An old friend told me she had OCD because she always kept her car volume on an even number. My OCD is constant. Every second of the day, I am tapping four times, counting numbers, pinching myself, licking my lips, and constantly completing whatever latest compulsion my brain has come up with as a means to keep me from getting cancer.

She listens to her music on 34 and I flunked a test because my OCD told me to keep rereading a question for an hour until it felt right in my head. It never did. 

My mom tells me I just need to stop doing the compulsions. She tells me sometimes she has the urge to check the oven a second time, but she chooses not to. I need to do the same. 

Sometimes it feels like everyone has OCD, yet I’m still met with such disgust and confusion when I perform these odd compulsions. If everyone else is letting their intrusive thoughts win, why can’t I?

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