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Abby Rotstein

My name is Abby and I’ve been living with OCD since I was 10 years old. I didn’t start talking about it openly until a few years ago. When I was younger I didn’t say anything because the illness scared me. As I got older, I was less afraid because I understood it more, but I was full of shame. My OCD made me feel like a terrible person. Now I won’t shut up about it, so stop me if I start to repeat myself.

So how many of you have heard someone say, “I’m so OCD”? Usually you hear this about people who are really neat. They like everything in order. Their houses are immaculate. That’s so OCD. And so untrue. You should see my apartment.

OCD generally has two components. First, there’s the obsessions or intrusive thoughts. For me, my obsessions revolve around harm coming to everyone I love. OCD has this sneaky way of latching onto what you care about most and making you believe you’re responsible for the outcome. My parents are getting older and I worry about their health, so I’ll think, they’re going to die. My dad has had bypass surgery, so I’ll think, he’s going to have a heart attack and die. I worry about my sister. I think, she’ll be in an accident and die.

I think about this stuff all the time…which makes me the life of the party. The truth is, most people have these kinds of thoughts. The world is scary, so it’s natural to worry. But most people can put these thoughts out of their heads and move on with life. Not with OCD. These thoughts make us so uncomfortable and so full of fear that the only way we get a tiny bit of relief is through ritualizing. That’s the second part of OCD. The compulsions or rituals. For me, if I don’t ritualize, everyone is going to die. Hang on a second. Are we all still here? Doing ok? You’re welcome. 

The type of OCD I have is called Pure O OCD or Purely obsessional OCD. Basically that means all my rituals take place in my head. I have counting rituals; I repeat words and phrases; and, my favorite, I envision terrible things happening. Because if I imagine the bad stuff happening it won’t actually happen. Because stuff never turns out the way you imagine. I’ve imagined becoming a millionaire for most of my life. Still hasn’t happened.

I carried all this scary stuff around with me for a long time. But I was managing. Or I thought I was managing. Because really no one deserves to carry around that much horror in their head. But I did because I was scared and ashamed. These were my thoughts, so I must be a bad person if I think them. I must want my family and friends to die. I must want my loved ones to get cancer or have a stroke or die in a crash. I must want this, because I kept thinking these scary thoughts. 

Fast forward several years later when my OCD “came true.” A friend I’d known for years died in a car accident. Of course, no amount of rituals could’ve stopped it. But you can’t reason with OCD. And statistically speaking, if you have thousands of thoughts over the course of a lifetime, there’s a small chance one of those thoughts will align with reality. But you can’t reason with OCD.

After the accident, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate. I checked traffic reports every day to make sure my family was safe. I called my parents every night to make sure they were still alive. Finally, with all the stress and shock my body just said nope. I wound up in the ER with the worst flu I’d ever had. 

A short while after that I got up the courage to see a psychiatrist and he told me the best thing I’d ever heard about dealing with my disorder. He said, “So you’ve been coping with this for more than 20 years?” I nodded, and he said, “I want you to do so much more than cope.”

And that’s what I want for everyone. If you or someone you know has a mental illness, know that you don’t have to be scared or ashamed of your illness. You don’t have to tolerate horror. And there doesn’t have to be a breaking point. It doesn’t have to get unbearable before you seek help. And I know it’s scary. If you’re not comfortable seeing a therapist, maybe you can find someone you trust and talk to them. Because I want you to do so much more than cope.

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