With classes starting up again next week, I wanted to get in one more blog post before I inevitably don’t have time to post again until May or June. With that said, I wanted to write about something serious and pretty important to me. I hope and expect anyone who reads this to be respectful as they read this. I thank you in advanced.
Since 1949, the month of May has hosted Mental Health Awareness Month. Didn’t know that? Yeah, I didn’t either. I didn’t even know that there was a Mental Health Awareness Month until the last few years when I saw posts about it on Facebook. It became extremely prominent after the Isla Vista killings in 2014 where the perpetrator was said to be taking medication to treat schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, along with allegedly having Asperger syndrome, despite never being formally diagnosed. Mental Health can cover a number of disorders, illnesses, and conditions including, but not limited to, PTSD, ADD, ADHD, schizophrenia, bi-polar syndrome, anxiety disorder, and OCD. The one that resonates the most with me is OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
To be entirely honest with anyone reading this, this is kind of hard for me to write so from here on in, this might get a little unfocused or disjointed or just poorly-written. You’ve been warned.
Where do I even begin? Maybe a little bit more information about OCD? OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, comes in three basic flavors: obsessions, compulsions, and both. Someone who lives on the obsession side of OCD will often obsess over particular thoughts that invade their brains at any given time. These thoughts are often extreme and revolve around death, pain, horror, or sex. For instance, let’s say a girl, let’s call her Jackie, has this form of OCD. Jackie can regularly have intrusive thoughts/visions of her mom getting seriously hurt or dying. The thought/feel will not go away, no matter how hard she tries to avoid it or ignore it. The only thing that can quell that feeling is for Jackie to either a call her mom to make sure she’s okay or to engage some sort of compulsive act (we’ll get to that later).
Someone on the compulsive side of OCD will often be compelled to do something physical (or a ritual), sometimes repeatedly until they feel comfortable. Being prohibited from performing a ritual will usually result in some sort of mental or emotional breakdown. For example, a guy, let’s call him Nick has OCD. He periodically feels the need to cough twice and then scratch his head. This happens every hour or so. However, if after scratching his head, the need is still there, he’ll repeat the whole process. This will continue until he feels internally satisfied. This can go on for hours. If say someone were to try and hold Nick’s hand to stop him from scratching his head after the two coughs, Nick might begin to feel anxiety that will only rise with every second his hand is being held. The second his hand is released, he’ll most assuredly scratch his head. More likely than not, it will also result in him repeating the ritual several times as that attempt was clearly not going to be satisfactory.
Now there are people who are both obsessive and compulsive. For example, some people can become to obsessed with something that they are compelled to do something to an extreme level. Allow me to introduce you to Lucy. Lucy suffers from OCD. Lucy is obsessed with right angles. Therefore, everything in her apartment is either a square or rectangle or arranged to have a vortex at a right angle. If she physically can, she will try to arrange anything and everything to be in right angles. If she is at work and someone has a two toothpicks on their desk randomly placed at an acute angle, Lucy will immediately want to “fix” it. She goes to re-arrange the toothpicks, but a co-worker stops her to talk. She won’t be able to focus on anything until she can move those toothpicks and the second that co-worker stops talking, you better believe that those toothpicks are being moved around. Remember Jackie? Remember how I said the only thing that can calm her intrusive thoughts of her mother is to call or do something? If Jackie can’t get a hold of her mother, she might become increasingly anxious unless she can knock on a wall in a certain rhythmic pattern (her ritual).
However, what many people don’t realize is that these are the higher levels of OCD. Like most mental disorders, illness, and conditions, there is a spectrum of sorts. Some people are effected more heavily than others. Some people suffer from all of the same symptoms but do not feel as obsessed or compulsive or have rituals as extreme or as frequent. Not everyone is a Jackie or a Nick or a Lucy. Some people are a William.
Throughout my adolescence and into my adult life, I’ve often found myself very drawn to patterns and habits. But that’s all I ever called them. They were always just habits. I would jokingly call them OCD or say that I had OCD but I always said it in a way that demonstrated that I was not serious about that in any way. I never truly fully said that I had OCD. The main reasons for that was that I was in denial/was unsure if I truly did and because I felt that declaring something like that put me in the same class as Jackie or Nick or Lucy and I felt it would be an insult to them, to people who truly suffered from OCD, while it was mostly a livable inconvenience for me. I keep wanting to approach this from like four different angles and I can’t decide so I guess I’ll just give you a quick summary of my history with my OCD.
As a young kid, my family and I used to go to BJs in New Jersey every Thursday to do our grocery shopping. On the way back, we’d swing by a Burger King. My dad had a really ugly but incredibly spacious white Mitsubishi minivan. In the middle of the third row of seats, a small table with two cup-holders pulled down from the backrest of the middle. My sister and I would take our food and lay it out on that table and eat. Seeing as how we were in a car and the table was small, it was easiest to eat the fries first, and then the burger, so that’s what we always did.
When I was in high school, one day, while at lunch, I removed the label off of my water bottle. One of my friends grabbed the label and wrote my name on it. The next day, I sat down with my water and removed the label again. Again, my friend took it and wrote my name it. This became an everyday occurrence. Then one day, her and I stopped being friends and she wasn’t there to write my name, but I still removed the label. Despite her not being part of the equation anymore, I still proceeded to remove the label off the bottle every day.
Those two things, eating my fries first and removing the wrapper off of a bottle, are things I still do to this day. For years, I used to just say they were little weird things that I just did. There were even small signs that it was more than just that that I ignored. For example, one night, years ago, my family and I were having dinner at a diner and without paying attention, I took a bite of my burger before finishing all of my fries. I couldn’t touch my food for at least 30 minutes. I don’t think anyone else noticed but I felt uncomfortable after I realized what I had done. I had to pretend my food wasn’t there before I could continue eating. Then there was a time when I was at my previous job and we were having lunch in the backroom. Someone had told me to try and not remove the label off the bottle. I tried. I felt so uncomfortable and would glance over at the bottle the whole time I eating and didn’t even want to take a sip from the bottle. Even then I had just called them weird little things or quirks or jokingly called them my OCD tendencies. I didn’t start to see what it truly was until I was in my last relationship.
When I began dating my ex-girlfriend, I told her about my “tendencies.” She felt concerned about them and wanted to “help me get over them.” One day, we picked up Subway on the way to my house. While on the bus, I wanted to eat because I was hungry. I took out my cookies (my Subway equivalent to french fries) to start eating. My ex told me not to and told me to put them back in the bag and that when we got to my house to eat the sandwich first. To clear, she didn’t really force me to do anything but she was concerned and pushed for the idea. I reluctantly agreed because I was starting to feel tired of my “tendencies,” especially if they were going to create a concern for my girlfriend. Now, I’m not someone who is typically anxious or suffers from anxiety. However, within minutes, I felt incredibly anxious. I remember even starting to shake a little bit with a feeling of wanting to cry beginning to creep up a little bit. Once she saw all of that, she told me to forget the whole thing and to eat the cookies. I did but felt so ashamed of myself and I felt so pathetic. I felt like a weak little child. It was then that started to take my “tendencies” a little bit more seriously. I knew what it was but still refused to call it what it was. Until now.
A few months ago, I started dating my now-current-girlfriend. I remember being so worried about not letting her see my “tendencies.” The first time we hung out (the night before our technical first date), I ate a meal that came with fries and hoped that she hadn’t noticed me eating my friend before touching my sandwich. Soon thereafter I told her about my “tendencies.” She noticed. She also assured me that she didn’t care. I, of course, didn’t believe her. By our third date, she had scene all of my “tendencies,” (the fries thing, the wrapper thing, my need to straighten out straw wrappers and paper bags and line them up neatly side-by-side, etc). Then, one day, while we were sitting in a Dunkin’ Donuts, she straightened out the straw wrappers and lined them for me. She said she did for me. I had never met anyone so supportive and loving about my “tendencies.” She asks me about it, about what it means for me, how it works for me, how she can help, and does it.
Mental health is something serious that we need to be aware of acknowledge. One of my best friends suffers from anxiety, as well as at least one other person I went to high school with, someone I still keep in contact with today. People deal with this shit every day and most of the time, no one else knows about it. I had never considered myself to fit under that umbrella. I still feel uncomfortable because I don’t want to insult or disrespect those who truly suffer from it in major wats. However, thanks to my girlfriend, in talking to her and being with her and feeling her love and support it allowed to me to see things for what they truly are. My name is William Ponciano and I have OCD and that is the first time I’ve ever said those words.