By Mallika Mukherjee
I was 14 when I started recognising my symptoms. Growing up with undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder wasn’t easy. It started with just compulsively washing my hands on coming in contact with anything remotely dirty. Dust on a curtain, food crumbs on tables, fallen hair strands. The washing wasn’t even the problem. it was the number of times I had to do it each time. Not once, not twice, eight times exactly. Anything less meant I was filthy, full of germs, anything more was sheer bad luck.
It got worse as I grew older, the excessive need for cleanliness branched out into the need for precision. Every article in my stationery box had to be facing the same way, every item of food on my plate had to be in an exact quantity, compressed in a particular shape. I was unable to work until every object on my school desk was only kept on the left in a vertical manner in order of decreasing mass.
Pathological doubt followed soon after. Checking the geyser three times before leaving home, and three times before sleeping, checking the locks four times, the stove another four times.
All of it was exhausting, and not invisible to those around me but why did I take 14 years to realise I had a problem?
Throughout life, I have heard elders, family, relatives. “It’s just a phase”, “She’s just young and bored”, “I also do that sometimes, what’s the big deal”, “Oh, it’s just a quirk, so she’s a little abnormal, she’ll grow out of it.” Somewhere for a long time while hearing these phrases constantly, I began to believe them, in the hope of growing out of it someday, but I never did.
Finally, in Class 9, when I was 14, as is common to most average and fresh teens, I started becoming consumed with the way I looked. Everything seemed pretty normal until I noticed my arms. My wrists were black and bruised, rashes and dry skin plenty. They’d itch immensely at night but no amount of lotion or cream helped prevent it long term. All this time I had brushed it off as just a phase of my developing adolescent skin but one day, I decided to look more into it.
On further analysis, I realised the rashes and dryness was due to my compulsive habit of washing my hands with soap 20 to 30 times a day. Yes, it had worsened with time. Even worse at times of stress, exams fights with friends. Being hygienic is a human need but this was extreme and I was finally old enough to realise this.
It took several hours of internet research to discover it to be a type of OCD, contamination. Once I had detected one, the others were easy to find. I finally concluded that I had three types of OCD. Contamination, Pathological Doubt, and Precision.
What is important to understand is that self-diagnosis isn’t enough. Surely the internet has opened up a convenient medium for information, but not all of it might be accurate or provide remedial solutions. It is important to address a mental health professional. Going to a psychologist is as important as any other doctor.
Today, I have myself been to a psychologist and confirmed my diagnosis. Therapy has helped me appreciate and not hate myself. Not being able to understand my need to do these acts, the constant unwanted thoughts forcing me to do things I didn’t want to, not being able to explain to my parents, friends why I was like this all became easier with help.
I was able to understand first, that I wasn’t the only one. Second, with treatment, my disorder was manageable, third and most importantly, I wasn’t a little abnormal, I wasn’t a quirk, I didn’t have a weird habit. I wasn’t any of those things, I was, I am normal, a different type of normal, but normal. My normal. I hope with the information I have now, I can help spread the same compassion and understanding I received from my counsellor to everybody else I come across who suffers from any mental illness and I urge everybody to do the same. We must end the ignorance and stigma against mental health, and try to have open minds and understand the importance of it for an individual’s well-being instead.