After I was first diagnosed with OCD, I made a list of all the obsessions and compulsions I had ever had. It’s over three pages long. Granted, that list included a list-making compulsion. But what I also did was make a list of goals for treatment. They are pretty standard: “less compulsions,” “regain time,” “learn more coping techniques,” etc., but the last one stands out to me. It reads: “make connections with others with OCD so I feel less alone.”
Having OCD involves emotional pain; but feeling alone is far worse. During the ten years of living with undiagnosed OCD and then particularly that first year after a diagnosis, I largely felt alone. I knew no one else with OCD; I barely even knew others who were open about being in therapy. Here I was starting ERP, an effective but difficult treatment, and it’s hard to feel motivated when you feel alone. Yes, therapists provide a special kind of support, but you need friends too. And “regular” friends can be empathetic, but they don’t share the same experiences.
I’m exceptionally lucky that over the past four plus years, I have met and become friends with countless other individuals with OCD. This is largely thanks to the International OCD Foundation and their Annual OCD Conference, but also Twitter, Facebook groups, and mental health clubs on my college campus. I talk with many daily, and we reach out to each other in both the good times and the bad. It doesn’t replace therapy, but it provides a unique kind of mutual support.
The thing is though, these others with OCD aren’t just your regular, run-of-the-mill friends; they are truly some of the most exceptional people in the world. Perhaps this kindness and empathy comes from having experienced pain through OCD, or perhaps they were just born special. Regardless, special they are.
I recently moved states to do a year of service with AmeriCorps as a Mental Health First Aid instructor. Suffice it to say, I was and am terrified. There is boundless uncertainty and newness involved. A group of friends from OCDcon knew this, and what they did brings me to tears.
One friend lives just a short train ride away from me. The rest of them all had a secret group chat without me, organized housewarming gifts to be sent to the nearby friend, and then she visited me yesterday bringing all the surprises with her. I’m sitting here speechless even just trying to type about it.
This is what I mean by exceptional. They are exceptional human beings. I will insist that there are almost no benefits to having OCD, but one certainly is that it brought these exceptional humans into my life.
I feel enveloped in a warm hug of love from them. It gives me motivation to push forward despite the anxiety. It gives me courage to fight OCD with exposures. It gives me strength to let myself feel the painful emotions. It gives me purpose and more reasons to stay on this Earth.
That is the power of not alone.
P.S. Did you know you can request a Not Alone Note? My friend and I will mail you a free, handwritten letter to remind you that you aren’t alone in having OCD.