Cathy Terranova Blog

Having multiple issues has shown me the stigma that surrounds each one. When celebrities commit suicide we’re quick to talk about their “struggles with depression”. Depression seems to be the scapegoat that covers all manner of mental illness. When Robin Williams died, that’s all I saw: “Depression took him to a dark place” was talked about in almost every article. Very few people talked about his struggle with substance abuse and addiction, the trauma of losing a dear friend (Christopher Reeves), and any of the other very public things he dealt with during his lifetime. It all got boiled down to “depression”.

Depression is real and can be debilitating. But so can anxiety.

Eating disorders have their own brand of stigma. You’re allowed to struggle, but please be thin. The waif of a woman who is dealing with anorexia or bulimia have people clamoring to send well wishes, but the man who is battling isn’t taken seriously.

PTSD is for Veterans only. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a myth that stems from the exaggeration of dissociative symptoms and a convenient trope for horror films.

I have battled through being taken seriously at each turn and trying to change the narrative about what it means to live with mental illness. Yet all the while I was heaping stigma onto myself. I often refuse to acknowledge the very real struggle I have with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In fact, of all the disorders, I think that OCD is treated with the least respect. Maybe because the only celebrity that openly talks about it is a comedian? I’m not sure.

Often, I hear people say, “I’m so OCD about that.” or “I love for things to be neat, I’m SO OCD.”

In my fight to give credence to to this disorder, I realized that I have trivialized my own struggle. I constantly claim that it, “Isn’t a big deal” or that “It doesn’t affect me that much”. But it does.

So in the spirit of raising awareness, I’m going to give you a tour of my particular brand of compulsive behaviors.

First, let me say that OCD is a prison unlike that of any other issue I struggle with. It traps me in cycles of habits that I want to break but can’t. It cripples me and makes me feel weak. I’m constantly feeling at battle with myself that I could beat it if I just exercised more self discipline or restraint. It makes me do things that I hate. It’s different than when I dissociate and it feels as if I’m just watching myself. I’m acutely aware that it’s me doing what I’m doing and that I can’t stop. I can even say out loud, “Stop, stop, please, stop” and my hands keep going. OCD is not, in any way, a joke.

Sometimes I’m trapped in a course of thought, I need to finish a story or a task before I can move on. Interruptions throw me into a spiral of anxiety. I could be walking towards a lamp to turn it off and someone could flip the switch for me and I have to walk the rest of the way and at least touch the lamp or the switch to feel okay.

I obsess over crumbs and smells. I can’t sleep if there are crumbs in the bed. I can’t move past if there is a bad smell in my house. My brain can’t think of anything else.

I pick at my skin. I pick until things bleed. I make small blemishes so much worse. I have scars from minor abrasions because I kept removing the scab. I have to leave the room and tweeze hairs from my face because if I can feel them I can’t concentrate on anything else. I have scratched my legs until they bled.

I thought that having dreadlocks was a way for me to be able to have long hair without obsessively twisting it. I have tendinitis in both my arms from twisting my hair. When it is long I put it up and down and up and down. I have to pin it in place to get myself to leave it alone, even then that’s not a guarantee.

My arms will ache and I’ll still twist my hair. My skin will bleed and I’ll still pick at it. I have to have Doug smell me to make sure I don’t smell. I ask everyone who walks into my house how it smells. I talk about the things that are bothering me to excess. I’m in a constant state of distress because my apartment never feels clean enough, my skin and hair never feels “right”, the dog hair is never all off the furniture, there are always crumbs everywhere, when I wear glasses I obsessively clean them because they’re “dirty”. This isn’t a joke. It’s my life. I’ve spent seasons of my life compulsively injuring myself because nothing felt “right” until I did. Even then it had to be deep enough or prolific enough.

I have a very mild case of OCD. There are people whose prisons have more corridors, more padlocks, and more cells for solitary confinement.

Yet, the amount of shame and frustration I feel makes it nearly impossible to talk about this area of my life. I’m not just a “perfectionist” I’m not at all tidy because it never feels like it’s enough. I collapse into a ball of anxiety because everything constantly feels like it’s not clean enough or tidy enough and I beat myself up over it.

OCD is difficult to understand if you don’t have it. But it’s as if nothing is ever finished. Imagine living in a house where no room was completely tiled or carpeted or had missing pieces of drywall or exposed wires. It’s not that you can’t live there. It’s just that it isn’t finished.

I don’t pretend to understand anyone else’s struggle with OCD either. I hardly ever talk about it so I hardly ever talk to anyone else. It affects everyone differently. Mine is the result of trauma and weaves in with the other aspects of my disorders.

But please, on behalf of everyone who is trapped inside the prison of this disorder. Please, change your language, change your friends’ language.

We aren’t a joke, we’re not a way to describe yourself, we’re real people living with a real problem.



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