Letter #138

Content Warning: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social ostracization, isolation, intrusive thoughts, imposter syndrome


Dear reader,


I wasn’t sure who to address this to initially—past me? Future me? General human who is not me but might be seeking a kindred spirit, or maybe just curious? So I think “reader” will suffice.


In my first year of college, I obtained a diagnosis I’d long suspected I’d had but had been too scared to bring to anyone’s attention until very recently: the diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Unlike a lot of people, my compulsions aren’t physical (and are also largely inconsistent), and so even now I wonder whether they actually count as compulsions. OCD is often called “the doubting disorder,” so naturally a lot of doubt tends to fall on whether your diagnosis is actually valid.


My particular flavor of OCD isn’t one you often see in the media. There’s no handwashing, no counting, no light switch flicking. Just me, and my brain, and some of the most unhinged and graphically disturbing thoughts you could ever think. I won’t go into detail here, but you know how some people act all horrified about the thought of thinking certain horrible things, and say they could never do that? They wonder how anyone could possibly think that? It’s me, Intrusive Thoughts G****. I’ve thought them. I think them. I assure you, it’s not a fun time.


Having immoral intrusive thoughts is incredibly isolating. You feel like you can’t talk to anyone about them because they’ll think you’re either crazy or a monster. Your existence feels like you’re living a double life, like you’re pretending to be a good person and the version of you everyone knows and loves isn’t the real you, the monstrous you. You can’t ask people to flag triggers because your triggers are weird and niche, or they can be silly simple things like having a good day. You don’t necessarily want to die, you just don’t particularly think you deserve to live.


The funny thing about certain brain quirks, in my experience, is that people who have them tend to just kind of find each other without really thinking about it. The friend I was most worried about telling my OCD themes turned out to experience those same themes. I know and have interacted with numerous people who also have an OCD diagnosis through complete coincidence, some of whom are close friends. But even this community can be isolating, because at some point or other you realize that no one will know exactly what you go through, and your OCD brain inevitably stacks your experience against theirs and wonders if you’re the imposter, if everyone else around you has it and you’re just faking it to get away with being an awful person. There’s the mortifying ordeal of being known, and then there’s the even more frustrating ordeal of being understood—of having to explain to people all the various weird little inputs that have made you the way you are, that shaped how you view the world, and knowing they will never have the full picture.


The trick with moral OCD is to recognize that you do have values, and that just because your brain likes to engage in the world’s most cursed game of word association doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. OCD attaches significance to thoughts and actions and gestures and body language that are really meaningless in the grand scheme of things. You might recognize this. You might also wonder whether you’re wrong to recognize this, and whether that makes you a bad person. I’m not here to offer reassurance in that sense, because reassurance seeking, or rather certainty seeking, is the engine of the OCD machine, and that quest for an answer we’ll never have is what keeps us on this silly little hamster wheel. But I will say that as long as you’re trying your best to care for people, to not hurt anyone, then whatever inherent horror you think you have lurking inside you will probably not come to pass. 


The sense of inherent wrongness—that you are doomed to be a monster, that there’s nothing that can change that, and that you should just give into the overwhelming urge to do something horrible because it will never go away—these are challenges that are difficult to understand and that many of us have trouble articulating. But at the end of the day, despite what certain people and certain religious institutions may tell you, your thoughts don’t mean anything. People will judge your character by your actions.


I wish you well on your journey, dear reader, whatever it may be. Here’s to hoping we come out of it a little less lonely than before.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *