This Is Your Brain on OCD


I marched my little feet down the road, ready to catch the bus to school. I was five years old, probably dressed in one of those terrible 90′s outfits my mom seemed to love so much, probably angry because I’d had to stop reading whatever book my nose was currently stuck in. I don’t remember a lot about being five, but I do remember that day. The beginning of the war in my brain.

There was a broken beer bottle lying on the ground, shards of glass decorating the pavement, light reflecting from the warm brown bits that were strewn through the neighbors’ grass. It was mesmerizing. I couldn’t stop staring, and I didn’t know why.

And then suddenly, I knew. The terror I would come to know so well began to bubble in my stomach, closing my throat and stopping my breath in its tracks. It felt like my esophagus had been slashed in half. I pressed my hand to my chest in disbelief, the image of the shattered glass dancing across my vision. Tears blurred the already unfocused picture. This was it. I was going to pick up one of those jagged-edged shards, and I was going to swallow it. And I was going to die.

It sounds so silly, looking back on it now. Clearly, I was aware that swallowing broken glass was a dangerous thing to do. I knew exactly what would happen if I did, and those consequences were unbelievably undesirable. But I was so sure that I was going to do it. Video clips of that very incident played loudly in my head, over and over, mocking my fear with their vivid and terrifying pictures.

My parents didn’t understand. Neither did my friends. It would be fifteen years before a psychologist would actually tell me what it was, why I was plagued with such terrifying thoughts and visions. Years of having to close my eyes in cars because I was so afraid I would open the door and launch myself onto the highway. Years of being too scared to pick up a knife because I was certain I would purposely slice open my own arm. Years of the unspeakable things I was terrified I would do to the people I loved.

Sometimes, OCD does have to do with washing your hands a lot or keeping things perfectly organized. Those are manifestations of the disorder, and they are valid and serious. But there are so many dark thoughts and emotions that the common vernacular seems to gloss over, so much time spent hating yourself for the peace your brain will never let you have. Every day is a battle, and the hardest part is that you have to wake up and fight yourself.




  1. I had no idea that the few times this has happened to me it was a symptom of OCD. This was a major eye-opener! My grandmother had OCD, and I’m clearly heading that way as well. Thank you so much for this post!!

  2. scary. but i get. i remember moments having to step back from the train platform because i was afraid i’d jump, not because i wanted to but it was a weird impulse i was afraid of. our brain is a fascinating thing.

  3. I’ve had thoughts like that, although much milder and less anxiety provoking. I’m sorry you have to fight your brain for moments of peace – I hope you finds some.

  4. holy crap how scary. I mean I just can’t fathom my child coming to me telling me something like this, nor can I fathom having to deal with such terrorizing thoughts myself. thank you for sharing this.

  5. Wow. I had no idea that could be a symptom of OCD. My husband has it, and has passed it on to my kids. Thank you for this post. Just in case I need to understand some day myself.

  6. I had OCD as a child, and remember the same kinds of obsessive thoughts. It was scary, and I didn’t tell anyone because I remember distinctly thinking they weren’t real, that they were crazy and crazy meant shame. Thank God you got help – I didn’t until much later, though I had other problems, too.

    1. saying the thoughts out loud, they sound absolutely nuts! it’s hard to admit such crazy things, even to yourself. i’m glad you eventually found help as well, even if it took longer than you wanted.

  7. Thank you for sharing this. You let us in on a little more of your struggle, while constructing a gorgeous read at the same time. I know first hand anxiety disorders and OCD can come in many shapes and forms, but I’d never really heard of this particular facet. Heart breaking and fascinating (how the brain works). Brilliant title, too. 🙂

    1. i seriously cannot get over how interesting the brain is. and thanks – the title was so last minute, so i’m glad it turned out well! haha thanks for reading as always.

  8. This post really provided some great insight into OCD. Thanks for sharing! However, I don’t know what terrible 90s outfit you could possibly be talking about. I loved the 90s. Okay, okay, Hypercolor and Zubas sucked bad. 🙂

    1. my mother had a propensity for dressing me in two terrible things: a) velour sweatsuits and b) frilly sweatshirts. she also encouraged me one day to wear a fedora to school. i think the 90s have scarred me forever!

  9. That sounds like something that would be terribly frightening for a little kid to have to deal with. I was kid of the 70’s, and now I wonder how many kids went through most of their life, back then, with no idea as to why they felt that way.

    1. there are so many things i feel that way about – so many illnesses that were never diagnosed before. it must have been so terrifying for the people experiencing them before they were recognized and treated.

  10. I had never really thought about this side of OCD – the stereotype is the Jack Nicholson character in “As Good As It Gets” washing his hands over and over. Very vivid post about that first encounter with the dark side of one’s brain.

  11. My cousin just sent me this and yes- I struggled my entire life with these thoughts and have written a one woman show about it called WHEN THOUGHTS ATTACK. I do it every Sunday in NYC and would love for you to come! I think my first OCD thought was that I was going to eat dog poop but who knows? that may be a delicacy somewhere nowadays!

    1. that sounds amazing! i would LOVE to see your “when thoughts attack”! and some OCD thoughts really are bizarre. i’m glad you didn’t actually eat dog poop, although that would probably be an interesting addition to your one-woman show 😉

  12. Thank you for sharing! I have been diagnosed with OCD for the last 15 years, and sympathize with how hard it can be from day to day. Since you’re a college student, and I’m a recent grad here’s one tidbit of advice: If you find your OCD affects your school work, talk to your school’s students with disabilities office. There might be accommodations that can be made to keep you on a level playing field.

  13. Thank you for opening my eyes to the fact that OCD is more than hand-washing and organizing. This is serious stuff, and I’m glad to be aware of it. Very well written.

  14. You educated me with your post. About OCD and it’s scarier side. As a mother, it’s difficult reading something like this that a child has gone through. It’s heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing your incredibly well written piece with all of us.

  15. Hugs…surely a hug doesn’t fix ocd but…people care 🙂 I went through a thing, when I suffered from depression that was not being treated, where I would envision car accidents…they still sometimes pop in my head, and involve my demise. Its creepy and I even tried driving only if necessary for months to avoid it. The mind is a strange thing because it is “us” but only partly controlled by us…us but not…

  16. i am suffering from ocd since the age of 10 and its getting worst day by day . it destroyed by child hood and now its destroying my marriage . Why am i even living this life :(.

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