By Keith Fraser
One way to explain OCD involves a comparison to the old Roman Polanski film Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson. Nicholson plays a detective investigating a suspicious California land developer (played by the director John Huston). As in many detective thrillers, the closer he gets to the truth, the more chaos ensues. He uncovers an incestuous relationship, innocent characters are murdered and in the final scene his friend declares his efforts to make the situation right a lost cause, a tragedy (“It’s Chinatown Jake”). Thankfully, I don’t view OCD as negatively as the Chinatown plot. However, there are parallels.
My story begins when I was diagnosed with OCD when I was fifteen. I have survived many obstacles and hurdles that life and OCD have presented me with in order to throw me off the path of recovery. OCD is analogous to the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain in the film of the same name. It is an illusionist. The average time for OCD to be correctly diagnosed in most people with OCD is ten (yes, ten years). I was fortunate enough to have a diagnosis early in my life.
In the beginning, OCD has the upper hand. It has also been called “the great pretender” due to its ability to mimic other disorders such as schizophrenia.
I was an overachiever during my teenage years. I was on the honor roll and played three sports without the knowledge of what I was up against or a complete awareness of what I was suffering from. On a social level, I was successful mainly in my senior year in going on a few dates without a serious relationship. OCD also had a role in alienating me from my friends. I received a scholarship for academic achievement and was accepted at the University of Connecticut.
Around the same time, I got two jobs but, due to self sabotaging idiosyncrasy, I quit both of them. This was probably due to the lack of awareness of the enormity and nature of the problem I was up against. I also didn’t know that the economy was going to tank and things were going to get more complicated.
Five years later, I was able to complete my undergraduate degree (by a hair). Ten years later, this is the only thing I have to show for as far as success recognized by society. I am still looking for work and have been unemployed for ten years with the exception of a two day retail job at a pet supply store in Alabama that was too much for me too take.
In 2005, when I was 25, I was told that I had severe OCD. Probably the most amazing thing is that my doctor seemed to have seen the exact form of what I have probably due to his experience at a prestigious New York hospital. He knew it was severe. I decided that I had to be put on an antipsychotic drug called Abilify. This is a common decision for OCD sufferers in which multiple trials of SSRIs don’t do the trick. The Abilify seemed to work.
I have since been through behavior therapy, which can be traumatic. During this process, I learned that the more aware you are of the many ways in which OCD sabotages you, the better you get. This was a major turning point because it put the last 12 years of my life into perspective. I also learned that that you don’t want to try to figure everything out when it comes to OCD (so I shouldn’t even be writing this article).
I have made strides during the last five years of my life while moving with my parents to navigate the poor economic situation of the country. Employment remains elusive.
I had originally thought that writing about OCD would be useless because it is such a hard problem to describe. I also had too much respect for the profession of writing and have trouble thinking that I could live up to that standard.
When I look back on my thirty two years of life, I realize that OCD has been ahead of me most of the steps along the way, similarly to Nicholson’s predicament in Chinatown. It has thrown me off my career path and has sabotaged early attempts to get help from good doctors.
I remain hopeful that treatments will be refined and OCD sufferers will be able to live more productive lives. According to doctors I talk to, there are probably multiple causes and there will probably be no magic pill. Over time, I have learned not to dwell on my failures and try to figure them out but rather to come to terms with them and move on.
Keith Fraser currently resides in North Carolina. He was diagnosed with OCD at the age of 15 and is now 32 years old. This is his first publication.