Pass the Ketchup: An Inside Look at OCD



By Ginger Simons

Like most mental disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is largely misunderstood. People often use it as an adjective to describe their organizational habits or the fact they always carry hand sanitizer. It’s often portrayed on TV by quirky characters who keep their pencils perfectly symmetrical or clean their houses twice a day (I see you, Adrian Monk). OCD takes many different forms, and no two people will exhibit the disorder in the same way.

For me, OCD takes the form of obsessive thoughts about contamination, order and compulsive rituals to help keep me sane. I go through phases where I’m scared to eat because putting food into my body feels unclean. Eating out is a hidden strife, as my experience is usually dictated by the specific ways I have to handle my silverware or open my straw wrapper. In my dorm room, there are certain objects I never allow to touch other items. I feel layers of germs on my skin at every moment and I keep an internal record of every single item I’ve touched throughout the day. And I won’t even go into showering rituals, because we’d be here all day. In short, to me, the world looks like varying shades of “safe” and  “unsafe,” and I plan my day accordingly.

At first, I was nervous to move into the dorms here at NIU because everything about dorm life seemed like it would be a trigger for my OCD. In addition to dorms being breeding grounds for germs, I also felt like I wouldn’t be in control of my surroundings, which is an essential part of my daily rituals. However, I’ve adjusted surprisingly well. A few panic attacks have come and gone, but I actually really enjoy living in the dorms; some of the discomforts and anxieties have been outweighed by my lovely roommates and the different experiences I’ve been exposed to.

Over the years, my OCD has gotten easier to manage. A few years ago, I suffered from such severe anxiety I began to develop agoraphobia; I wanted nothing but to isolate myself from everything I thought could hurt me. I was afraid of contamination and believed wholeheartedly everything outside would infect me. From people to surfaces to the air I breathed. Today, I’m able to go about my life happily and with little difficulty. Some days are worse than others, but I’ve discovered it’s very possible to have OCD and live a happy life, contrary to what my thirteen year old self may have thought.

Very few people know I have OCD. I tend to brush all of my noticeable rituals off as germophobia; I simply don’t talk about the rituals no one can see.. I wrote this because it’s important for people to know we’re out here. We’re not asking for your help, nor your sympathy, but perhaps just a little bit of understanding about the things we have to do in order to feel safe. So if you happen to notice one of your friends arranging their straws or silverware in weird ways, don’t poke fun. Just pour ketchup on their plate so she doesn’t have to touch the bottle if she asks you to.