Updated: Oct 12, 2022
By Diane Corso
The International OCD Foundation has designated October 9-15, 2022, as International OCD Awareness Week to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma of this mental illness. An estimated 1.2% of adults in the United States had OCD in the past year with the incidence higher for women than men.
OCD has been a part of my eating disorder (ED) journey, and I know this is common to many others as well. The disorder is characterized by intrusive, repetitive thoughts or obsessions that lead to compulsive behaviors — in my case, not eating and excessive exercise.
My Early Struggle with OCD
From the time I was a young child, everything had to be in order. Each item of clothing was folded tight and stacked squarely in place. All of my crayons were aligned in the same direction. I even cleaned the pencil sharpener after every use.
I also craved routine and frequently did things in triplicate. When I went to bed, I’d turn off the lights three times. At a football game, I always had to shout “Go Defense” three times in a row.
Having things in order gave me comfort, and repetitive action calmed me in a way nothing else could.
My Obsessions — Eating and Exercise
Eventually my need for order and routine (my OCD) carried over into my eating habits. My diet was something I could control. When the concept of serving sizes, portions and calorie counting entered my radar, I became laser focused on measuring my food, and the ED monster began digging his claws into me. Combine this with my compulsion for excessive exercise, and I began to slide deeper and deeper into ED.Not eating and exercise became autonomous and my way of controlling an out-of-control world.
An Ongoing Battle
My OCD and anorexia remain a struggle for me. If I am unable to exercise or eat my “safe” foods, severe anxiety, distress and guilt can come into play. And sometimes nothing can quiet the thoughts racing through my mind, and the energy imbalance can make it nearly impossible to stop the behaviors. However, I am committed to confronting my OCD and have found that making small adjustments helps me to reduce its damaging hold on my life:
1. Leaving some things messy and unorganized (i.e., inside my car and leaving fingerprints on the car doors)
2. Letting my three boys “clean” their own rooms and hang their own clean laundry
3. Keeping clothes in the dryer if I’m running late
4. Allowing the boys to help cook meals
My Motivation to Conquer OCD
Knowing that OCD is considered a true mental illness and often genetic has lessened the stress of trying to keep my “quirks” a secret. In addition, talking about it with my boys puts me in a spot to show them that I am not ashamed, and they should not be ashamed of themselves for any feelings or tendencies they may have. And finally, my book and this blog have provided me a voice to transparently express my ongoing struggle with OCD and anorexia. I have nothing to hide.