What It’s Like to Live with OCD and Anxiety

Read this author's account of what it's like living with OCD and anxiety.
I’m a safe person. I don’t take risks, don’t go out of my way to go on adventures. Given the choice to explore something new or stay inside my bubble, you’ll almost always find me protected, safe, uninvested.

And I’ve got a blanket that keeps me there. It protects me from outside harm, keeps me in my comfort zone, doesn’t let anyone come near enough to foster pain, or risk, or illness.

That blanket is anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It keeps me in and keeps everyone else out, through careful routines — avoidance, worries, intrusive thoughts, and an automatic “no” to new experiences and opportunities. With my blanket firmly wrapped around me, I went through the first 18 years of my life safe, concealed, and — through my own fault — alone.

“There is no safe investment,” wrote C.S. Lewis. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

I have a love-hate relationship with this quote from C.S. Lewis. Sure, it’s beautiful, and it perfectly describes my life — but it’s also incredibly challenging. It’s challenging, because it’s so tempting to keep my heart locked up tightly, wound through with worries and fears that keep me safe. But when I locked myself up and away, I denied myself to those around me.

For far longer than I realized, I used my anxiety and my OCD as a shield that kept me from having to be vulnerable. My own fears convinced me that if I told anyone about my struggle with mental health, they wouldn’t love me and they’d want me to get help, so I hid who I truly was. And while those who loved me tried their best to break through, they soon became frustrated at the firm yet fragile facade I’d constructed.

I at once hated and was addicted to my anxiety and OCD. I became so angry, devastated at my inability to be spontaneous, to simply relax and enjoy something with friends rather than obsessing over details and becoming distracted by fears. I wished my brain would just be fixed — that my anxiety could disappear, that I could be better.

At the same time, I balked at any true effort to shed the blanket of security my mental illness provided me. After all, when I allowed my OCD to take over, I was in control. I planned my days, hours, and minutes meticulously. There were no surprises, no spontaneous heartbreaks, nothing that I could not work through and explain away with my own thoughts.

I was safe — but I was impenetrable. My perfectly-controlled life turned out to be unsustainable when I went to college and saw for the first time the damage I did to myself and those around me by trying to control them. I soon discovered that putting on a brave face and pretending everything was fine — especially when taking the hardest classes of my life and trying to make friends — was not quite as convincing as I had once thought.

Gratefully, I’m surrounded by incredible people who refused to allow me to lock myself away. Time and time again, my family members and my friends pried open the box I’d placed my heart in. They reminded me, gently, that I was not in control. They held up a mirror to me, showed me that I was strong enough to heal — that I could let go and take a leap toward wellness. They were there to catch me as I fell — and I fell, over and over again. They helped me see, for the first time, that I am not my anxiety and that I am worthy of healing.

My anxiety and OCD will never leave me. It’s quite simply not how they work. I’ll never get the magic solution I’ve often desired, and my brain will probably never be “normal.” But that doesn’t mean I can’t be free. Indeed, the more I open myself up to the possibilities of vulnerability, fear, risk, and failure, the higher I’m able to soar.

And my mental illness has in many ways made me who I am. It’s made me meticulous, perfectionistic. It’s connected me to my drive and my work ethic in a way that doesn’t go away when that anxiety is under control. And it’s made me empathetic — hyper-aware of my relationships with others, of loving and living fully.

Blankets are comfortable, easy, safe — but no one’s ever run a marathon, discovered a cure, or changed the world from beneath their comfort. There may be no safe investment, but a life without investment is one not fully lived. So today, I choose to throw off my blanket, take my heart out of the box, and embrace whatever comes — because my fear can only scare me if I let it.

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